The NFL has lost one of its most iconic and legendary figures today. Al Davis has passed away at age 82. The team announced his passing this morning.
Al Davis was a controversial figure in the NFL but there was never any denying his contributions to the history of the game.
Davis began his NFL career as the offensive end coach for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers in 1960 at the age of 30. After just three seasons in that position, Raiders general partner Wayne Valley came calling for him to join his club as head coach and general manager. Davis was just 33 at the time and was the youngest to ever hold those positions.
When Davis came in, he changed the whole dynamic of the Raiders. He implemented a vertical passing game to the Raiders’ offense and the team immediately surged from 1-13 the year before to 10-4 in Davis’ first season as head coach. It was the first winning season in the Raiders’ short history, and the beginning of a three decade dynasty in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Al Davis has held just about every major position in football and reached the height of success at each one. He was named AFL Coach of the Year in 1963 in just his second season in the position. From April to July of 1966, he served as AFL Commissioner before resigning and returning to the Raiders. But this time, he would return as a general partner with Wayne Valley and Ed McGah. He was also named as their head of football operations. He would later become sole managing general partner in 1972.
Before Davis left temporarily to serve as AFL Commissioner, he hand-picked head coach John Rauch to replace him. And in 1967, the season after his return to the Raiders, the team won the AFL Championship and played in Super Bowl II. The team would return to the AFL Championship the next two seasons as well.
In 1969, John Madden became the team’s sixth head coach, and under him the Raiders became one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, winning six division titles during the 1970s, culminating in their first Super Bowl victory in 1977.
With Davis in control, the Raiders became one of the most successful teams in all of professional sports. From 1967 to 1985 the team won 13 division championships, one AFL championship (1967), three Super Bowls (XI, XV, and XVIII), and made 15 playoff appearances.
The Raiders have had a rough time for nearly a decade and the criticism has mounted. The billboards asking Davis to hire a GM and the fans have been torn. But Al Davis never wavered. His belief as to how the Raiders should function remained steadfast.
The team rebounded last season for their first non-losing season in eight years. The last time the Raiders had a winning season, they went all the way to the Super Bowl.
In 1992 Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Team and League Administrator, and was presented by John Madden. Also a record nine Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees have chosen Al Davis to present them at their induction ceremonies: Lance Alworth, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, and Madden.
Known as a true sports renegade, he fought the NFL on several occasions and bucked trends and broke barriers. He hired the NFL’s first Black coach (Art Shell), first Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores), and first female CEO (Amy Trask). He was also known for signing minority players based on talent during a time in which racism was still rampant in sports. He has always been seen as the one owner who would take players that other teams avoided due to character issues. And no one was more devoted to his players and his team.
While there has never been any denying Al Davis was a controversial figure, there was never any controversy about how beloved he was among his players and coaches. He was also one of the last connections to the deep history of the NFL.
While in recent years he rarely spoke or made public appearances, when he did, he had the world watching. Many have noted that at the owners’ meetings, Davis would hold court as others listened to his astoundingly accurate accounts of the history of the game he loved.
His rebel personality and the famous phrase he coined “Just Win Baby” have become part of the American lexicon and what the Raiders have embodied for decades. Now the team is left to pick up the torch that he bore for 48 years and carry on.
Rest in peace, Al Davis. This game is what it is today because of you and it will never be the same without you.
See what current and former Raiders and those around the league are saying about Al Davis HERE