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“Definitely shocking news for us,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “We got here last night and then you wake up this morning and hear we lost our owner, the man who built this team for many, many years, it’s tough to take in as a team. We understand what he meant to this organization. He loved his players, and that didn’t matter if you were here now, or if you played for him 30 years ago. He still loved all his players.”
People carrying flowers, flags, silver and black pompoms and even a football-shaped balloon stopped by to pay tribute on a warm, crystal clear fall day in the Bay Area. A tiny candle burned as well.
“It’s like losing a grandfather,” said Rob Ybarra of Alameda, who left a bouquet of white flowers shortly after hearing the news of Davis‘ passing. “He’s such an icon. The face of the Raiders. It’s hard to put into words how much he meant to everyone.”
Davis was charming, cantankerous and compassionate _ a man who when his wife suffered a serious heart attack in the 1970s moved into her hospital room. But he was best known as a rebel, a man who established a team whose silver-and-black colors and pirate logo symbolized his attitude toward authority, both on the field and off.
Until the decline of the Raiders into a perennial loser in the first decade of the 21st century he was a winner, the man who as a coach, then owner-general manager-de facto coach, established what he called “the team of the decades” based on another slogan: “commitment to excellence.” And the Raiders were excellent, winning three Super Bowls during the 1970s and 1980s and contending almost every other season _ an organization filled with castoffs and troublemakers who turned into trouble for opponents.
“Al was a football man _ his entire life revolved around the game he loved,” said Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, an original AFL owner of the Houston Oilers. “He worked his way up through the ranks and had a knowledge of all phases of the game. That experience aided him as an owner. He was quite different from every other owner in that way. As an AFL guy, he was in that group of people who pushed our league forward. I didn’t get to see him over the last few years and I know many, including myself, will miss him.”
Born in Brockton, Mass., on July 4, 1929, Davis grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, a spawning ground in the two decades after World War II for a number of ambitious young people who became renowned in sports, business and entertainment. Davis was perhaps the second most famous after Barbra Streisand.
“We had a reunion in Los Angeles and 500 people showed up, including Bah-bruh,” he once told an interviewer in that combination of southern drawl/Brooklynese that was often parodied among his acquaintances within the league and without.
A graduate of Syracuse University, he became an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts at age 24; and was an assistant at The Citadel and then Southern California before joining the Los Angeles Chargers of the new AFL in 1960. Only three years later, he was hired by the Raiders and became the youngest general manager-head coach in pro football history with a team he called “the Raid-uhs” in 1963.
He was a good one, 23-16-3 in three seasons with a franchise that had started its life 9-23.
Then he bought into the failing franchise, which played on a high school field adjacent to the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, and became managing general partner, a position he held until his death.
But as the many bright young coaches he hired _ from John Madden, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden to Lane Kiffin _ found out, he remained the real coach. He ran everything from the sidelines, often calling down with plays, or sending emissaries to the sidelines to make substitutions.
In 1966, he became commissioner of the AFL.
But even before that, he had begun to break an unwritten truce between the young league and its established rivals, which fought over draft choices but did not go after established players.
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