Sunday, October 09, 2011

Al Davis – one of the GREATEST EVER

“He was a football coach – who happened to own a football team”, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino shared Sunday on CBS’s NFL Today in talking about Al Davis, the longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders who passed away Saturday at 82.

"Pro football has lost a true giant of the game, a person whose name is synonymous with a 'commitment to excellence.' His contributions to the game and love of his team are well documented. Few have achieved the successes and respect he accomplished in his years as a coach, league commissioner and club owner. His Hall of Fame legacy will live on and always be a major chapter in the pro football story" proclaimed Pro Football Hall of Fame president and executive director Steve Perry.

Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992 and often mentioned that one of his greatest honors was the opportunity he had to induct nine men into the Football Hall of Fame.

Davis was unique – a maverick, a giant among giants, true legend among legends, the brightest star among stars. Davis was a hero, a mentor, and a friend to those blessed to have worked with him.

Al Davis was the only person in professional football history to have been a scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner.

He was an innovator, a pioneer with a deep love and passion for the game of football. His contributions to the game are innumerable and his legacy will endure forever through generations of players, coaches, administrators and fans.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the passing of Al Davis: “Al Davis’s passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary. He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level. The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL."

In these memorable 48 years, the Raiders had 28 winning seasons, including 16 in a row from 1965 through the franchise’s 1980 World Championship season. In 34 of those seasons, the Raiders earned a record of .500 or better.

Al Davis’ six-decade professional football story, from assistant coach of the Chargers, to head coach and general manager of the Raiders, to Commissioner of the American Football League and finally to principal owner and president of the general partner of the Oakland Raiders, is a standard that no one in the history of professional football can match for winning and excellence.

In April 1966, Davis, the 36-year-old head coach and general manager of the Oakland Raiders became Commissioner of the American Football League. This was a post he accepted reluctantly; first and foremost, Al Davis was a football coach and knew that assuming the Commissionership would likely result in the end of his coaching career.

But AFL owners, in their battle with the rival National Football League, prevailed on Davis to accept the position. He was described by AFL President and Buffalo Bills Owner Ralph Wilson as “a coaching genius and astute administrator.”

Just eight weeks later, when pro football’s two major leagues put an end to their six-year battle, Davis was acclaimed nationally as the driving force responsible for the merger of the two leagues. In 1969, he was once again a prime force in the dramatic realignment of professional football when two thirteen-team conferences — the AFC and NFC — were formed in 1970.

As a member of the NFL Management Council’s Executive Committee, Davis was also a major factor in achieving collective bargaining agreements with the players.

Al Davis first came to the Raiders in January of 1963, dedicated to rescuing the faltering Oakland franchise and building it into the finest organization in professional sports. Just 33, Davis was the youngest man in pro football to hold the demanding dual positions of head coach and general manager.

But Davis already possessed 14 years of coaching experience. He had been tabbed a “young coaching genius” by Sports Illustrated and “the most inventive mind in the country” by Scholastic Coach Magazine.

The Raiders, “picked to finish dead last” in 1963, thundered to a 10-4 record coming just short of the Division Championship. That year, Davis was named Pro Football Coach of the Year.

Perhaps his most distinguished honor is having made a record nine presentations of inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The nine greats to have selected Al Davis to make their presentation speeches are Lance Alworth, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks and John Madden.

Madden presented Davis for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 1, 1992. In May of 1991, Al Davis became the first recipient of the NFL Players Association’s Retired Players Award of Excellence “for his contributions to the men who played the game.”

Born July 4, 1929, Al Davis was raised in Brockton, Massachusetts and moved at an early age to Brooklyn, New York. He attended Wittenberg College and Syracuse University, earning a degree in English while participating in all football, basketball and baseball. Al Davis received a Letterman of Distinction Award from Syracuse University.
In March of 1998, Davis was inducted into the NFL Alumni’s “Order of the Leather Helmet,” presented annually to “individuals who have made significant contributions to the game of professional football.”

On December 29 1999, the Oakland Tribune and the Alameda Newspaper Group named Al Davis as the Bay Area’s most significant sports figure of the 20th Century. The list also included such greats as Joe Montana, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Russell.

The Orange Bowl inducted Davis into its Hall of Fame in 2001.

In 1950, Davis was named line coach at Adelphi College in New York. He then went into the Army, being assigned as head football coach at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. There he molded a national power service team, capping one season by defeating the University of Maryland -- National Collegiate Champions -- in a squad game.

Davis next served on the staff of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in 1954, at age 24, concentrating on player personnel. During 1955-56, he was line coach and chief recruiter at The Citadel. He proceeded to spend three years at the University of Southern California as line coach.

In 1960, Head Coach Sid Gillman hired Davis as the offensive end coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. After helping win two Division Championships in just three years in L.A, Davis started working with the Oakland Raiders in 1963.

Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones on Davis: “In my eyes, so much of his legacy will be defined by the loyalty he had for the men who played for the Raiders and the love that they had for him. That was a bond that extended beyond the playing years and lasted lifetimes. His contributions and expertise were inspiring at every level -- coach, general manager, owner and commissioner. There was no element of the game of professional football for which Al did not enjoy a thorough and complete level of knowledge and passion. He welcomed me and my family to the NFL 23 years ago and was a trusted friend for all of our time in professional football. We will miss him deeply and we are thinking of Mark and Carol at this difficult time."

