Only NFL historians have an idea of how big of an impact legendary Oakland Raiders Al Davis had on the league. Most people only know how badly he struggled with the team at the end of his life. But if there is a man most responsible for the NFL product we watch today, it’s definitely Davis.
He knows the game of football inside out like no one that has ever walked on planet Earth. Davis’ career started in the AFL, where he was first an assistant coach, for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers. From there, he became the head coach for the Oakland Raiders and eventually the commissioner of the AFL.
It was then that the Davis put an AFL product on the field that started to surpass the NFL. He and the AFL featured quick-strike, high-scoring offenses over the NFL’s three yards and a cloud of dust. The AFL was the first to have sideline cameras and scout predominantly black colleges for talent.
And when push came to shove, Davis waged war with the NFL, signing players away from them. He had the NFL on the ropes, forcing them to negotiate a merger with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. And Hunt made the merger happen behind Davis’ back, creating the rivalry between the Chiefs and Raiders.
Hunt was given all the credit for the merger but Davis created the product that made the NFL want to merge. Davis also didn’t get half the credit he deserved for giving minorities prominent roles. He was the first to have a minority quarterback (Tom Flores) at a time the only whites were considered for the position.
Davis was also the first to use a 1st-round pick in the draft on a black QB (Eldridge Dickey) in the ’60s. Then in 1989, he took it even further, hiring the NFL’s first black head coach (Art Shell). In 1997, Davis showed he had a spot for women, making Amy Trask Chief Executive of the Raiders.
But somehow, they call it the Rooney rule to consider minorities and women for a head coaching and executive positions. It’s one thing to make the rule up to consider minorities and another to be the first to hire them. That’s just another part of Davis’ legacy that was stolen from him by another owner.
Even today, when the Raiders draft a CB with good size and length, many say they’re copying the Seattle Seahawks. I understand they are the latest team to win a Super Bowl with that style of play. But Davis had CBs standing over 6’0″ and weighing over 200 pounds since the ’60s and never stopped.
He had Willie Brown in the ’60s and 70s, Lester Hayes in the ’70s then Hayes and Mike Haynes in the ’80s. Davis drafted Charles Woodson in the late ’90s and in the ’00s, he had Nnamdi Asomugha. Throughout their history, the Raiders have traditionally had big CBs to play in bump-and-run coverage.
Today’s NFL has Davis’ fingerprints all over it but somehow, his legacy was stolen. So just a couple of days after his 88th birthday, I wanted to tell and remind people of what he meant to the game.
Happy belated, big Al!
Just win, baby!