THE COLISEUM – Football lost one of its great cartoon super-villains on Saturday when Al Davis passed. Oh sure, yesterday’s games had moments of silence for Davis; the pre-packaged bios, and Commissioner Roger Goodell appearing in the announcer’s booth at the Raiders game to speak about the loss with the same enthusiasm a baked ham with hair might…but rest assured the league hated that guy’s guts and had been wishing for this day for a long, long time.
He’d been coaching at all levels from 1950 until signing on to coach the Oakland Raiders in 1963, instantly turning a 1-9 team into an 8-2 one. He was 33.
As AFL commissioner he was adept at luring players from the NFL, became a thorn in the side of frustrated NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, and was instrumental in the merger. For $18 grand he bought a 10% stake in the Oakland Raiders – a franchise worth over $760 million today – put John Madden in charge on the field and set his diabolical sights on his favorite big game…the NFL itself.
Davis pioneered the now popular tactic of blackmail for public funds and luxury boxes. He battled the NFL for two years to move to Los Angeles, then sued the league and won damages a year later. Davis was winning like crazy at the time…the NFL was at his mercy both legally and on the field. Oakland won the Super Bowl in the middle of all this in 1981 (Rozelle swallowed his grimace as he handed Davis the Lombardi Trophy), and then as the Los Angeles Raiders three years later. Davis was on top of the world.
And then he wasn’t. The West Coast Offense made his Deep Bomb philosophy obsolete, but he stubbornly clung to it. He got into a mysterious spat with Marcus Allen, arguably the best runner in the game, and for four years Allen wasted away on the bench. That’s like Ted Williams losing four prime years to the war, without the noble cause. He pulled the same stunt on Los Angeles as he did in Oakland, but in reverse (while still holding all television rights to the market). He hired and fired coaches at a Steinbrennerian rate. Yet apart from a one year anomaly when Raider Nation made it back to the Super Bowl (losing to his just-fired Jon Gruden), it’s been nothing but losing seasons. So now, the moment everyone’s been waiting for is finally here…somebody can try to pry the Raiders from Al Davis’s cold dead fingers.
However, the players seemed to proudly wear that AL on their helmets yesterday. The team continued to embody the Al Davis philosophy…and as a special tribute they led the league with 11 penalties. Two of his controversial first-round picks, played a pivotal role int the win. Darius Heyward-Bey, Davis’ curious 2009 first-rounder, (ironic that nobody could see inside Davis’s mind, as his 80-year old skin was mostly translucent at the time), paid him back with a fine catch – a hands catch – wresting it away from a defender and then racing down the sidelines and willing himself into the end zone for the decisive score. Davis’ uproar-causing 2000 pick, trouble-prone partying Polish kicker Sebastian Janikowski, accounted for over half of the Raider points. It wasn’t pretty; the Raiders were out-passed, out-run and held the ball ten minutes less than the Texans, but on this day… Just Win Baby was apropos.
Another long-rocking trail-blazer, Grote2DMax, tomorrow.