Saints owner Tom Benson: “Al Davis was one of the most innovative and dynamic pioneers in the history of the National Football League. He was passionate about his team and about the game of professional football and he personified the legacy of the Raiders. We share with his family and friends our heartfelt sympathy on the news of his passing."

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen: "During my 28 years with the Broncos, I came to know Al Davis as one of the most influential and innovative people in the history of the National Football League. His competitive spirit and intensity grew our rivalry with the Raiders into one of the fiercest in all of sports. I respected Al for what he meant to the NFL. He was a visionary who defined the Raiders and had an enormous responsibility for the prosperity of this league. I join Al's family, the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the NFL in mourning the loss of a man who gave so much to the game we love."

Niners owner and co-chairman John York: "The Bay Area and NFL communities have lost a true pioneer in Al Davis. The significant contributions that he made to the game of football at every level spoke volumes about his commitment to excellence. We enjoyed working with Al at the league level on the development and growth of our game, and at the team level we appreciated the competition between the 49ers and his Raiders. Al Davis commanded great respect from those he worked alongside and all he competed against."

Bengals president Mike Brown: "Al was a fiery individualist, an important part of pro football -- the AFL and NFL --for almost 50 years. His teams had times of great success, and he was heavily involved both on and off the field. I admired the achievements the Raiders attained under Al. Personally, I was fond of him. He battled with the NFL, and a lot of us wished that had not been where things went, but under all that was a person I respected. It saddens me to hear that he is gone."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft: "We shared a bond as two Massachusetts natives in the NFL, something that he pointed out to me in that initial introduction. I feel fortunate to have spent time with him just last Sunday before our game against the Raiders. Not knowing when I would see him again, I told him how much I appreciated all he had done for the game of football and thanked him for all that he had done for me. He informed me of the Raiders' plans to honor my sweetheart with a moment of silence before our game, which was a touching and heartfelt gesture. Little did I know that just one week later, we would be doing the same in his honor. It's very sad."

The Raiders always abstained on league motions at league meetings, including when the NFL and NFLPA reached their latest labor accord that saved the 2011 season.

Davis’ Raiders called both Oakland and Los Angeles home. Al changed the sports industry landscape when he successfully sued the NFL in 1982 when the league tried to prevent Davis from moving the Raiders to Los Angeles. Ultimately, Davis successfully brought a suit against the National Football League and won the right to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982. The National Football League lost its legal battle for the right to prevent member teams from moving from city to city on November 6 1981. Davis was able to move the franchise back to Oakland in 1995.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the NFL's appeal from a lower court’s ruling that the league’s effort to block the Oakland Raiders from moving to Los Angeles in 1980 violated Federal antitrust law. After the owners of the NFL’s 27 other teams had barred that move, the Raiders brought a successful antitrust suit against the NFL at the Federal District Court in Los Angeles. A jury agreed with the Raiders and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, also a plaintiff in the suit, that the ''location agreement'' in the NFL's bylaws was a conspiracy among economic competitors to restrain trade, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

A dozen years later, on June 23 1995, Davis signed a letter of intent to move the Raiders back to Oakland. This time the NFL didn’t fight Davis’ decision. Davis’ impact on the sports industry extends far beyond this landmark lawsuit, which has opened the door for the many related moves other sports franchises have made.

The Raiders CEO is Amy Task, the first woman to be hired as an NFL Chief Executive Officer. Art Shell became the first African American NFL head coach of the modern era when he was hired by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989. Al Davis didn’t care if you were a woman, a black man, a white man – all Al Davis cared about was your ability to win and your commitment to excellence.

NFL Player’s Association executive director DeMaurice Smith: "We are very sorry to hear about the loss of Al Davis. Al Davis was a great leader who helped develop the game we enjoy today. His vision and leadership helped merge the AFL-NFL into the greatest sport in North America. He was a fearless fighter and tireless worker toward making the game of football better for all to enjoy. To all of Raider Nation, the Oakland Raider organization and to his family, we mourn your loss."

Oakland Raiders director of squad development and former player Willie Brown: "I came to the Raiders in 1967 with the trade with Denver. It was the best thing that happened in my career to come and play for Mr. Davis. I've surely enjoyed every year and I've been here over 41 years. Our relationship has grown and it's hard to believe, as strong a man as he was. I've enjoyed every year of being here with him and it's a loss not only to the Raider organization, but to all of America. People love the Raiders and every time they think of the Raiders, they think of Mr. Davis. He was a great leader on and off the field and he took care of a lot of people in his lifetime. He helped guys off the field, not only guys that played for him but also guys that played for other teams. It's a sad day in the Raider Nation, but we must go on."
And the last words in SBN’s obit go to Davis’ beloved Raiders, who issued the following statement on behalf of one of the greatest people to have ever been associated with the sports industry, much less the National Football League: “The Oakland Raiders are deeply saddened by the passing of Al Davis. Al Davis was unique - a maverick, a giant among giants, a true legend among legends, the brightest star among stars, a hero, a mentor, a friend. Al Davis was the only person in professional football history to have been a scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner. He was an innovator, a pioneer with a deep love and passion for the game of football. His contributions to the game are innumerable and his legacy will endure forever through generations of players, coaches, administrators and fans. Al Davis was a champion of diversity who maintained the courage of his convictions. His passion for the game we all love is best exemplified by his famous phrase, "COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE." The fire that burns brightest in the Raider organization, "THE WILL TO WIN," will continue to blaze through the legacy of the great Al Davis.”

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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