"I had the opportunity to work with Al Davis for many years on the Competition Committee. His contributions and passion to the NFL have helped shape today's game. Al Davis is a true legend to professional football."
That's how former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula described the late Oakland Raiders owner in a release via the Miami Dolphins wesbite. Al Davis died on Saturday.
Most of us know Davis as the micromanaging owner of the Raiders, personally making every player decision, and being in love with pure speed. But, Davis was so much more to the NFL, and to football, than any of that. In fact, without Al Davis, there might not be a Miami Dolphins franchise.
Davis was born on July 4th, 1929. He began his life in football as the line coach at Adelphi College in 1950. Two years later, he took over as the head coach of the U.S. Army team, serving there from 1952-1953. The Citadel next hired Davis, where he was the line coach, and chief recruiter through 1956. He then headed west, serving as the line coach for USC from 1957-1959.
The American Football League called on Davis in 1960, when he served as the offensive end coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. Moving with the team to San Diego, Davis continued in that role until his 1962 hiring as the Oakland Raiders' head coach and general manager - making him the youngest person in the NFL to hold either of those two positions.
In his role running the Raiders, Davis quickly adapted Chargers head coach Sid Gillman's west coast offense, developing a new scheme, which Davis termed the "vertical game." With his guidance, the Raiders claimed their first winning record in 1963, earning him AFL Coach of the Year honors.
In April 1966, the AFL named Davis their commissioner. He immediately took the AFL toe-to-toe with the NFL, working hard to sign players away from the NFL and develop the AFL into the superior league in the United States. His work led to the NFL to call several of the AFL owners, and ask if there was any interest in a merger between the leagues. Without Davis' knowledge in the talks, the leagues worked out a deal to merge, one which, when he was informed, Davis was fully against.
With required indemnity payments from AFL teams to NFL teams in the same market (i.e., the New York Jets would make payments to the New York Giants, and the San Francisco 49ers would receive payments from the Oakland Raiders), Davis felt the AFL was being unfairly placed as the inferior league. He, and many others, felt that, given time, the AFL could surpass the NFL - an idea that seemed to worry several people in the NFL as well, given they initiated the merger talks.
With the merger deal in place, and Pete Rozelle slated to remain NFL commissioner, Davis resigned from the AFL Commissioner position in July, 1966. In just 4 months of service as the AFL Commissioner, Davis oversaw the completion of the league's first expansion, with the Dolphins starting play that season, and made the mvoes that led to the merger - actively poaching players, especially quarterbacks, from NFL rosters.
Following his resignation, Davis returned to the Raiders, purchasing 10% of the club, and being named the team's head of football operations. In 1972, Davis completed his power take over of the Raiders, drafting a new partnership agreement, which he and fellow owner Ed McGah signed, while the team's third managing partner, Wayne Valley was in Germany at the 1972 Summer Olympics. With two thirds of the team's partners agreeing to the deal, laws at the time confirmed Davis now held full control of the team, despite owning just 10%.
Valley eventually sold his stake in the team, and Davis has had full control every day since, despite having minority ownership of the team until 2005, when he acquired the McGah family shares, bringing him up to 67% ownership.
In the late 1970s Davis saw an opportunity he couldn't resist. With the Chargers having moved to San Diego in 1962, the huge market of Los Angeles sat empty, begging for a team. Simultaneously, Davis saw the future of the NFL as being based on television revenue, with larger market teams having advantages over smaller markets. In 1980, Davis announced his intention to move the team from Oakland to Los Angeles, with or without approval of the league - an approval he didn't receive, because of his refusal to follow league rules. Many owners stated that, had he followed rules in place, they would not have denied his initial request.
With the deal to move the team to Los Angeles in place, and the NFL blocking it, a legal battle was sure to follow. In 1982, a federal judge rules that the team could move, and the team immediately began play as the Los Angeles Raiders. Davis decision to take on the league and force them to allow him to move the Raiders ultimately led to the movements of the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, the St. Louis Cardinals movement to Phoenix, the moves of both the Los Angeles Raiders back to Oakland and the Los Angeles Rams move to St. Louis, and the Cleveland Browns move to Baltimore to become the Ravens.
Davis' legal issues with the league didn't stop there, however. He sided with the United States Football League when they sued the NFL in 1986, the only NFL owner to do so. He also sued the league following his 1995 movement of the team back to Oakland, claiming that the league had sabotaged his efforts to stay in Los Angeles by not assisting the team in getting a new stadium deal.
He also sued the league following his movement to Oakland, trying to claim that the Raiders still had exclusive rights to the Los Angeles market, despite them being in Oakland.
Many of Davis' legal and personal issues with the league were seen as a personal dislike of longtime NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and his protege Paul Tagliabue, as well as his obvious desire for power being blocked by the AFL agreement to allow Rozelle to remain commissioner of the combined leagues, rather than Davis assuming the job.
However, many round Davis have agreed, he was not comfortable in the role as commissioner. He enjoyed being in charge of a team, and the daily running of that team, much more than the administrative responsibilities of the league.
In his time with the team, the Raiders have won an AFL Championship and three Super Bowls, appearing in five. They have been division champions 13 times, making the playoffs 15 times. Al Davis was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992, and holds the record for most times as a presenter for Hall of Fame inductions (9), introducing Lance Alworth, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, and John Madden.
Davis was also the longest serving General Manager in league history, having assumed that role back in 1966 (1962 if you disregard the four months as AFL Commissioner) and holding it until his death.
Under Davis, the Raiders were the first team to hire a Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores, 1979-1987), as well as the first with an African-American head coach (Art Shell, 1989-1994 and 2006).
In 2006, Davis hired Amy Trask as the CEO for the Raiders. She is the highest ranking female team official in the NFL, and is expected to take over the day-to-day operations of the team.
Davis is survived by his wife Carol and his son Mark. Both are thought to be heirs to the team, with Mark thought to be in position to take over the actual running of the team.
With all the jokes and ridicule of Al Davis in recent years, he has spent his lifetime making football the sport it is today. His influence, his decisions, and his actions have been felt throughout the league since the 1960s. He was the force behind the Dolphins coming in to the league, he was the reluctant force behind the NFL/AFL merger. He has been a driving force in diversifying the league. He was never afraid to say what he thought, and take action for what he believed, even if that meant legal action against the league. He was true to his friend, including last week when he had the Oakland Raiders hold a moment of silence in honor of the passing of New England Patriots' owner Bob Kraft's wife. Now, a week later, the league is doing the same thing for him.
Al Davis was a power within the NFL for the past 51 years. Whether you are a fan of the Raiders, the NFL, or football in general, he will be missed.