Just Win, Baby.
October 8, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Al Davis, 1929 - 2011. The owner of the Oakland (Los Angeles, then Oakland again) Raiders was one of the most important figures in U.S. sports history, known as much for his cantankerous relationship with fellow owners and city leaders as his team's success on the field. Davis also hired the first black head coach of the modern era, the first Latino coach and the NFL's first female CEO. Moreover, the Raiders morphed into a worldwide brand as the team’s colors, swagger and anti-establishment ethos became linked with the hip-hop scene that was permeating South Central Los Angeles.
posted by Cool Papa Bell (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by drezdn at 9:12 AM on October 8, 2011

"Just win baby!" Al Davis was one of those "colorful characters" that are have all but disappeared from thoroughly corporate professional sports. The NFL just became even blander.
posted by MikeMc at 9:20 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you love NFL football, and many people sincerely do, you must pay homage to a key figure in the development, growth, and modern success to Al Davis. His key involvement in the early days of the merger was a great story many young people don't know. Love him or hate him, he lived by his terms and the world of football lost a giant today.
posted by Senator at 9:22 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to make the "but Al Davis has been dead for decades, they've just been wheeling his corpse around the sidelines" joke, but, yeah, this really is too bad.

As many faults as Davis had, professional sports needs a lot more Al Davises and a lot fewer Daniel Snyders.

posted by dersins at 9:24 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Without doing any research, I will hazard to say that Davis was the last NFL team owner to actually have a football mind. I think he may have become a bit demented in his last years (I don't mean that clinically) and made poorish decisions in hiring a succession of unsuccessful coaches, but he was a builder, and his draft choices (though they may not have panned out in Oakland) are excelling throughout the league.

I have mixed feelings. I wonder who the team goes to.
posted by Trochanter at 9:25 AM on October 8, 2011

First Steve, now Al. Almost like two poles of light and darkness.... I'm not sure Mr. Davis would want to rest in peace, but as a lifelong Raider fan, I'll make the request.
posted by kawika at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd second that notion of "last owner with a football mind." There are plenty of owners that inherited their teams and have worked since childhood within their organization (e.g. the Rooneys, the Maras, the Irsays). But none had the successful coaching career as Davis had prior to ownership.

I think Davis' poorish decisions stem from his unyielding desire to play a specific style (the deep threat to stretch the field) whether or not he actually had the personnel to be effective with that style.

The NFL's future from here will be interesting. Davis was always able to influence the ownership by simply standing so far apart from them, and, taken as a whole, the NFL has been a mind-boggling success. You wonder how much of that success stems from the sheer friction between Davis and the owners. Jerry Jones in Dallas (somewhat) does the same thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:39 AM on October 8, 2011

posted by cashman at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2011

Speaking of Rooneys and Maras
posted by leotrotsky at 10:03 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

As others have said, I don't agree with everything he's ever done, especially in his later years, but his influence on the NFL is undeniable.

posted by box at 10:10 AM on October 8, 2011

The Raiders are now likely to head to LA. Al Davis actually liked Oakland and the Bay Area... now that he's gone, the siren song of the second largest media market in the country is too hard to ignore for those with less vision and gumption than Davis.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:29 AM on October 8, 2011

posted by Cerulean at 10:31 AM on October 8, 2011

Hated him, but only in the way that you hate sports characters that screwed your city and not in a serious wish him ill sort of way. He was a legend in the sport heading one of the league's most storied teams.

RIP Al, you were a hell of a character and the NFL is a little worse off today without you.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Renoroc at 10:45 AM on October 8, 2011

As a young'n, y'all are right - I don't understand the reverence. As a person who started really following the NFL about a decade ago, all I ever saw was a crazy old man who drove away talent, made poor draft decisions, and put himself above a franchise and a city. In fact, as a sports fan, I think it's very strange how the people whose columns I read and shows I listen to have done a 180 this morning. Obviously my perspective is limited - I don't remember the better days of his legacy because I wasn't around back then. But I feel like if you'd asked a typical sports fan or commentator yesterday whether the Raiders would be better of without Davis, an overwhelming majority would have said yes. Today he's a titan of the sport. I suppose the two are not mutually exclusive, but still, I find the reaction odd.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:50 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

posted by telstar at 10:58 AM on October 8, 2011

Commitment to Excellence.

posted by toodleydoodley at 11:02 AM on October 8, 2011

2003...Super Bowl...went to a bar where all the patrons were loud, drunk and illegally smoking ciggies inside...all "outlaw" don't you know. It was fucking funny when the Raiders lost BIG TIME and that bar got so quiet you could hear the ciggies burning down to ash.
posted by telstar at 11:06 AM on October 8, 2011

I was born in Oakland and I cried when Franco Harris did the immaculate reception even though I could barely count to seven at the time. To me the golden days of Raider football ended the day Al traded Jim Lachey to the Redskins for that quarterback whose name I forgot. After that it was almost all downhill. You cannot win in the NFL without a good quarterback and since Plunkett the Raiders have only had two: Hostetler and Gannon. Every single other instance has been one Al Davis mistake after another. But those teams he put together right up to the point where he gave away Lachey were very good and also unique. You really didn't see a lot of guys like Lester Hayes or Fred Biletnikoff or Ken Stabler or Otis Sistrunk or Howie Long or Ted Hendricks on other NFL teams and Davis collected them. Just this morning in another thread I was posting about one of my favorite Raider memories, and now I am going to link it:

Marcus Allen's record Super touchdown rush
posted by bukvich at 11:30 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The guy was great for awhile, but hung on too long. I remember reading an analysis of Al Davis based on interviews from former players and coaches, and one comment that stuck was that Al Davis really knew football, but football from the 1970's. The game has changed a lot since then, and Al steadfastly hung on to the old days. He had great coaches work for him that he ran off, and they won Super Bowls with other teams. His jaunt to L.A. was stupid, and then playing in a gargantuan stadium down there that he had no hope of filling was asinine.

