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He never backed away from a fight in nearly a half century in the league. But there wasn’t much left to fight for in today’s NFL, where owners now all wear suits, talk about revenue enhancements and wait for the next check to come in and make them even richer.

There won’t be another Al Davis because there can’t be another Al Davis. Not today, when the NFL is such big business that there’s no chance of anyone advancing through the ranks as a coach, general manager and finally owner. Not today, when coaches are so risk averse that they wouldn’t dream of allowing someone like Daryle Lamonica to sling one long pass after another to Fred Biletnikoff.

Davis was always willing to take a chance, whether it was suing the NFL so he could move the Raiders to Los Angeles, or giving $32 million in guaranteed money to No. 1 draft flop JaMarcus Russell. Indeed, Davis had a reputation for throwing good money after bad players in his later years, so desperate was he that his beloved Raiders would win again.

“He wasn’t afraid of standing alone and making a bold move such as suing the league,” former Raiders linebacker Matt Millen said. “He had naysayers, but he didn’t care, because he didn’t care what people thought.”

That put him in the same company as another larger-than-life owner in a different sport. Davis and George Steinbrenner were both born on July 4 _ though a year apart _ and the two bombastic owners sometimes would call to cheer the other one on if his team was not doing well.

When Steinbrenner died last year, Davis was eager to join in the tribute to a man he called his friend.

“I judge sports figures based on individual achievement, team achievement and contributions to the game,” Davis said. “George was right up there with me at No. 1 _ bright, aggressive and, most of all, not afraid.”

Davis will likely never get the kind of monument dedicated to Steinbrenner at Yankee Stadium, if only because the Raiders don’t own their own stadium. But fans came by Raiders headquarters Saturday to find a black flag with the team’s pirate logo flying at half-staff.

They left bouquets of flowers and handwritten cards beneath it, a touching tribute to a man who in life never seemed touched by much.

A league he helped build will survive without him, of course. The NFL is huge and powerful and depends on no one man.

It’s more personal in Oakland, where it’s hard to imagine the Raiders without Al Davis.

“Just win, baby!” will never seem the same.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or