“The greatness of the Raiders lies in their future.” – Al Davis
When you think of the Raiders, you cannot do so without thinking of their iconic owner. As the team builds for the future with a new owner, Mark Davis (son of Al Davis), you are left to wonder if the late owner’s son will live up to the words of his father. Following in the footsteps of a legend can be daunting for any child, especially when you must try to live up to those lofty goals under the lights and scrutiny of todays society in America’s most popular sport. The task seems almost insurmountable.
The story of the late Al Davis would make for a great Hollywood story all by itself. Raiders fans are all too familiar with the story of his life. For those that do not know his story, here is a summarized biography:
Davis’ first turn as a professional coach started with the then Los Angeles Chargers of the upstart AFL, as an offensive coach in 1960 under coach Sid Gillman. In 1963, Al Davis became coach and owner of the lowly Raiders, and he built the team into a perennial winner for over four decades. In his first year as coach, he took a team that had only won nine games in three years and led them to a 10-4 record. That great turn around garnered him coach of the year accolades, but the legend of Al Davis was just beginning. He would eventually become a trailblazer who left an indelible imprint in the sport we know today. His many accomplishments include:
– First owner to hire minorities for all positions on the field, including, first African-American quarterback to be drafted in the first round (Eldridge Dickey, 1968, 25th overall)
– First owner to hire minorities as head coaches and as executives (Tom Flores, Art Shell, Amy Trask)
– Only person to give induction speeches for nine Hall of Fame players
– Only person in NFL history to serve as assistant coach, head coach, general manager, owner and commissioner of the league
Al Davis was many things to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have him as a friend, you would never find someone more loyal to you and he was always there for you in your time of need. If you had the misfortune of being a perceived enemy, there was no greater nemesis to have in and around the football field. Al loved his players and retained many of them for positions within the organization long after their playing days had gone. Al’s coined term, “Once a Raider, always a Raider,” is still true to this today. Willie Brown, Jim Plunkett, and Tom Flores all still have roles within the organization.
In his final years, Davis tried to recoup the success that had once been synonymous with his proud organization. As much as he was responsible for building the team into a winner, he was also responsible for its current demise and current spell of losing football. Draft picks that didn’t pan out, overpaying for veterans that had lost a step, and constant turnover at the head coaching position. All of these things were Al’s valiant efforts to win the big one more time.
Even when Al Davis passed away on October 8, 2011, his legend continued to grow. The Sunday after his passing, and with heavy hearts, the Raiders played the Houston Texans. In this game, the Raiders were able to pull off a victory for their great owner with a last second interception in the end zone. It is much publicized that on that last play, the Raiders were on the field with only ten men and were still able to win. Raider fans will say that the eleventh player was their beloved owner willing his team to “Just Win Baby!”
Mark Davis, Al’s only son, assumed ownership of the Raiders after his father passed away. When the news broke that the team would remain in the Davis family, pundits and those outside the organization skewered the decision based on the speculation that Mark did not have as much football acumen as his father. Truth is, most people would never know as much as Al did.
A year and a half into his tenure, the legend of Mark Davis has yet to be written. I do believe, though, that he is taking the steps to right the ship and bring glory back to what his father built. For starters, the new Mr. Davis was not pretentious, and he knew that he was in over his head in the daily operations of a modern NFL team. As such, he has surrounded himself with those who have knowledge about today’s football. When he searched for his new GM, he sought out the opinions of some of his father’s confidant’s, including legendary coach John Madden. That search led to Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie was the only person that Mark Davis interviewed, but he knew he wanted him to lead the team.
In order to build his legacy and leave his own mark on the league, Mr. Davis must do several things. First and foremost, he must have his team start winning football games again. With the financial side of the operations ready for the next year, this current team must re-establish that foundation of winning and erase the mindset of what has become bad play over the last ten years. That seems to be happening. Several players in this years mini-camp have noted that the mindset has changed, and it has become a team first attitude. Secondly, the Raiders must have a new stadium. Whether that means splitting the season with their bay area neighbors or finding their own place to call home, this is something that must occur. Thirdly, the team must remain in Oakland. Two of their Super Bowl victories happened before the team moved to LA, and true, die-hard, fans believe that home is the bay area.
If and when Mark Davis does this, his legacy will be intact. Will it be as mythical as that of his father’s? Who knows, but those are big shoes to fill considering todays NFL. I would say, though, that as a father, I would not want my son to follow in my footsteps. I would hope that my son would make his own path in life and cultivate his own story. I believe that Mark Davis is doing exactly that. Making his own story and writing his own legend. Not as a separate story from his iconic father’s, but as an addition to what makes the Raiders great. As Mark said recently in a Mercury News interview, “The Raiders will be great again. Write it down. The Raiders will be great again.”