An NFL pioneer is dead at 82, suddenly leaving one of the league’s most storied franchises without an owner and general manager four weeks into their most promising season in nearly a decade.
Look, there’s no denying that we weren’t always nice to Al Davis in his later years. We thought he was out of touch with the realities of the modern game and lacked the ability to lead a billion-dollar company. But there was a time when Davis was one of the most respected, feared and valued members of the pro football elite.
And it’s impossible not to admire the devil-may-care ruthlessness that got him to the top. The dude sued the National Football League. And he friggin’ won, Supreme Court-styles. He stood up to “the man” (usually Pete Rozelle) which endeared him to your everyday fan. Although he had swagger, it felt like he could relate to you and me.
Maybe it was because he was a self-made man, earning everything he had. He started coaching the Raiders 49 years ago, in 1962, at the age of 33, and simply moved up the ladder. Within a decade, he had already gained a majority ownership of the team. His Raiders won three Super Bowl between 1977 and 1984.
He pissed a lot of people off over the years, mainly because he refused to conform. In addition to launching more than a half-dozen lawsuits at the league, he was the only owner to side with the rival USFL when it filed an antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986.
We’re not going to attempt to eulogize Davis. Neither Sean, nor Laura, nor Alen, nor I were around for Davis’ heyday. Like a lot of you, we’ve simply heard the stories and seen many a captured moment via NFL Films. It’s natural to remember the immediate past, but over time, we’ll hopefully begin to forget about the tumultuous years at the end of Davis’ reign and make more room for the days in which he was both a rogue badass and a personnel genius.
His Raiders haven’t won a championship in 28 years and they haven’t been to the playoffs or had a winning record since 2002. But Davis passes with his team playing its best football since that ’02 season. They’re 2-2, but many think they have the talent and direction to make a playoff run.
Dead owners have been honored in various ways over the years, and the 2011 Raiders will surely pay tribute to Davis with ceremonies and moments of silence and some sort of patch on their jerseys. But the best way they can honor the most famous man in the history of the franchise: Just win, baby.