The National Football League (NFL) lost a defining figure of the game this Saturday,\ as former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis passed away at the age of 82.
Known for his trademark silver and black and commitment to excellence, Davis has the distinct recognition as the only coach, general manager, owner and commissioner in the history of professional football. His personality was unlike any other and at times an overbearing factor of the on field success of his Raiders.
Born in Brockton, Mass., and moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., as a young child, Al Davis was an educated and well-spoken individual graduating from the University of Syracuse. After a few college coaching stints, Davis settled in as the offensive line coach with the University of Southern California in 1957. Soon after, he became the offensive end coach for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers of the AFL. Davis developed quite a reputation, assuming the roles of head coach and general manager of the Oakland Raiders going into the 1963 season. The personality and face of the Raiders would be determined by Davis for nearly the next 50 years.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick commented on Davis’ passing this past weekend.
“His winning, his football knowledge, his passion for his team and contributions to the league made him one of the all-time greats,” Belichick said in pro-football weekly. “By striving for the highest level of excellence with our respective teams and the game itself, we will be honoring the memory of Al Davis.”
Belichick like many others respected the vision Davis had, which included taking gambles on many of his business decisions. One of these included hiring a 32-year-old John Madden in 1968 to coach his Raiders, which proved to be a huge success, as Madden guided the Raiders to a Superbowl in 1976. Davis wasn’t shy about hiring coaches outside the box either, as he hired the first African-American head coach, Art Shell in 1989, in addition to hiring the first Hispanic head coach, Tom Flores in 1979.
Davis also stepped into the role as commissioner of the American Football League in 1966, a role he would assume for just two months. After aggressively pushing to sign players away from the NFL, Davis was blindsided by other AFL owners as they negotiated a merger with the NFL that summer.
He stepped down as the league commissioner to assume the duties of general manager and principal owner of the Oakland Raiders. It was at this time that Davis crafted the Raiders’ philosophy after his own of winning, excellence and hard work. From here, Davis committed himself to the Oakland Raiders, and his players and staff reciprocated that as the team had periods of long success.
After winning Superbowls in 1976 and 1981, Davis gambled as he moved the team to Los Angeles in 1982 after a long and drawn out court battle with the NFL. This move proved to have immediate success, with the Raiders winning a Superbowl in 1983, and in the process gaining the loving support from much of Southern California.
Davis wanted to build a new stadium in Hollywood Park in the late 1980s, but as that fell through, he abruptly moved the team back to Oakland. In the process, he sued the NFL again for not aiding in the construction of the stadium, which was thrown out of court in 2007, against Davis’ claims. Davis’ legal battles with the NFL off the field did help create the smash mouth football and brute force that the Raiders became associated with on the field.
Davis took a very hands-on approach with the control of his team, leading to many volatile relationships with coaches and players including Art Shell and Marcus Allen. Despite Davis’ sour reputation with many people across the game of football, he was very respected by peers. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones praised Davis, recalling that, “His contributions and expertise were inspiring at every level–coach, general manager, owner and commissioner. There was no element of the game of professional football for which Davis did not enjoy a thorough and complete level of knowledge and passion.”
Success and winning were the most important things to Davis. He bled it, and he did whatever he had to in order to achieve those goals.
Davis was honored on Sunday, prior to the Oakland Raiders taking on the Houston Texans, with the Raiders wearing a patch on their helmets with his name labeled on each. Every game played Sunday also held a moment of silence for this football juggernaut.
He was known for his motto of “Just win, baby,” but it was more than just a saying — it was a way of life. Davis always wanted to win, whether it was with his team on the field, his legal battles with the NFL, cities of Oakland and Los Angeles or just with his critics.
In the end, he was a winner and love him or hate him, he was a true patriarch of how the NFL came to be.