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Thread: The Mold, She Broke

  1. #1
    Registered Member HappyOldGuy's Avatar
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    Default The Mold, She Broke

    Goodbye Al. You were kindof a paleolithic throwback. You certainly weren't the best owner. And we wouldn't have had you any other way.

    (10-08) 09:46 PDT --

    Al Davis, whose iron-fisted reign over the Raiders for practically their entire existence led to three Super Bowl titles and made the silver-and-black franchise a symbol of renegade toughness, died Saturday. He was 82.

    Brilliant, enigmatic and unapologetically independent, Mr. Davis turned the Raiders into one of the most successful franchises in pro football in the 1960s and '70s. A keen judge of talent, he was willing to accept other team's castoffs and troublemakers and able to get the best out of them.

    He defied the National Football League by moving the team to Los Angeles in 1982 without league approval, then brought it back to Oakland in 1995. The Raiders won Super Bowls in 1977 and 1981 and a third while in L.A. in 1984.

    They reached the Super Bowl one more time after the 2002 season but lost to Tampa Bay and coach Jon Gruden, whom Mr. Davis had traded to the Buccaneers earlier that year for four high draft choices and $8 million.

    Since that Super Bowl, however, the Raiders have struggled and Mr. Davis became more reclusive as his health deteriorated.

    Despite a 8-year playoff drought, Mr. Davis rarely missed an opportunity to burnish his own image or hearken back to the Raiders' glory days. When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died in July 2010, Mr. Davis said, "I judge sports figures based on individual achievement, team achievement and contributions to the game. George was right up there with me at No. 1 - bright, aggressive and, most of all, not afraid."

    It was as if he were writing his own epitaph.

    In his personal feuds with former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, tailback Marcus Allen and others, Mr. Davis was as intense as he was toward the game itself. When he fired coach Lane Kiffin four weeks into the 2008 season, he took great pains - even using an overhead projector - during a news conference to state his case for not paying Kiffin the rest of his contract.

    No other owner in modern professional sports history has dominated his franchise as thoroughly and for as long as Mr. Davis. He reveled in victories, both on the field and in his frequent courtroom skirmishes, and loved to use team slogans like "Pride and Poise," "Commitment to Excellence," "Team of the Decades" and "the Greatness of the Raiders," even when the Raiders' struggles drained them of meaning.

    He antagonized NFL executives, opposing owners and public officials in both the East Bay and Southern California with his threats to move the team and his willingness to take practically any dispute involving the team to court.

    "I don't care if people like me," he said. "I just want them to respect me, even fear me."
    Loyal following

    He and his organization aroused a singular intensity in fans through the years. The hometown fans have been intensely loyal even during trying times for the team. On the road, because of their renegade image, the Raiders were generally the most despised opponents.

    When it came to finding the right players, coaches and executives, he was an equal-opportunity employer. He was one of the first in the NFL to scout historically black colleges for players and the first to draft an African American quarterback (Eldridge Dickey in 1968) in the first round. He took players considered washed up by other teams and turned them into stars, like quarterback Jim Plunkett and tight end Todd Christensen.

    In his later years, however, his ability to judge talent was called into question. He took quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in 2008 and lavished on him a six-year, $61 million contract, a record for a rookie. Overweight and undermotivated, Russell won just seven of the game he started in his three years with the club.

    He was the first NFL owner in the modern era to hire an African American head coach, Art Shell, the first to name an Hispanic head coach, Tom Flores, and the first to name a woman as chief executive, Amy Trask.

    In another departure from conventional wisdom, he hired some head coaches who were younger than some of his players: John Madden, 32; Mike Shanahan, 35; Jon Gruden, 34, and Kiffin, who at 31 was the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was selected.
    Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis confirms the firing of hea...FILE - In this Dec. 26, 1998 file photo, Oakland Raiders ...raiders_3.jpg Oakland Raiders' Al Davis on August 9, 1981... View All Images (21)
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    Maybe Mr. Davis was disposed to young coaches because he was only 33 when he became the Raiders' head coach in 1963, or maybe he knew that a young coach would be more amenable to having him looking over his shoulder.
    Hall of Famer

    He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, joining George Halas as the only coach/owner to be so honored. Accurately, if not humbly, he said "it should have happened a long time ago."

    The late 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who was on Raiders' coaching staff in the mid-1960s and became a close friend of Mr. Davis, once said, "He was one of the greatest coaches I have ever observed, a truly great coach. Had he chosen to remain in coaching, he would be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time."

    Mr. Davis was born on the Fourth of July in 1929, in Brockton, Mass., but grew up in Brooklyn, where his father, Louis Davis, owned a clothing store and other businesses. The elder Davis was a highly competitive, politically conservative man who "made me think for myself," his son said.

    Mr. Davis graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball but wasn't a first-string player in any of them. Years later, he fretted over his lack of athletic accomplishment, fearing it might block a coaching career.

    He went to Wittenberg College in Ohio in 1947, then transferred to Syracuse University, where earned a degree in English in 1950.

    Rather than entering his family's businesses, he became a football coach. From the start, the self-described "sore loser" was in love with the game, fascinated with its technical aspects and the challenges of outsmarting opponents.

