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Al Davis: A Legend Passes

Ryan Nunez |
October 8, 2011 | 6:05 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Davis will be remembered both for being a hero, and a villain. (Creative Commons)
Davis will be remembered both for being a hero, and a villain. (Creative Commons)
Al Davis’s death Saturday at the age of 82 was as shocking as the death of an 82-year-old could be.

To steal the horribly inappropriate words of Vince Vaughn in Old School, “That’s what old people do. They die.

But Al Davis? No, impossible!

Regardless of your age and familiarity with the man, it was hard to see this coming.

Some people transcend mortality. They make us feel like they will never die and when they finally do, they leave a legacy that will last a millennium.

Al Davis was one of these people.

It would take volumes to precisely describe Davis's impact and contributions to the fans, players and the game of football itself.

Just know that as a businessman and commissioner of the rival, upstart American Football League, Davis took on the NFL and won. Who does that?

Ever since, he’s been relishing the renegade life.

As the United States was exploring and getting used to its advertising-based economy, Davis was one of the original geniuses of branding, making the branding of the “Outlaw” image acceptable and sellable to the mainstream. He worked hard to brandish that image at every opportunity.

Even though Davis was born to a wealthy Massachusetts family, he spent his youth in Brooklyn, and a New York “tough guy” is how he both liked to perceive and represent himself. Legend has it that one of Al Davis’ favorite stories to tell was the fact that both he and Mike Tyson were from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. Davis gloated that as a child, Tyson would never walk down the street Davis was from, because it was too tough a neighborhood.

While his New York tough guy background is debatable, what’s not up for discussion is Davis’ reputation as a trailblazer.

When younger fans see head coaches like Jon Gruden or Lane Kiffin get top jobs in their thirties, they are awed by the achievement and wowed by the novelty of a young man in his thirties taking over the reins of a pro football team. Little do they know that 50 years ago, Al Davis was the youngest head coach in the National Football League. He was also the youngest general manager in the league, successfully helping him one up both Gruden and Kiffin, thank you very much.

Davis was so old, he arguably outlived the American Dream.

His is and will be the only man in pro football history to be a scout, personnel assistant, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner/CEO of a team.

He has literally done it all, but he will no doubt be misremembered by many.

The younger generation looks at Davis as a fossilized curmudgeon millionaire, too big an ego to quit, too full of piss and vinegar to die (this is not necessarily an incorrect view of the man, just limited).

Middle-aged fans looked at him as the pioneer who lost his touch and maybe, his touch with reality.

These versions of the man cannot be denied.

Whereas the Raiders were synonymous with winning in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, in the 1990’s and 2000’s they were synonymous with losing and dysfunction. From 1990 to today, the Raiders have gone to the playoffs fewer times (six) than they did in the 1970’s (seven).

However, older fans who still remember the three titles in eight years have the best perspective and thus, the truest memory of the man; that of legend who did it all.

Most young Raider fans, unfamiliar with Davis’ past winning ways and perhaps not even born when the Raiders won the last of three titles, had become resigned to the fact that Davis was going to live forever and that the Raiders were going to suck forever in the process. 

It’s too bad that the Raiders were terrible at the end of Davis’ life. Many leaders either die a hero, or survive long enough to see themselves become the villain.

Al Davis as villain, in retrospect, just doesn’t seem fair.

But Al Davis was a man who refused to be held down or cheated, and when the Raiders inevitably start winning again, it'll be like nothing changed. The words, “Just Win Baby,” will again be heard haunting their locker room.


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