I'm sorry the guy died, but now the Raiders, whom I hate with as much passion as their rabid fans in Oakland love them, have a chance at becoming a credible team in the NFL again now that they're out of he tight clutches of his short leash. He was good for football for awhile, but didn't know when to let go.
posted by Eekacat at 12:36 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Autumn Wind

The Autumn Wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
swaggering boisterously
His face is weather beaten
He wears a hooded sash
With his silver hat about his head
And a bristly black moustache
He growls as he storms the country
A villain big and bold
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake
As he robs them of their gold
The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun
He'll knock you 'round and upside down
And laugh when he's conquered and won.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:46 PM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

The game passed Al by over the last decade, but he was responsible for the velocity that allowed it to do so.
posted by outlaw of averages at 1:04 PM on October 8, 2011

Al Davis always seemed to draft the same type of player every year -- tall, fast, no real regards to whether they could throw/catch/defend. When the Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell first, it was like Al Davis was handed the perfect specimen of The Al Davis Player --- who then busted just like Al Davis Players are prone to do.

To say he was the last "non-corporate-owner" is a misnomer -- there really haven't been very many, especially since the late 50s when money started flowing into the NFL and overflowed into the new AFL.

It'll be sad to see the Raiders head back south again. OTOH, it will open the door for the A's to stay in a heavily renovated Coliseum (minus "Mount Davis," the luxury boxes in center field the A's could never use because they were just too far away from the action).
posted by dw at 1:11 PM on October 8, 2011

I think Davis' poorish decisions stem from his unyielding desire to play a specific style (the deep threat to stretch the field) whether or not he actually had the personnel to be effective with that style.
This is funny to me since "the vertical game", due to rules changes, is now the bread and butter of the NFL elite (Patriots, Colts, Packers, Saints), while the 2011 Raiders are one of the few teams with a credible running game...
posted by outlaw of averages at 1:14 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

"the vertical game", due to rules changes, is now the bread and butter of the NFL

Gotta disagree. It's way more about the short passing game. Walsh's system. The quick pass is the run. The quick pass sets up the run. The quick pass sets up the deep pass. Davis' vertical game is not in vogue.
posted by Trochanter at 1:18 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sure I meant passing in general. Are we really to believe that Davis wanted his offense run like a 12 year old playing Madden?

On second thought, don't answer that.
posted by outlaw of averages at 1:36 PM on October 8, 2011

I was never a consistent fan of the Raiders, or of the way Davis ran the organization (at least in recent years) as a halfway house for players of dubious character and declining skills, but NFL football was unarguably more fun to watch and to follow during seasons where the Raiders were competitive. I have fond memories of watching Raider football with my dad and rooting for Kenny "The Snake" Stabler, and later Jim Plunkett, and feeling a shiver of illicit glee that we were somehow pulling for the Bad Guys.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Al Davis always appeared to be classy and with a touch of pizzaz, almost opposite to the look and appeal of his great Silver and Black.

posted by Meatafoecure at 1:59 PM on October 8, 2011

Say what you want about Mr. Davis, he made his product in America with American workers getting paid fair wages.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:57 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by Trochanter at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2011

Depends how you define the product, most of the merchandise is made same place as everything else.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:13 PM on October 8, 2011

RIP Mr. David.

Raiders moving to LA means LA can't steal the Chargers. WIN.
posted by xmutex at 5:24 PM on October 8, 2011

Heh. Everyone I mentioned this to in LA hated Davis with a passion.
posted by klangklangston at 7:09 PM on October 8, 2011

posted by Stynxno at 7:25 PM on October 8, 2011

(My wish? Raiders stay in Oakland because the Chargers leave San Diego for their ancestral homeland of Los Angeles. After this move, Los Angeles and the NFL say that, upon further review, LA can and should support two teams: one from the AFC and one from the NFC. The Rams, owing to the super-favorable lease agreement a desperate Saint Louis offered them in 1994, decide to return to their longtime home. Meanwhile, the Jaguars admit to themselves that Jacksonville is just too small to support the NFL, and Saint Louis steps in front of San Antonio to reverse the 1993 decision that awarded the Jaguars to Jacksonville instead of the Stallions to Saint Louis.)
posted by stannate at 9:42 PM on October 8, 2011

posted by bardic at 10:28 PM on October 8, 2011

posted by Not The Stig at 11:38 PM on October 8, 2011

posted by Dano St at 7:30 AM on October 9, 2011

Last night on the Monday night football radio show Jim Gray did an Al Davis eulogy. He finished by saying Al Davis ended every single one of the dozens of conversations they had over the years with one of the two following questions:

"is there anything you need?" or

"is there anything I can do for you?"

Ol' Jim Gray sounded a little teary eyed.
posted by bukvich at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

As usual, Joe Posnanski has a great article on the subject.
posted by dfan at 4:59 PM on October 11, 2011

Peter King, Sports Illustrated:“When you think about Al Davis, you think about one of the four or five guys on Mount Rushmore in pro football history. There have been very few guys — and I can only think of one, George Halas — who have been involved in as many aspects of the game as Al Davis has been.”

I never met Al Davis but I loved him.

posted by raider at 5:30 PM on October 12, 2011

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