While many may argue that the game of professional football has passed Al Davis by, and they may be correct, no one can argue the achievements he has made as part of the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis, more than any other modern day team owner, has lived and breathed professional football.
Long before Bill Parcells claimed that if he was going to be responsible for cooking the dinner he wanted to be the one to pick out the groceries, at the age of 33 Al Davis came to the Raiders as the youngest Head Coach/General Manager ever in professional football. In their first three years of existence, the Raiders had compiled a win-loss record of 9-33, Davis’ win-loss record after three seasons as Head Coach/GM was 23-16-3.
In 1966 when he was 36 years old, Al Davis was selected by the AFL franchise owners as the new commissioner of the AFL. Davis didn’t keep this position long as he was one of the very few voices that was against the AFL-NFL merger. Most of the team owners wanted nothing more than to be accepted into the much admired National Football League. Not Al Davis, he thought that the NFL was getting the better end of the deal and that in the long run the AFL would outshine the NFL. The merger was approved by the ownership and Al Davis returned to the Raiders this time as a part-owner.
The Raiders teams under Al Davis’ ownership during the 1970s and 1980s were very successful with numerous playoff appearances and three Super Bowl Championships. Davis both sued the NFL and was sued by the NFL regarding his team’s location and eventually won the right to move the Raiders to Los Angeles. Thirteen years later he won the right to move them back to Oakland.
Al Davis has both shown and inspired loyalty in his former players with many Raider greats having what amounts to jobs for life within the organization. No other professional football team’s play on the field exemplified their owner’s personality more so than the Raiders.
So, has the game passed Al Davis by? Judging from the Oakland Raiders recent track record, although they did appear in the Super Bowl not long ago, it would appear so. But, this doesn’t overshadow the accomplishments of Al Davis. He was a successful Head Coach and General Manager, he was the Commissioner of a professional sports league at the age of 36, he moved into ownership and helped bring his team multiple championships, and he has stood by the men who have helped him along the way. Al Davis was also the first owner to hire a Hispanic Head Coach (Tom Flores), and the first owner to hire an African-American Head Coach (Art Shell). Two of the Raiders most successful head coaches were hired when they were very young and relatively unknown; John Madden and Jon Gruden. Along the way, Al Davis has chosen the harder path and swam upstream against even his own league at times. To say he has been a thorn in the side of the NFL is an understatement. Understate how relevant he is to today’s game of football, yes you could possibly do that; but don’t understate his passion for the Raiders and his accomplishments in football. Al Davis has had quite a full life indeed.