    He got his first coaching job, at Adelphi College, in 1950, moved on two years later to coach a national power Army team at Fort Belvoir, Va., then got his first NFL job as a scout for the Rams in 1953. From there, he served briefly as a scout for the Baltimore Colts, was an assistant coach at the Citadel, then was line coach and defensive coordinator at USC for three years in the late 1950s.

    Even then, his abrasiveness and dictatorial manner were rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, but he also was learning his trade as few have, before or since.

    In 1960, Mr. Davis was hired as an assistant by the San Diego Chargers. Three years later, at age 33, he took over the Raiders, who were 1-13 the previous season. Insisting on full control, he became general manager as well as coach. In his first year, the Raiders went 10-4, and he was named American Football League Coach of the Year.

    He often outsmarted other teams in trades, such as the ones for defensive lineman Tom Keating and fullback Hewritt Dixon. The Raiders would have only one losing season in the next 18 years, compiling the best record in professional sports during that span.

    Mr. Davis coached the team to a 23-16-3 record over three seasons, helped develop two things that would become Raider staples, the ""vertical" passing game on offense and "bump and run" coverage on defense.
    AFL vs. NFL

    The battle between the AFL and the NFL was in full swing in 1966, and the AFL owners decided commissioner Joe Foss wasn't the man to lead their side. Al Davis was. Soon after he took the lead in antagonizing the older and larger league, he encouraged the league's owners to raid NFL rosters, particularly for quarterbacks. Within two months, Mr. Davis and AFL teams had persuaded seven NFL quarterbacks to switch leagues.

    While Mr. Davis was leading the bidding war, though, other AFL owners were negotiating a merger behind his back. Bitter that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would lead the merged league, he returned to the Raiders as general manager in the summer of 1966. He and Rozelle became bitter enemies, and Mr. Davis was not popular among other NFL team owners.
    Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis confirms the firing of hea...FILE - In this Dec. 26, 1998 file photo, Oakland Raiders ...raiders_3.jpg Oakland Raiders' Al Davis on August 9, 1981... View All Images (21)
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    His return to the Raiders came on the condition that part-owner Wayne Valley would sell him 10 percent of the team at a bargain price. Valley and Mr. Davis later feuded, until Valley finally agreed to sell his share of the club to Mr. Davis at market value in 1976. At that point Mr. Davis owned about 25 percent of the franchise shares.

    He even played a role in a key development in the history of the 49ers. They were for sale around the same time, and Valley made an offer, working with Lou Spadia, then the 49ers' president and a minority stockholder. But Mr. Davis found another buyer, Ed DeBartolo, and when he bought the team in 1977, Mr. Davis got a finder's fee of $100,000.

    The Raiders had played Green Bay in the championship game following the 1968 season, losing 33-14, but it was under Madden, who replaced John Rauch in 1969, that they reached the top.
    The Madden years

    Madden would become a Hall of Fame coach, but the dominant person in the organization was always Mr. Davis. In his 1991 biography, "Just Win, Baby - Al Davis & His Raiders," former Chronicle columnist Glenn Dickey quoted defensive tackle Tom Keating as asking Mr. Davis, shortly after arriving from Buffalo in trade, who negotiated the contracts. Davis replied, "Young man, let there be no mistake about this - I do everything here. I hire people and I fire people, and I decide how many wastebaskets we'll have in this office."

    Under Madden, the Raiders won the Western Division five times in the 1970s only to lose in the playoffs. In 1976 they won the division again and finally won the Super Bowl, beating Minnesota 32-14 at the Rose Bowl.

    The Raiders' eagerness to intimidate the opposition was exemplified by defensive back George Atkinson, who in the 1975 AFC title game and again in 1976 gave Pittsburgh receiver Lynn Swann concussions with forearm smashes. Steelers coach Chuck Noll referred to Atkinson as part of the "criminal element" in football.

    Other coaches thought the Raiders would stop at nothing to win, possibly even bugging their locker rooms. San Diego Chargers coach Harland Svare famously shouted at the ceiling of the locker room at the Coliseum, "God damn you, Al Davis!"

    When Madden stepped down after the 1978 season, Flores took over for nine years, including two more championship seasons. As always, Mr. Davis pulled many of the strings.

    "What I do is I dominate by philosophy," he said when asked if he or his head coaches actually ran the Raider show. "When Rauch was the coach, I dominated. When Madden was the coach, at first I dominated, then I moved into kind of an assistant role. But I think he and Tom (Flores) respected me enough to pay attention to what I said."

    One of the few times Mr. Davis gave his head coach a free hand was in 1979 when his wife, Carol, had a massive heart attack and went into a coma. Mr. Davis moved into a hospital to be with her and turned the team over to Flores.

    At Raider practices and games, Mr. Davis frequently was seen clad in his familiar white track suit and sunglasses on a neck chain.

    In Dickey's book, the late Hall of Fame guard Gene Upshaw described Mr. Davis' hands-on approach: "Even when I had my back turned, I could tell when Davis had come on the practice field. I didn't have to look. The intensity would change, the coaches would change, everything would change when he came in. We used to wish for league meetings, so he wouldn't be there."
    Litany of lawsuits

    While his teams were winning, he developed a propensity for getting involved in lawsuits. It was a pattern that continued for decades.

