“If I can leave a legacy, when it’s my time to leave, that the Raiders would stand as a pinnacle for all organizations that they had a Commitment to Excellence, that they handled their people right, that -- in our culture -- they won. All those things and that they had a loyalty to those that came before them, they had terroring courage and that people all over would see that patch and say, ‘Wow. They were good, they were great and they dominated.”
During recent years, the patch over the right eye of what may be one of the most iconic logos in all of sports doesn’t exactly bring the ideology of greatness to mind. In fact, the Raiders have been the very antithesis of what it meant to be great in the NFL. But when you think of the Raiders lore, when you think of The Autumn Wind, when you think about the glory days of the game when men were allowed to be men; you’re obligated to think about the Commitment to Excellence dogma that Al Davis implemented for the men of the Silver and Black.
And so it came, Al’s time to leave, on Saturday morning. News that was ultimately surreal for not just fans of Raiders Nation, but for true fans of the NFL everywhere. I’ve never been big about writing about the passing away of a sports figure, but found myself fighting the urge to write about the man who epitomizes the franchise closest to my heart. Writing about death is never an easy thing to do, but as I could not with John Wooden, I cannot move on without jotting down some words about a great man who was just as influential to the sport as a whole as he was to the team he embodied.
It isn’t a hyperbole driven literally device when I say that it is hard to imagine anyone living, eating, drinking and breathing the game of football more than Al Davis. The man was an assistant coach, head coach, commissioner of the AFL, general manager, and Owner. He served on competition committees and became a branding and marketing genius. He was an opportunist and gave those who weren’t given a chance elsewhere the opportunity to be great.
Davis didn’t just give men of color the opportunity to lead football teams; he was doing it before it became fashionable naming Art Shell the first Black head coach in NFL History and continuously gave black quarterbacks keys to the huddle. As an adolescent, the idea that black men were struggling to get head coaching jobs was lost upon me because I grew up seeing a black man on the sidelines every Sunday. Only later did I realize that Art Shell never walked across the field to shake another black hand.
A lot of the reason for the Shell hiring was his commitment to loyalty and the preservation of the Raiders image. Davis once said, “I feel like we’re one of the last bastions of hope as a team image, as a team organization. I don’t want to give that up with the Raiders. We believe in tradition, we believe in the glory, we believe in the debt we owe to our players to the past.”
As history suggests, those weren’t words, but more a creed as no man has had more former players ask to present them during their Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Eight players and one former coach, a total of nine ex-Raiders asked Al Davis to give the presentation speech on their special day because he was committed to their individual well beings while they played in the Silver and Black (George Blanda, Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Fred Blietnikoff, Willie Brown, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, Lance Alworth, and John Madden if you were wondering).
Al Davis loved the Raiders, friends. Loved them. And the man loved football. The bad decisions he made during the last years of his life could be picked apart with the preciseness of a 2006 Peyton Manning two minute drill, but it’s hard to fault him when you really take the time to think about it. Six decades of this man’s life was spent making football decisions, and he was relatively successful for the first five of them. Al continued to make football moves like it was 1963 in a whole new millennium. The game caught up with him and eventually passed him up.
His on the field philosophy may not have ended on a high note, but his legacy will continue to live as the man who created the identity of what it means to be a Raider. The tough bump-and-run defense, bulling front eight, electrifying running backs and a vertical passing game played by a collection of blue-collared outcasts in one of the grimiest cities in the country. That’s what Al Davis did in Oakland; he found diamonds and brought them to the rough and I’ll forever love him for that.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Davis. The Raiders, The NFL, and football in general just won’t be the same without you.
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
-P. Barnett aka "I'm So Hideous"