Analysts and some even in Raider Nation love bad mouthing Al Davis all because he “lost his mind” towards the end of his reign. Given all he did for football, the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders as well as the AFL and NFL, I’d say he earned earned his praise.
Davis started in the NFL as a scout for the Baltimore Colts in the late 50’s. Then he became a wide receiver coach in the AFL for the Chargers under Sid Gillman in the early 60’s. There he picked up the aggressive West Coast offense that he took to Oakland in ’63. F. Wayne Valley offered him the job of head coach and general manager where he perfected that West Coast offense with power running and the deep vertical game.
Davis made an immediate impact on the team. He had a brash and blunt approach to managing. Not afraid to overbid for stars he wanted and was even accused of stealing players on several occasions. Davis would even rush onto college fields right after the game to sign a player. He knew some of those guys would not make it out of the stadium unsigned.
During this time the Raiders broke barriers by pioneering the signing of men of color. Refusing to play or bring his teams to towns where his teams would be split into white and black hotels. He strong-armed them in, despite the odds against him, and made AFL Coach of the Year in his first year taking them 10-4.
Challenge and betrayal
Davis walked away from the Raiders to be the Commissioner of the AFL in ’66 and that was when he really caused chaos within the league. He primarily expanded it to allow minorities to play on all AFL teams. Teams even started drafting from predominantly black universities as he and Wilson led the charge to challenge the NFL.
While Davis felt he was brought in to wage war against the NFL, secretly the other owners were holding meetings with NFL to discuss merging. The other AFL teams went behind his back and eventually worked out a deal with the NFL. Davis was mad as he knew the AFL was the better brand and felt they would surpass the NFL. Davis was offered to remain as commissioner answering only to Pete Rozelle, but he was not having it, he answered to nobody. He stepped down and returned to the Raiders, buying 10% of shares as a general partner and became head of football operations.
A lust for power
In 67’ under coach John Rauch the team took home the AFL championship but was dominated by the Packers in the second Super Bowl. Davis had solid control of the team but he didn’t stop there, this time he was determined to take it over, and that started with bringing the great John Madden in as head coach in ‘69.
His takeover did not take long either. In ’72, while Valley was visiting Munich for the Olympics, Davis had his lawyers draft up documentation revising the partnership agreement. That agreement gave Davis almost full control of football operations. Ed McGah loved what Davis was doing with the team so he helped his mission. When Valley came back, he was furious and tried suing Davis but failed as Davis and McGah legally phased out his say with more combined control over the team. By ’76, Valley sold out to Davis as his empire was wreaking havoc on the league. That year Davis hoisted his first Super Bowl Lombardi trophy leaving a trail of battered bodies along the way. It was the Raiders vs the NFL, that was the “Raider Way”.
The Raider Way
Misfits, bad boys, outcasts, washouts… these were players Davis took in. The Raiders mystique was alive, and one thing my dad always said he loved about Raiders and Davis (he was a Broncos fan), was if they couldn’t beat you, they just beat you. Raiders were all about winning but their game almost made it look like the scoreboard seemed secondary. They really wanted to hurt people and make them hear footsteps all game long. The defense wanted you to second guess yourself catching that ball or blasting through that hole. Nicknames were created for these guys like “The eleven angry men”, “The Assassin”, and “Dr. Death” to name a few on the defensive side to ones like “Mad Bomber” and “Ghost” on the offense.
Davis continued breaking barriers as he promoted Tom Flores to be successor to Madden. Flores was the second Latino to coach in the NFL and went on to bring back two more Lombardi’s in ’81 as the Oakland Raiders and then again in ’83 as Los Angeles Raiders after Al moved the team due to conditions of the Oakland coliseum.
A Slow Decline and Resurgence
Flores moved up into an executive spot in 1987 and Mike Shanahan was brought in to head coach. That didn’t last long as he and Davis butt heads regularly. In 1989, Davis fired Shanahan and brought in his former offensive line member Art Shell. At the time, Art was the second African American Head coach in the NFL.
In the late 90’s Davis took them back to Oakland, fired Art Shell, and broke another barrier as he made Amy Trask the first female CEO of the National Football League and Jon Gruden, the youngest coach.
The Eternal Torch
Ed McGah passed away in the early 2000’s. His family filed a lawsuit against Davis as he would not disclose financial records with them and ran the team as his own. Their case was dismissed, since the senior McGah bestowed that power to Davis in the early years. Eventually, they too sold their shares to Davis and that gave him 67% of the shares and majority ownership for the first time in the 40 years he had been a part of the Raiders.
Davis passed in 2011 at the age of 82, his son, Mark took over operations. The NFL would not be the league it is today without the “Maverick,” he brought us so many stars and made tidal waves while doing it. It is safe to say that nobody made an impact on this league like he did.
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