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Davis, Al

Al Davis

1929-

American football executive

As owner of the National Football League's (NFL) Oakland Raiders, Al Davis has been both vilified and admired by his colleagues. Davis has created a team in his own image, both arrogant and mysterious, determined and successful. His unorthodox approach to the game on the field, and the equally interesting one played in the league's back rooms, has won him Super Bowls, a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and most importantly to him, the respect and admiration of his players. He has revolutionized the sport and set a standard that has influenced the league for forty years.

Growing Up

Born Allen Davis on July 4, 1929 in Massachusetts, his family soon moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a child Davis dreamed of owning and managing a franchise more than he did of playing the game. Raised in the World War II era, Davis was fascinated by military principles and history and would eventually marry his strategic mind to his lust for power. His goal was to run the greatest sports organization in history.

During his college career he didn't excel on the field but was immediately recognized for his ability to motivate the other players. This talent paid off when he was hired, without any coaching experience, to be the line and baseball coach at Adelphi College. After a stint in the United States Army, where he coached the military team, Davis became a scout for the Baltimore Colts before moving on to coach line at the University of Southern California.

Davis and the AFL

Davis entered professional football in the sixties as the offensive end coach with the Los Angeles Chargers of the newly formed American Football League (AFL). During his stay with the Chargers, his recruitment techniques would become notorious. Unafraid to approach the opposing teams' players, Davis was always trying to lure players to his team. He also made waves with a passing attack that was responsible for elevating the Chargers' offensive rank.

The Black and Silver

In 1963, Davis was hired by the AFL's Oakland Raiders as the head coach and general manager. He was the youngest man to ever hold both positions. That year the rookie head coach would transform a 1-13 team into a 10-4 contender and win the AFL's Coach of the Year award. His innovative ideas, such as bump and run pass coverage, would become staples of the NFL in years to come. He redesigned the team's image, changing their colors to black and silver, and gave them a motto, "Pride and Poise." With the relentless passing attack and intimidating defense that would become their trademark, the Raiders were on the verge of becoming one of the AFL's most dominant teams.

In 1966, Davis was named the AFL's commissioner. In direct competition with the NFL, the AFL chose Davis in hopes of forcing a merger. They had hoped his ruthless tactics would eventually weaken their rival. Davis immediately set out to lure unhappy NFL players to the AFL. Their strategy worked and the two leagues merged following the 1969 Super Bowl. Pete Rozelle took over as commissioner and Davis went back to Oakland, but the hostility that festered between the two would last for decades.

The Glory Years

Gathering unwanted players from around the league, Davis continued to build on the Raiders' powerful reputation. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Raiders and Davis were despised for dirty play and even dirtier business tactics. Davis, on the other hand, had by now adopted his "just win, baby" attitude and continued unfazed by the criticism. Rumors spread that not only had Davis bugged the opposing team's locker room but that

he had an army of unofficial scouts spying on other teams and luring their players away from them. "I'd run into some high school coach and he'd tell me he was a Raider scout," said former player, Gene Upshaw. "Everybody was a Raider scout." Davis was also rumored to have been seen at a celebrity golf tournament hoping to find an unhappy player to steal. "Al can steal your eyeballs and convince you that you look better without them," said former Cleveland Brown's coach Sam Rutigliano. Inside the organization, however, Davis's players regarded him as a hero and remained loyal to the black and silver. His treatment of players was unparalleled in the league. The NFL even had to impose a maximum on the amount spent on Super Bowl rings after Davis's diamond studded design following the Raiders' 1980 victory.

Chronology

1929 Born July 4 in Brockton, Massachusetts
1957 Coaches line at the University of Southern California
1963 Hired as coach and general manager of the Oakland Raiders
1963 Named AFL Coach of the Year
1966 Named AFL commissioner
1969 Returns to Oakland as managing general partner
1977 Wins first Super Bowl with the Raiders
1977 Named NFL Executive of the Year
1980 Wins second Super Bowl with the Raiders
1982 Moves team from Oakland to Los Angeles
1984 Wins third Super Bowl
1992 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1995 Moves Raiders back to Oakland

Turmoil and Relocation

His reputation for upsetting the NFL establishment was solidified in 1982 when he sued the NFL for the opportunity to move his franchise from Oakland to Los Angeles. His victory cost the NFL $50 million dollars and led to a period of expansion and relocation that had more to do with money and less to do with loyalty to the fans. Davis's reputation took a beating in the press but privately other NFL owners took notice. Leading the opposition, Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, soon changed his tune and went on a similar search for the sweetest deal. Davis, however, didn't stop there, eventually moving his team back to Oakland in 1995 because, among other reasons, he believed the L.A. Coliseum's size and lack of fan support was costing his team four to six points a game.

Death and a Legacy

Throughout the turmoil and the rumors of relocation, Davis has remained an intriguing figure. His obsession with death and his nearly supernatural record of reviving loved ones the medicine had given up on, only reinforces this image. In 1979, when his wife went into cardiac arrest and eventually a coma, her doctors told him that she would be a vegetable if she even woke up at all. Davis, unconvinced, stayed by her bed around the clock and seemingly willed her back to life in less than a week and a half.

Awards and Accomplishments

1963 Named AFL's Coach of the Year
1966 Named AFL's commissioner
1977 Wins first Super Bowl
1977 Named NFL's Executive of the Year
1980 Wins second Super Bowl
1984 Wins third Super Bowl
1992 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Lord of the Rings

For an owner, Davis has always been strangely considerate of labor. He flew former Raiders to Super Bowl games, back when the team was in them, and continues to fly former players to home games throughout the season. Whenever a Raider is inducted into the Hall of Famethere have been six, and they have all asked for Davis to present themhe arranges for former teammates to be on hand. One former Raider, long since traded away, got into trouble with drugs, and Davis secretly financed his rehabilitation. And, said [Gene] Upshaw, "If a player passes away, like Dan Birdwell did in 1978, he flies us all in for the funeral."

[He] defers as much acclaim as possible to the players. He rarely goes to awards banquets for fear of denying the players their proper due. The gesture occasionally backfires. He got some heat in 1983 when he stiffed the Los Angeles Press Club; friends say he was just being careful not to steal attention away from the team.

When Upshaw and Davis visited Irwindale, Calif., to see one of several proposed sites for a new Raider stadium, Upshaw asked if it would be named Al Davis Stadium. Davis was surprised at the suggestion. "Not in a million years," he said, adding that the hall of fame he intends to build with the stadium will be devoted entirely to players.

Source: Richard Hoffer, Sports Illustrated, December 11, 1989, p. 104.

A mythic figure in the NFL, Davis's pompadour and white Raiders jump suit doesn't instill fear in his opponents the way it did in his Raider glory days. It isn't that he has become any less radical but he is no longer alone on the frontier, owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder have adopted Davis's hands on approach, and in the process made him seem more like the old guard he spent his career battling. His teams, however, are still the result of instinctive scouting and discarded players and remain fiercely loyal to the black and silver.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Biography Resource Center. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals

"Al to World: Get Out of Our Way." Sports Illustrated (September 5, 1984): 86.

"A Commitment to Cynicism." Sports Illustrated (September 17, 1990): 102.

"It's Never Really Over." Sports Illustrated (September 24, 1990): 88.

"Just Move, Baby." Sports Illustrated (July 3, 1995): 26.

"Lord of the Rings." Sports Illustrated (December 11, 1989): 104.

"No Pride, No Poise." Sporting News (December 22, 1997): 9.

"The Raid-Uh Rules." Esquire (January, 1996): 41.

Sketch by Aric Karpinski

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