Al Davis Dies at 85
The Department of THEY DON’T MAKE THEM LIKE THAT ANYMORE, professional football team owners division.
Washington is a town of football fanatics, especially Redskin fanatics. The Redskins have had their share of hate ‘em or love ‘em or both owners. The irascible Jack Kent Cooke among them with his three super bowl titles. Cooke’s legendary ego got a pass from most fans, just as the fact that Dan Snyder’s failure to even get into a Super Bowl has a lot to do with fan displeasure.
When it comes to ego, legend and sheer can-you-top-this personality, there probably wasn’t anybody larger in life and legend than Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders owner and sometimes coach who helped bring about the creation of Super Bowls and the merger of the National Football League with the fledgling American Football League and took his team back and forth from Oakland to Los Angeles and back, much to the displeasure of the NFL.
There was nobody quite like Davis, who passed away at the age of 85 last week. As coach and owner of the Raiders, he helped build an outlaw image for the team, who wore black and silver uniforms and acted and played like pirates. In 48 years, his Raiders won 15 conference titles and three Super Bowls including an embarrassing rout of the Redskins led by Joe Gibbs.
He had legendary players—Big Ben Davidson, a lineman with a mustache as big as his head, George Blanda, the eternal quarterback and place kicker who played practically forever until his death last year, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, a quarterback of Southern daring, the controversial and hard-hitting safety Jack Tatum, and Gene Upshaw, an offensive guard who rose to become head of the NFL Players Union.
Only one team in the AFL was meaner and tougher, and that was the Terry Bradshaw led Pittsburgh Steelers who had the Raiders’ number.
Davis was brash, outspoken, paranoid, egomaniacal and had a brilliant football mind and was forward looking in leading the way to the merger than made the NFL the greatest show on earth.
As a young sports writer in Northern California, I went to write a feature about the Raiders’ training camp in Santa Rosa one year. I accidentally wandered into Davis’ office and when he discovered me, he blew a gasket and would no doubt have had me shot as a spy if the trainer had not intervened. He scared the hell out of me. But I became a Raiders fan nonetheless.
Legend has it—and I can’t vouch for this—that Davis, a workaholic, came home at 5 a.m. once and his sleeping wife turned and moaned “Oh God.” The story has it that Davis said, “You can call me Al at home, honey.” I believe the story.
One of a kind.