Growing up near the city of Champions is too hard to describe unless you were part of the magic. You see, I enjoyed playing all of the “REAL AMERICAN” sports: Football, Baseball and Basketball. In 1971 I was 7 years old and had already become an avid sports spectator as well. You had Al Davis (who I will talk about more later), Charlie Finley, and Franklin Mieuli. These three men were all different in their ways as the owners of my beloved teams.
I saw superstars like Reggie and Catfish win championships 3 years in a row and then witnessed the dawning of free agency. Subsequently, my young idols were soon wearing pinstripes. I saw Smooth as Silk Wilkes, who helped win a title with this crazy SOB named Rick Barry (who I would love to have a beer with) go on to win titles with the hated Lakers. Then there was my number one team THE RAIDERS. Then, the Maverick-Godfather-Genius Mr. Al Davis would do anything to keep talent, bring in more talent, and spare no cost to make good on his credo and “Just Win Baby.”
There was this Rock Star named Kenny “The Snake” Stabler who was an iconic football God in my eyes. With him, it seemed we were never out of any game and were always a couple jaw-dropping plays away from snatching victory from our opponent. Then there was the hated Steelers and the questionable Immaculate Deception in 1972; the Lytle non-fumble call in 1976 when Tatum hit him in mid air and the ball came loose and the whistle mysteriously blew—two game changing calls that kept trophies out of our case IMHO. So many other great moments too like The Sea of Hands (my buddies and I replayed that outside for weeks), The Holy Roller, Ghost to The Post, the Davis interception in Cleveland, etc etc. It was truly an amazing ride that started in the late sixties and ended in the early 80’s with 3 Lombardi Trophies and a lot of bragging power.
I feel like I have a lot of Al in me: stubborn, critical, do it my way or hit the highway type mentality that I have maintained with my own business. It started when he decided Kenny, who is still my favorite all time Raider, had lost his magic, so he traded for the big armed Dan Pastorini. Dan was the typical strong armed down the field passer that Al loved and coveted. Meanwhile, my hero was bringing a winning attitude to the Houston Oilers along with Dave Casper and Earl Campbell.
But you see, Al always loved his reclamation projects AND Heisman winners. In turn, he brought in this battered veteran named Jim Plunkett. His plan worked to a tee when Dan went down and Jim went on to help the team win two more SB titles.
Al’s stubbornness would soon give way to one of the most polarizing moments in the history of the team—the move to Los Angeles. After winning one Superbowl in the City of Angels, the magic luster of those silver helmets started to dull. One of the first signs was the heated feud with my second favorite Raider of all-time: Marcus Allen. He was arguably the most durable and greatest all purpose RB in NFL history. Then came the longer than needed experiment with Marc Wilson; the trade of Jay Schroeder for Jim Lachey who seemed like the prototype Al Davis LT; and the countless misses on QB drafts and acquisitions.
The team then experienced a slight resurgence to some respectability in the early 90’s. However, the team suffered from too much of Al’s control and not enough on field authority needed for chemistry and leadership. Then the move back to Oakland. It was a dream come true. I remember walking around on Halloween night when we were back in town with a 6-2 record. My good friend and fellow season ticket holder was with me and our families and we were in awe once again. That team ended the season with an 8-8 record and so the beat goes on. The coaching carousels, bad QB’s, overpaid FA’s and the DYSFUNCTION that ensued.
Fast forward to 1998 and along comes Jon Gruden. Jon teamed with Al and General Manager Bruce Allen who seemed to have us on the right track again. The team posted two consecutive 8-8 records before making the jump to 12-4 in 2000. In 2001 the 10-6 Raiders would fall short of a the Superbowl at the hands of Tom Brady, the New England Patriots, and the infamous “Tuck Rule.” Once again, Mr. Davis had to get in his own way. Jon was traded (yes, traded) to the Tampa Bay Bucs. The ensuing season we would see our former head coach (and borderline mascot) on the opposite sideline in our biggest game in over a decade. Gruden had molded the team and designed the playbook. With an all-pro defense at his disposal, Gruden and the Bucs outplayed Callahan’s Raiders and robbed them of their gold.
Al began piercing holes in the Oakland vessel. The holes got larger and larger and, despite some .500 seasons that some still mysteriously cherish, he never could keep the vessel from completely sinking.
Al Davis was the smartest man that professional sports has ever seen and he was a wave maker. He broke racial barriers that seemed impossible to do and helped mold the NFL into the greatest sport in the World. I will ALWAYS, respect, love, and admire him for all the great memories, seasons, and titles.
Now usher in todays Raiders who, in my opinion, are so similar to the great 70’s teams with their knack for comeback wins and style of play that truly embodies the “Just Win” philosophy pioneered by Al and his band of misfits. All these things factor into why I truly believe we will win 2-4 titles in the next decade.
JDR has the most power of any HC in Raider history not named Al Davis (or Hue Jackson for a brief run). More specifically, during his time Al wore many different hats: he was not only our owner but also our GM, HC, OC, DC and the players knew this. Impressive, yet it is very difficult to run anything for a sustainable time with this kind of control. Though revered by myself and many others, I believe this obsession with control is why I truly believe we missed out on 2-3 more titles.
Davis’ overreaching power caused dissention, rumor, chaos and eventually led to dysfunction and discipline issues that took newfound General Manager Reggie McKenzie several years to get eradicate. The Raiders are now run like a real organization from top to bottom. They are no longer the laughing stock of owners, fans, and media. I give Mark Davis his due credit for this turnaround as well.
RIP Mr. Davis. You did it your way and I will always be grateful.
Written by: R8der4evr St Homer
Edited by: Kenny Stapler