Whether you liked Al Davis or not, there was no denying he was a legend in the NFL. But on Saturday, the Oakland Raiders lost their longtime owner who never did anything by the books and introduced the silver-and-black to the phrase “Just win, baby!” The Hall of Famer, who died at his home in Oakland, was 82. The cause of death has not yet been disclosed.
Davis was one of the most important figures in NFL history and without him we might still have two competing professional football leagues. He was a pivotal figure in the merger between the NFL and AFL – where he served as commissioner. Originally he was not in favor of conjoining the two leagues but in 1970 the two joined forces, thanks in part to Davis’s aggressive pursuit of NFL talent for the struggling league.
In the 1980s Davis battled another group – the United States court system. He wanted to move his beloved Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. Davis eventually won the court battle, but years later in 1995 –when the Raiders went back to Oakland –he sued the league for $1.2 billion, stating that he still owned the rights to the Los Angeles market.
Davis was born in Brockton, Mass., and grew up in Brooklyn. He later attended Syracuse University and soon after graduating, got his start as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts, before joining the Los Angeles Chargers of the newly formed AFL in 1960s. Within three years, he was hired by the Raiders, at which point he became the youngest general manager-head coach in pro football history at age 27.
It wasn’t too long after that he bought the ailing franchise and became the commissioner of the AFL. He soon gave up his coaching job, but as later coaches such as John Madden, Art Shell and Jon Gruden learned, he always ran every aspect of the team as though he was still the head coach.
After the merger in 1970, Davis went back to focusing on the Raiders and helped build one of the NFL’s elite franchises, winning Super Bowls in 1976, 1980 and 1983 – the last one in Los Angeles, since the team had moved in 1982. The glory years were followed by plenty of disappointment, as the Raiders and Davis slowly built up a reputation as a team that would take any player, not matter what problems he might have had off the field.
The team did manage to get back to the Super Bowl in 2002, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which abruptly sent the team back to their losing ways. Davis was always there, however. He was a fixture at Raiders training camp and practice until this season when he failed to show up to any of training camp. He even missed a game at Buffalo last month, believed to be just the third game he missed in his 49 seasons with the organization. He also did not attend last week’s home game against New England.
“The Oakland Raiders are deeply saddened by the passing of Al Davis,” the team said in a statement. Al Davis was unique, a maverick, a giant amongst giants, a true legend among legends, the brightest star among stars, a hero, a mentor, a friend.”
Davis is survived by his wife, Carol, and son Mark. Davis had said before his passing, that Mark would continue to run the team after his death.
Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.