Words such as maverick, rebel and outlaw are often used to describe the longtime owner and first head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Hall-of-Famer Al Davis. After his recent passing at the age of 82 early Saturday morning, terms such as pioneer, innovator and NFL legend should be added as well.
The Brockton, Massachusetts native and Syracuse alum has not only left the NFL in a much better place, but also a legacy and void that may never be filled again
Davis would get his first coaching job with the AFL Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and work with future Hall-Of-Fame coach, Sid Gillman on the offensive line from 1960-1962.
The AFL rival Oakland Raiders would hire Davis at the age of 33 in 1963 as their fourth head coach, and things would never been the same for either the Raiders of the AFL—and later NFL ever again.
In Oakland, Davis would become the architect and modern-day godfather for the AFL’s long vertical passing game that was—and is now back in vogue—in today’s NFL.
Davis would also briefly leave the Raiders in 1966 to become commissioner of the AFL before returning to the Raiders as owner and general manager by hiring John Madden to become his head coach in 1969.
Under Davis’s watch as owner, the Raiders would win three Super Bowls (XI, XV and XVIII), five AFC conference championships, one AFL championship, 13 AFC West division championships in 15 playoff appearances.
While this is all well-known, what isn’t well know is that Davis was the first owner to recruit from HCBU—historically black colleges and universities—such as Grambling and Southern.
Davis was also the first owner to have “pro days” for NFL prospects.
Davis’s real legacy was in breaking the color barrier by hiring the first Hispanic head coach in NFL history, Tom Flores and the first African-American in Art Shell, Davis was also hired the first woman to a NFL executive, Amy Trask.
Davis also was the first to sign “street agents” such as fullback Mark Van Eeghen—who he found in a gym and finding and signing controversial and talented players such as Lyle Alzado and Jack Tatum.
For all of his great successes, many non-fans—“haters”— and critics love to point to his failures such as Todd Marinovich and most recently JaMarcus Russell—widely considered to be one of the great NFL busts of all-time.
Davis also inspired—indirectly or directly—modern-day team relocation in moving his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, he would also empower other teams to move such as Irsay moving the Colts out of Baltimore in 1984, The Cardinals from St Louis to Arizona in 1988, The Rams moved to St Louis in 1995 and the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
Davis’s infamous lawsuit with the NFL over a new proposed stadium in the Hollywood Hills still stings with a lot of non-Raider fans due to Davis creating and—giving—NFL teams leverage in building new stadiums.
Love him or hate him, Davis changed the game of football in so many ways, from down-field passing to video games and team relocation, Davis’s influence is in all of the current things we see today’s passing league in 2011.
Davis was a true pioneer in the greatest sense of the word, in being a true maverick of a coach and a rebel of an owner who always did things his way by going against the conventional wisdom.
From his slicked-back dark hair and dark shades to his East-Coast accent in saying “The Raiduhs”, Davis’s own famous motto may have described him best—Just Win Baby!
Follow me on Twitter, @RobertCobb_NFL