It’s been almost a year since we lost the bright smile of a truly nice man and a true Raider warrior: safety Mike Davis. He played in 107 regular-season games, with 83 starts, for the Raiders. His last year with the Raiders was in 1986. He played for one additional year with San Diego before retiring. But his was a bittersweet life: while he reveled in his teammates’ accolades and the sweet smell of success that came with being a two-time Super Bowl champion, some of the sounds eluded him.
In 1977, Davis was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round, out of the University of Colorado (the thirty-fifth overall pick). Davis was coming into a secondary that was already famed, if not feared: George Atkinson, Skip Thomas, Jack Tatum, and Old Man Willie Brown formed the renowned group known as the “Soul Patrol,” so Davis had the benefit of learning from some of the best at their craft. For the first year of his career, Davis just sat and watched and waited for his chance.
The Beginnings Of Mike Davis’s Career
In fact, Davis actually made his first official start in 1978, collecting one interception in the one game that he started. Over the course of his career, he had a total of 11 interceptions and recovered 12 fumbles; he also had 11 sacks, including a significant one in Super Bowl 18 against Washington. However, the most important play of his career, undoubtedly, is the one for which he is most famous: the interception during the 1980 AFC Divisional playoff against the Cleveland Browns, on a play known as “Red Right, 88”.
Moving toward the end of the game, and with the Browns trailing 14-12, kicker Don Cockroft awaited the call on the sidelines for Cleveland to come in and kick the game-winning field goal. But he had already missed two extra points that day in the swirling wind, and a botched snap on a field goal attempt had virtually removed Browns’ head coach Sam Rutigliano’s confidence in the kicking game.
On Second Down…
On a second down, from the Raiders 14, the coach instructed his quarterback, Brian Sipe, to aim for his tight end, Ozzie Newsome, angling toward the back corner of the end zone; he told his quarterback that if there was nothing open, to simply throw the ball away and the Browns would then go for the field goal. On the play, Sipe lofted the ball, which fluttered in the gusty wind, allowing Davis to make a bead on the ball, cut the route, and gather in the pass, despite Newsome’s futile attempts to prevent the interception. Davis trapped the ball against his shoulder pads and clutched the ball like he had never clung to one in his entire life.
His teammates, Kenny King, Art Shell, and Gene Upshaw were all incredulous that this man, a guy who allegedly had the worst hands on the team (according to them) had singlehandedly produced the miracle that allowed the Raiders to continue their 1980 run to the NFL championship.
Davis was an integral part of that Oakland championship team. He then got to “go home” when the Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982, and helped the Raiders bring the first professional football championship to the city where he grew up.
Davis’s Post-Career Life
Even after his career ended in 1987, Mike continued to be a loyal and proud member of the Raider alumni, but at the same time, the effects of his career had taken a toll on his body. His hearing had started to decline, and he eventually went completely deaf. For three years, his world was a silent one, and he became withdrawn and isolated. After several surgeries and a special implant at the base of his skull, hearing was restored and Mike was able to enjoy his life again and spread the joy of the smile that he had brought throughout his playing career, but that had faded along with the sounds of everything around him.
Mike indicated that, despite the travails he experienced through the loss of his hearing, he was proud that he played the game the way that he did and that the sacrifices he had made on the field were all worth it. He once commented, during an ESPN interview, “I just wanted to play as hard as I could and do the best that I could.” He certainly did that, and he clutched his family as tightly as he clutched that football on that legendary January day in 1981.
The Day We Lost A Legend
When he passed away on April 25, 2021, at the age of 65, former teammate and Hall of Famer Art Shell commented that Mike was “a leader in our locker room early on.” As a person, you couldn’t find anybody better. He was a loving husband to his wife and their two sons.
“Red Right, 88” will continue to live in the minds and hearts of Raiders fans everywhere; not just for the miraculous play made by an unlikely defensive back who happened to be at the right place at the right time, but by a nice guy named Mike Davis, who always appreciated the sounds of victory both on and off the field. We continue to celebrate the career and life of No. 36, safety Mike Davis.
*Top Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images