Al Davis, the provocative, loyal, and highly successful owner of the Oakland Raiders, died yesterday at the age of 82. Newsday reports that it was unclear what the cause of death was, but Davis' health had been declining in recent years. "I can control most things, but I don't seem to be able to control death," he once said.
Davis grew up in Brooklyn, and attended Erasmus High School before graduating from Syracuse. According to the Times his family was "relatively affluent," but he once told a reporter, "I don't want this is in the story. I wish you wouldn't print it." After a stint with the AFL's LA Chargers, Davis was hired as the head coach and general manager of Raiders. He was the youngest person to hold the position at the age of 33, and utilized a deep passing game that was immediately successful.
Though his teams were characterized by a "Just win," no-holds-barred mentality that occasionally resulted in dirty or extremely violent play, Davis also hired the first black head coach of the modern era, the first Latino coach, and the first woman CEO. His "southern drawl/Brooklynease" became a trademark, as did his feuds with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
But Davis was fiercely loyal to his employees, and could be quite charming. The Times recounts this conversation between a critical reporter, Dave Anderson, and Davis.
“Why do you always use that word when you write about me?” Mr. Davis asked Anderson.
“What word?” replied Anderson, who then wrote:
“ ‘Sinister,’ said Al Davis. ‘You always call me sinister.’
“ ‘I thought you’d consider that word to be a compliment.’
“ ‘Well, yeah,’ he said, ‘but my mother reads The Times.’ ”
In recent years the Raiders haven't fared so well, but if there's one thing the NFL is excellent at, it's making the past seem epic.