Al Davis passed away over the weekend and while the press predominantly wrote about the end of an era, or loss of an icon, or used words such as legend, giant, maverick etc (all true mind you), I can’t help but think of Carol and Mark Davis. His lovely wife and son who lost a family member. They are truly suffering the most with his passing.
Allen “Al” Davis was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on the fourth of July 1929. A graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in English. However, his degree was more a symbol of his love of learning than a certificate to use for a specific function. Al Davis was football. That was his passion. He entered pro football in 1960 with the then-Los Angeles Chargers of the old American Football League as scout and later offensive line coach. He joined the Raiders in 1963, first as a coach and then as managing general partner until his passing, except for a brief stint as AFL commissioner.
Al Davis was many things to many people, he believed that he was only a small part of something bigger. He is credited with playing a key role in forcing a merger between the upstart AFL and the established NFL in 1966, when he served as AFL commissioner. Through the merger, he transformed the NFL into the multi billion-dollar industry it is today. Al Davis was responsible for that. Every player, every owner and especially every ad executive and network producer owes Mr Davis a debt of gratitude for his vision. Not to mention, anyone employed by the NFL directly or indirectly should be thankful to this man for the economic opportunity he provides to so many people. He is in the Hall of Fame along with nine of his former players, his teams appeared in the Superbowl five times in his tenure, winning 3 of those times. The sports accolades for this man are endless.
But I prefer to focus on his social influence as his most indelible legacy. Al Davis holds the distinction of being the first to draft an African-American quarterback (Eldridge Dickey), the first to recruit at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), the first to hire a Latino coach (Tom Flores), the first to hire an African-American head coach in the modern era (Art Shell), and the first owner from any of the four major professional sports to hire a woman as a chief executive (Amy Trask). Al Davis believed in people and did not judge them by race, ethnicity, sex, or background, something still lacking in our society today. His leadership, vision, and courage will be sorely missed. His passing has left a huge void that will never be filled.
As I sat home watching the tribute honoring the life of Al Davis I was struck by a thought. Looking at all the Raider fans in the stands with their signs, dressed in silver and black, faces painted and cheering, it hit me, this game is being played in Houston. There they were, fans from both teams, paying their respects, and enjoying what turned out to be great game that would go down to the last play. No fighting, no taunting, no baiting. Just fans enjoying each others company cheering for their respective teams. Isn’t that what going to a sporting event is all about? Somehow I can’t help but think Al was looking down, smiling and happy for the sport he transformed.
For those of us in the Raider Nation, we are blessed. Because of Al Davis, we all are connected. We are a part of his legacy now. Let’s be sure to uphold it the way he would’ve wanted us to, with Pride and Poise and through a Commitment to Excellence.
You are sorely missed Mr. Davis, but you will NEVER be forgotten.