Wearing his standard white slacks, black nylon jacket with silver piping and the large Raider patch over the left breast plate. Like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali, Al Davis is one of the world’s true iconic figures in sports.
Born on July 4th, 1929 in Brockton, MA, some have said Al Davis – born Allen Davis – dressed in black from a young age. The owner and leader of the Oakland Raiders, an organization of bad asses, hell raisers, and pirates or raiders terrorizing and pillaging the football landscape of the AFL (American Football League). Due to his age and vigor to live not die and pass on the rains of this storied and prestigious NFL franchise. Some have said that proper documentation of birth is questioned, that Al Davis is, in fact the Anti-Christ.
Oh come on!!
As a kid and native of Seattle, Washington, NFL football was not in the northwest; the closest team was the San Francisco 49ers. I liked Gene Washington and John Brodie on the 49ers, but they weren’t my favorites. I enjoyed watching Roman Gabriel with the LA Rams. But my team growing up, as a kid was the Oakland Raiders. The men in black – Ken Stabler (The Snake), Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, Calvin Branch, and Fred Biletnikoff. My coaches in High School were so pissed off with several of us because we put stick’em on our socks just like Biletnikoff and Lester Hayes before a game (of course that only happened once).
I meet Al Davis in 1998 at the yearly NIC (National Invitational Camp) or Combine, held in Indianapolis, IN. – where the best College football players are invited for physicals, workouts and interviews with all 32 teams. I was relieving myself in the men’s room, in the Indianapolis dome (home of Peyton Manning) in between workout groups. Zipping up my fly and hitting the knob to flush the urinal, a short gentleman positioned himself in the urinal stall next to me, suddenly realizing it was the Owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis. Hello Mr. Davis, I muttered. He said “hello young man”, what is your name? I told him Tony Softli, I work with the Carolina Panthers, and he replied “it is a pleasure meeting you”. How weird was that, to meet a man that I had followed and admired, while standing and taking a leak in the men’s room? It was way to strange!
Al Davis has been an innovator, villain and an admired man by both his players and peers in the NFL. A man that created a NFL franchise in his own image – hard nosed, takes no crap from anyone, arrogant winning attitude with a successful motto “just win baby”. Known as a pain in the ass too many, he helped change the game – the merger of two leagues together to help form the NFL. He has battled owners, cities and state officials in court, not to mention major issues with commissioners behind the scenes, all while his teams won Super Bowls, earning him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1963 he was hired as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Oakland Raiders. He had a tremendous season going 10-4 and winning the AFL. Had a stunt as the AFL Commissioner in 1969, but resigned and returned to the Oakland Raiders franchise as the Managing General Partner in 1977. He won his first Super Bowl with the Raiders 1977 was named Executive of the Year a few years later. He would win his second Super Bowl 1980. He moved the Franchise in 1982 to Los Angeles, Ca. Two short years later he won his third Lombardi trophy. In 1995 over contractual agreements with the City of Los Angeles, Davis moved the storied franchise back to Oakland.
Throughout the late 70’s and 80’s, Davis was hated by many for nasty play on the field and even dirtier business antics. Davis, the man in black, was unfazed by the criticism. In 1982 he sued the NFL for the opportunity to move his franchise from Oakland to Los Angeles. The victory cost league $50 million. His reputation took a severe beating with the press and Raider Nation, but privately other NFL owners started looking at other locations for their franchises for a better deal. The Raiders were moved back to Oakland in 1995 because Davis believed the L.A. Coliseum’s size and fan base lacked the ability to support the cost of running his team.
Over the years, more importantly to him, he earned the respect, loyalty and love from all his players. I have spoken to several players that I helped coach at the University of Washington that had the honor of playing for Al Davis and the Raider organization. The first thing out of their mouth is always “once a Raider always a Raider”. Lincoln Kennedy, Napoleon Kaufman and many others like Mickey Marvin, talk about their love for the man, and the loyalty that is a two way street. Mr. Davis has been honored several times to be the inductor for many Raiders that were enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has paid for surgeries of retired players, rehab stints for many, and has flown several members to attend former Raiders funerals.
Is he a controversial figure? Yes. Does he have passion for the game of football? Yes. Is he taking the Raiders back to the top of the league – a place they occupied for many years? Not so fast.
Davis has fired numerous coaches, front office executives and acquired several players only because they were excellent athletes with speed. This organization has been in transition since 2003 because of it. For the Rams’ sake let’s hope Sunday isn’t the turning point for the Men in Black, with a WIN over the Rams.