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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Farewell to Darth Raider

Darth Vader: Darth Vader meets the real Dark Lord; Al Davis
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis passed away this past Saturday at the age of 82. In his passing, the world lost one of sports great pioneers, responsible for much of the structure and appeal of the modern NFL. He is a man whose legacy will include his controversial and combative personality as well as his achievements in the business of professional football.

Al didn't age so gracefully. I think he liked it that way. 2


Davis was a champion of the American Football League in its infancy, first as a coach, and later as commissioner of the new league in 1966, at the age of 36. Davis’ aggressive means of acquiring talent and promoting the AFL was a key to the eventual merger with the National Football League. The NFL can thank Davis for its acquisition of the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Boston Patriots, Houston Oilers, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and Cincinnati Bengals, and their legacies in the NFL. 
The 50th anniversary of the AFL was celebrated in 2009. 3


The most prominent element of Davis’ legacy, however, is the Raiders franchise. There are 122 teams between the four major North American sports leagues – the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Only a small handful of teams have a lasting identity that is synonymous with the franchise. The Raiders are one of those franchises.

Bad guys, swagger, ruffians, cast-aways…"commitment to excellence"..."just win baby"…words that easily describe and identify the Raiders organization, cast in the mold of its owner. Younger fans, which have only associated the Raiders with their struggles since their appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII, may be unaware of how elite the Raiders are, over their history, among professional sports franchises.

The Raiders have been to five Super Bowls (II, XI, XV, XVIII, and XXXVII), winning two as the Oakland Raiders (XI, XV) and one as the Los Angeles Raiders (XVIII). Having won 60% of their regular season games in the history of the franchise through the 2002 season, they had one of the highest franchise winning percentages in the history of professional sports.

In addition, the Raiders have had an intimidation factor over the years. Raiders players have had the image of ruthless tough guys, who play hard on every down of every minute of every game. Their image is one of a team that will welcome anyone who can fit the Raider image and help the team win, regardless of age, regardless of past transgressions, regardless of skin color.

In addition to embracing dozens of players thought to be “has beens” who gained or regained stardom after joining the Raiders, Al Davis will be remembered for hiring the first ever Hispanic head coach when he hired Tom Flores in 1979 and hiring the first black head coach in the modern NFL when he hired Art Shell in 1989. Today, there is very little fanfare that accompanies the hire of a minority coach in the NFL. While less socially significant, Davis hired future broadcasting and video game icon John Madden, as head coach at age 32. Madden would coach the team for 10 years and coach the team to a Super Bowl win. Davis can claim a share of the responsibility for opening the doors of coaching to all qualified men.

Art Shell, the first black head coach in modern NFL history. 4

What is Al Davis’ legacy? The NFL, as we know it, is due, in large part, to Davis’ contributions to the American Football League. He will always be remembered as a combative personality who embraced everyone who shared his passion for his sport and his team. He will always be remembered for the image and mystique that is the Raiders. Rest in peace; just win baby!

Raiders owner Al Davis dead at age 82

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