    Mr. Davis, who seemed to disdain public relations and rarely talked to the press, saved most of his public words for court proceedings.

    In 1979, two years after the Raiders won their first Super Bowl, Mr. Davis began negotiations with Los Angeles to move the team there. Despite sellout crowds for more than a decade, he coveted the L.A. market because of its enormous pay-TV potential but also because, some observers felt, he felt his personal stature deserved a major city.
    Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis confirms the firing of hea...FILE - In this Dec. 26, 1998 file photo, Oakland Raiders ...raiders_3.jpg Oakland Raiders' Al Davis on August 9, 1981... View All Images (21)
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    In 1980, he proclaimed the move was a sure thing. Oakland sued to take over the team by eminent domain. Meanwhile, the NFL forbade the move on the grounds that chaos would ensue if owners could move teams wherever and whenever they wanted. The L.A. Coliseum and Mr. Davis filed an antitrust suit against the NFL.

    The Raiders beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl after the 1980 season, but there were empty seats at the Coliseum the following season as fans seemed resigned to losing the team. During a Monday night game, a fan carried a banner that read: "Will Rogers never met Al Davis."

    Mr. Davis won the Oakland suit. In 1982, he won the NFL suit, too, after a six-week trial; an earlier trial, lasting three months, ended in a mistrial. On Aug. 29, the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, embittering a legion of fans in the Bay Area. They would stay there the next 13 seasons, which included their third Super Bowl win - over Washington - in 1984.

    NFL franchises had now entered an era of free agency, and Mr. Davis became a focal point of the national media. Although widely respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of every NFL player, Mr. Davis was seen by many people, according to Robert Lindsey of the New York Times, "a pouting, self-centered buccaneer, a renegade who leads a band of renegades with a win-at-any-cost obsession, a kind of outlaw who adheres only to rules of his own choosing."

    The Raiders sank into mediocrity after their third Super Bowl victory, but Mr. Davis' restlessness didn't stop. He continued to seek a better stadium deal.

    In 1987, he reached an agreement with the tiny Southern California town of Irwindale to move there, to a projected new stadium, from the increasingly decrepit Los Angeles Coliseum. The deal fell through, although Mr. Davis pocketed a $10 million ""good-faith" payment, and the Raiders went back on the free-agent market.

    It looked, for a time, as if the Raiders might find a new home at a proposed stadium at Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, but that deal foundered, too. In 1990, Mr. Davis signed a new four-year deal to stay in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, as L.A. fans remained cool to his team, he was already negotiating for a return to Oakland.

    He then signed a lease to come back to the Oakland Coliseum in 1995. The league sued him, aiming to share in the projected profits in Oakland.

    Slowly, the Raiders regained football prominence, but stadium sellouts at the Coliseum didn't follow. Mr. Davis kept fighting and filing lawsuits, although his customary success in the courtroom began to elude him.

    The continuing legal struggles were no surprise to those who knew Mr. Davis best. "Al has always been a competitive guy," said Flores, now a radio analyst on the team's game broadcasts. "If he thinks he's right, then get ready for a fight."
    Coaching turmoil

    In the last few years, Mr. Davis frequently had to deal with coaching turmoil. Gruden, hired in 1998, returned the franchise to respectability, going 40-28 overall and 2-2 in the playoffs in his four seasons with the team and reaching the AFC Championship game in 2000.

    After the 2001 season, Mr. Davis and Gruden clashed, leading to the trade that sent the coach to Tampa Bay. The owner turned to former Raider assistant Bill Callahan, who guided the Raiders into the Super Bowl in 2003, where they lost to Gruden's Buccaneers 48-21.

    Callahan's two-year tenure as head coach was increasingly stormy, however, and he was fired after the 2003 season. His successor, Norv Turner, lasted just two years. Art Shell had just one 2-14 season before he was shown the door and Mr. Davis replaced him with young Kiffin, a USC assistant. Following Kiffin was Tom Cable, who departed after last season. Currently, the Raiders coach is Hue Jackson, another young coach who is getting credit for reviving the team's fortunes.

    Mr. Davis' public and media appearances decreased over the years. So did his appearances on the practice field. He used a walker in the last few years. But there's no doubt that he remained fully in charge of a team that, for better or worse, he had long symbolized.

    He and Madden visited Walsh in July 2007 the day before Walsh died. Returning to training camp in Napa, Mr. Davis said, "I'm finding you can't dominate death, that's for sure, or sickness and disease." He added, "I'm trying."
    I'm here a week now... waiting for a mission... getting softer. Every minute I sit in front of this computer, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the gym, he gets stronger

  2. #2
    Unintentional Rayp'ist Spade: The Real Snake's Avatar
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    I will wear my white Member's Only jacket at half-staff, today
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  3. #3
    SoulMechanic's Avatar
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    My sincerest condolences HOG. I am sorry for your loss.

    Nobody can ever say I am anything but one classy motherfucker.
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