Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis dies at 82
The Hall of Famer died at his home in Oakland, the team said. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Davis was one of the most important figures in NFL history — a rebel with a subpoena. That was most evident during the 1980s when he went to court — and won — for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Even after he moved the Raiders back to the Bay Area in 1995, he sued for $1.2 billion to establish that he still owned the rights to the L.A. market.
Before that, though, he was a pivotal figure in hastening the merger between the AFL — where he served as commissioner — and the more established NFL. Davis was not initially in favor of a merger, but his aggressive pursuit of NFL players for his fledgling league and team helped bring about the eventual 1970 combination of the two leagues into what is now the most popular sport in the country.
“Al Davis’s passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level. The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL.”
But Davis was hardly an NFL company man.
Not in the way he dressed — usually satin running suits, one white, one black, and the occasional black suit, black shirt and silver tie. Not in the way he wore his hair — slicked back with a ‘50s duck-tail. Not in the way he talked — Brooklynese with Southern inflection. Not in the way he did business — on his own terms, always on his own terms.
Elected in 1992 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Davis was a trailblazer. He hired the first black head coach of the modern era — Art Shell in 1988. He hired the first Latino coach, Tom Flores; and the first woman CEO, Amy Trask. And he was infallibly loyal to his players and officials: to be a Raider was to be a Raider for life.
Coach Hue Jackson told the team of Davis‘ death at a meeting in Houston on Saturday morning. Fans dressed in Raiders jerseys, meanwhile, quickly made their way to team headquarters in Alameda, where a black flag with the team logo flew at half-staff and a makeshift memorial formed at the base of the flag pole.
People carrying flowers, flags, silver and black pom-poms 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.”