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Al Davis: a legacy beyond football

By Brian Tabakin

Section: Sports

October 14, 2011

Throughout his illustrious NFL career, Al Davis gained a reputation as a renegade owner. The face of the Oakland Raiders for the past 50 years, he was best known for coining the term: “Just win, baby.” He died Oct. 8; he was 82.

Immediately following his death, the Raiders released a statement, which read: “The Oakland Raiders are deeply saddened by the passing of Al Davis. Al Davis was unique, a maverick, a giant among giants, a true legend among legends, the brightest star among stars, a hero, a mentor, a friend.”

The argument can be made that Al Davis is the single most important figure in the modern era of football. As the commissioner of the AFL (American Football League) in 1966 Davis presided over the merger of the AFL and NFL. Though Davis was vehemently against the merger, his aggressive pursuit of players and talent from the NFL helped spur the eventual merger that made the sport into what it is today.

Davis did things his own way. In addition to being the owner of the Raiders, he was also the de-facto general manager. Under his tenure, the Raiders became one of the most successful teams in professional sports, winning an AFL championship, three Super Bowls and 13 division titles, and they made 15 playoff appearances in the 18-year span from 1967 to 1985.

The success the Raiders had under Davis, however, does not fully portray his influence. Davis pioneered civil rights in sports. When the Raiders were scheduled to play a preseason game in Mobile, Ala., in 1963, Davis refused to let the Raiders play there in protest of the segregation laws and successfully had the game moved to Oakland. Furthermore, in 1965, the AFL planned to host its All-Star game in New Orleans; however, Davis once again protested because of the numerous racial barriers and inequalities in New Orleans at the time. His protests were instrumental in causing the game to be moved to Houston.

In 1988, Davis hired Art Shell to be the head coach of the Raiders; Shell was the first black head coach in the modern era of football. Years earlier, Davis also hired Tom Flores to be head coach, Flores was just the second Hispanic head coach in the history of the NFL. Lastly, Davis broke the gender barrier when he hired Amy Trask to be the chief executive of the Raiders organization.

While Davis’ Raiders embodied winning, the last nine years have not been kind to them. Following their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have had one of the worst records in football. The Raiders have been led by five different head coaches in the past nine years. Despite this though, Davis’ commitment did not change: He lived to return the Raiders to their winning ways.

For a man who had ultimate control over most things in his life, disease and illness were always things that bugged him. In 2008 Davis said, “Disease is the one thing—boy, I tell you, it’s tough to lick.” Just a few years earlier Davis also remarked, “I can control most things, but I don’t seem to be able to control death.”

Though Davis had been subject to criticism during the Raiders decline during the past nine years, his infallible loyalty to his players and officials never wavered: Once a Raider, you were a Raider for life.

Davis will be remembered for many things, among them transforming the NFL into what it is today—the most popular sport in America—and trailblazing for civil rights in sports.

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