An independent man like Al Davis could only have been born on the 4th of July. The iconic owner’s tragic passing comes as a shock only in the sense that it seemed he’d always be at the helm of the Raider ship.
Today, the flag of Raider Nation is at half-staff.
The sports world has lost one of the most legendary and accomplished individuals in history. The football world is without one of the greatest minds to ever enter the game.
More importantly a family comprised of relatives and friends alike is without an individual who has been many things to them.
No doubt you know the resume of Mr. Davis. You’re well aware of the three Lombardi trophies he proudly displayed, those great symbols of football accomplishment. You must know about all the roles he’s played over the years from coach, to commissioner, owner and even scout. He did it all in this business.
Surely his role played in helping to make the NFL what it is today will be among the most important of his contributions to the game. Without Mr. Davis and his maverick business practices the NFL would not be the multi-billion dollar business it is today.
But all of the aforementioned accomplishments only touch the surface of what Mr. Davis has meant to the game and his beloved Raiders. Mr. Davis was much more than just an iconic figure, he was a modern day pioneer every bit the innovator that Steve Jobs was.
First and foremost Al Davis sought to build more than just a winning franchise – he wanted to make the Silver and Black a family. On both fronts he accomplished his goals.
It was routine for me, as a child, to stand in awe of the then Los Angeles Raiders as they ran unto the field at the L.A. Coliseum on Sundays to the sound of the Autumn wind beneath signs proclaiming the Raiders to be the “Winningest Franchise in Professional Sports”. In those fleeting hours I was a part of a family. The Raider Nation family.
Surrounded by men and women I did not know, I always felt like I was among friends. That is the exact environment Mr. Davis sought to create from the members that comprise the front office, to the players and coaches on the field and on into the stands amongst the fans.
All members of the Raiders were viewed and treated as family.
Mr. Davis has long been known to take former players under his wing to offer financial support for those in need such as former fullback Steve Smith. Mr. Davis has also been known for hiring many of his former players in jobs as both coaches and in administration.
In all of professional sports you won’t find an owner with more passion for his franchise. That passion was infectious. It spread to everyone that had any contact with the Raiders. Playing for the Raiders was a more than playing football. It was a way of life. A mentality of being yourself and doing what you do best regardless of any obstacle.
As important as Mr. Davis’ football philosophies were to the game, his business practices were also culturally significant. You see Mr. Davis never thought in terms of race, creed, ethnicity, sex or even age. To him the best person for the job was the one that did the best work – plain and simple.
Al Davis gave opportunities to individuals that would otherwise have never had the chance. From the hiring of Tom Flores and Art Shell to the current standing of Amy Trask as the highest ranking woman in all of pro football, Mr. Davis has always believed in giving everyone an equal opportunity.
That is something that is not lost on all of us in all walks of life.
Mr. Davis was also known for extending opportunities to players that were cast-offs or misfits. Again, to Mr. Davis all that mattered was the dedication of the individual. Yet another endearing trait that made the Oakland Raiders a beacon for millions of people worldwide that sought a place where they could be accepted for who they truly are.
To Mr. Davis all that mattered were the results that were delivered and that was echoed by his iconic sayings.
Just win, baby!
Commitment to Excellence.
If you are a true Raider fan then the mere mention of either of those mottos still gives you chills.
It is impossible to discuss Davis without also mentioning some of his misgivings. From his well known hands-on approach on down to his differences with Marcus Allen, you had to accept all things Al Davis just as he accepted everyone for who they were as well.
It is easy to understand why Davis was so involved with his franchise. The man was not some millionaire that bought his way into the game. Mr. Davis was a made man in the business of pro football. He worked his way up the football ladder eventually taking the throne as the alpha and omega of the Oakland Raiders.
Along the way Davis did plenty to offend others. His stubborn ways made many an NFL commissioner cringe. His controversial move of the Raiders from the East Bay to East L.A. was equally hated and loved in both Northern and Southern California.
For me, I feel fortunate that Mr. Davis chose to spread the Silver and Black gospel to Los Angeles. Growing up the Raiders became my team. I can recall some of my favorite memories being Sundays with my father in the L.A. Coliseum.
It was also in Los Angeles where Davis would show how personal he took all things Raider. His legendary spat with Marcus Allen eventually ended in the owner telling his coach to bench a key player – one of the true taboos of the sports world. Davis would later threaten to move the Raiders again as he embarked on a legal odyssey with the NFL that went as far as to threaten moving the team to the small SoCal suburb of Irwindale.
In the end, Davis returned his team to its rightful place which was back to Oakland. As heartbroken as I was to see the Raiders leave it felt right that they return to their essence. I was grateful that Mr. Davis shared the team with the city of L.A. and love the fact that I can still make the journey to see my favorite franchise play on Sundays.
Al Davis is an American original. A larger than life individual that you usually only find in works of fiction. However Mr. Davis was the real deal. He found success in every era proving his principles are as relevant today as ever. While the last decade will be known for the many moments of strife and struggle Davis departed with his beloved franchise working its way back to respectability.
The legacy of Al Davis will be a topic of discussion in the coming weeks. While I admire the man that revolutionized the game, I can’t begin to express my thanks to the man that created the greatest family in all of football.
I’m proud to say I’m member of the millions that comprise Raider Nation. In the end that’s exactly what Mr. Davis’ true desire was. He wanted to make his franchise a family first and foremost. That may be his most amazing accomplishment.