Jack Nicholson once said that sports fascinated him because it allows us to indulge in our own private theories about competition and mankind. Public opinions and marketing ideas are formed based on the collective interest and collusion of the owners, the leagues top executive and the handpicked media stars. Often times the public forms an opinion on a certain player or an owner just because they have heard it repeated so many times that they accept what they hear as a fact. (ex. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever) (Mark Cuban is a wild eyed maniac) The sports world is full of media shills who consistently laud a few handpicked players or praise certain franchises knowing they will be rewarded and given further access and thus profitability in their careers. So what happens when a visionary owner takes on an entire league and engages in a blood feud with the commissioner of the NFL? You have a sustained ongoing retaliation campaign that has smeared a brilliant man, Al Davis.
Al Davis is a gangster. Al Davis is a genius. Al Davis is a winner. Al Davis is a visionary.
It has become laughable at how many people simply parrot the conventional wisdom that the Raiders will never win unless Al Davis dies. ( I guess they forgot the three Super Bowls he won) When I was a youngster roaming the Coliseum you would hear Raider fans moan after every loss about how terrible Al Davis is and they would blame the recent loss on the owner. I was always confused about why some Raider fans, and non-Raider fans everywhere, would express some much vitriol against a teams owner. Why do so many people seem to dismiss a brilliant, tough, open-minded winner? Because they are all victims of an affliction called group think.
Let us look at the facts:
The Raiders have an all time winning percentage of 0.599. By comparison, the Yankees have an all time winning percentage of 0.566 and are considered the golden standard of all sports teams. Al Davis is a brilliant and groundbreaking figure in the NFL and is the reason the game has evolved into what we have today. It was his innovative, pass first, throw it deep style that has resulted in the "vertical" game. He adopted the swaggering style of marauders and actively courted an outlaw image. Only a true gangster could bring together the diverse cultures of Oakland and seamlessly mesh the black panthers with the Hells Angels. Both groups could be seen roaming the sidelines during Raider games in the 70's. He coined the phrase "just win baby" and "speed kills." Al has served as a head coach, general manager, league commissioner, and owner. He served as the youngest head coach in league history in 1963, and was named AFL coach of the year. He was named commissioner of the AFL in 1966 and began to recruit top talent away from the NFL. This made the AFL highly competitive and forced a merger with the NFL. (kinda of like what happened to the Detroit Tropics in Semi-pro) Al Davis was the first ever to draft a black QB in the first round, the first to hire a black head coach (Art Shell) and the first to hire a Latino head coach (Tom Flores). He also employes the highest ranking female executive (Amy Trask) in the NFL who now serves as the CEO of the Raiders. But Al will never get credit for his groundbreaking stance on civil rights because it does not fit with the popular narrative of our time.
Every team in sports goes through highs and lows. You just hope that you can extend your time and the top and only spend a few years at the bottom. So last look at the last seven years, following the AFC championship season and see what Al Davis did to right the ship:
The Raiders made it to the Super Bowl in 2002 due to the veteran leadership of Rich Gannon (the years MVP) and were the oldest team in the league in terms of average player age. Thus, the inevitable decline due to age as Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson, Romo, Lincoln Kennedy etc all retired or moved on. The Raiders attempted to rebuild by drafting JaMarcus with the first pick in a move that at the time was seen as a brilliant pick. I challenge you to find any one public comment that predicted the utter disaster of JaFat. During the JaFat years Al Davis drafted Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, Ford, McClain etc. From 2007 to today the Raiders have drafted 13 starters out of their 22 picks in the first three rounds. This is the highest success ratio of any team in the league. The Raiders are on the rise and the silver and black will regain prominence in the NFL.
If you only listen to the soundbites or see just a glimpse of Al Davis on televison with his projector at a press conference you can be made to believe that he is an unhinged lunatic who behaves like a modern day Godzilla breathing fire and destroying the city of Oakland. But if you take the time to watch the entire press conference (as I did on youtube) or listen to him speak in an extended interview you come to see a man that has always had the courage to do it his way. You begin to admire a man that shaped events around him and has always done it his way. Al Davis is a maverick who has built a team his way, sued the NFL multiple times and won, hoisted up the Super Bowl trophy three times, and (dare I say it after the McCourt disaster) is a misunderstood genius. Long live Al Davis!