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Al Davis: a football maverick remembered

During his many years as the coach and chief executive of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis had one simply stated motto: 'Just win, baby.'

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For many years, Davis was consistently able to find quarterbacks, including Daryle Lamonica and Ken Stabler, who fit the Raiders' long-ball passing game. But when Jim Plunkett retired after the 1986 season, Al couldn’t seem to find anyone to take his place, perhaps the only time in his career when frustration tackled him from behind.

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Davis built an organization that basically was an extension of himself. He didn’t believe in titles. Everybody under Davis was an administrative assistant.

With Davis in charge the Raiders went 10-4 in Al’s first year as head coach. After that came 15 division championships, four conference titles, and five trips to the Super Bowl. Three of those visits resulted in Raider victories, in 1977, 1981, and 1984 – the first with John Madden as head coach and the latter two achieved under Tom Flores, the NFL's first Latino head coach (Davis also hired African-American, Art Shell, a former Raider lineman, to break the league's coaching color barrier, and its first female chief executive, Amy Trask).

The team's 1984 Super Bowl victory occurred while the team was based in Los Angeles. It would take at least another 500 words to explain why Davis, who became a part owner of the team in 1966, moved the Raiders to Los Angeles.

When rival NFL owners voted 22-0 against it, Davis hit them with a $160 million lawsuit. Davis won, collecting millions in the process.

One of the things Davis explained after being named to pro football’s Hall of Fame in 1992 was the drive that helped him build the Raiders into champions.

“I always wanted to take an organization and make it the best in sports,” Davis said. “I admired the New York Yankees for their power and intimidation. I admired the Brooklyn Dodgers under Branch Rickey for their speed and player development. I felt there was no reason the two approaches couldn’t be combined into one powerful organization.”

Phil Elderkin is a former sports editor of The Christian Science Monitor.


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