Ramble 101: The Maverick

There are very few franchises in the NFL that can claim as large a historical contribution as the Oakland Raiders. After so many ups and downs through the franchise’s history, it’s time to revisit what makes them so great and why the Raiders are such an integral part of the game as we know it today.

The team, established in 1960, has become synonymous with football history and trailblazing. The Raiders have always been known for their radical ideals, over the top personalities, and recalcitrance to the very structure of the NFL.

The subversion that established a large part of Raiders culture was fostered almost entirely by Al Davis. Davis hit the game immediately after graduating from college with his Bachelor’s degree at age 20. He applied for a college coaching position in hopes of getting his foot in the football door. Eventually, Davis moved up to the big leagues and floated around the football world until he found a landing spot in Oakland.

The team hired Davis in 1963 to replace their head coach after a disastrous 1962 season, where the team lost 13 games in a row of a 14-game season. The Maverick impressed owner F. Wayne Valley enough to earn the head coaching position over several highly qualified candidates that Valley considered, including Vince Lombardi. There was no question that Davis was the perfect fit for the team. It was the marriage of a leader and an organization that would become of one of the most influential teams in the history of football.

Just Win, Baby.

Those words ring through the ears of every member of Raider Nation, players, staff, and fans alike. The team was a beacon of diversity and eased rather naturally into the bad boys of the game. That reputation was well-earned and highly respected. The team embodied one overwhelming ideal: a Commitment to Excellence. This meant one thing: be great.

Davis spent his time putting together the best players to fit the Raiders’ philosophy, and nothing mattered except what he believed that person could offer. Davis was a gifted genius at picking up “second-chancers” from other teams that cut them because they were “past their prime”, cast-offs from elsewhere regardless of their history, and getting everything they had left in the tank. His ability to find talent where there seemed to be none was and still is unparalleled, even in today’s game. He scoured free agents for men who had chips on their shoulders and were ready to take it out on the league.

Behind coach Davis, the Raiders quickly turned into a contender through an uncommon approach. He established a culture that revolved around a cause very important to Davis: equality. Civil rights were among Davis’ most important crusades, and he regularly used his position and influence to expand the league’s horizons with respect to race and gender relations. He was the first owner to hire a Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores), an African-American head coach (Art Shell), and a female CEO (Amy Trask). It was only fitting that the Raiders turned into an organization that welcomed anyone on the field and off. As long as you could contribute, Davis wanted you.

The culture of inclusion that Davis established and perpetuated throughout his tenure as coach and owner is the reason that people from all walks of life have gravitated towards the team. Fans love their team, the good, the bad, and the ugly because it all makes up what the Raiders are at the very core.

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