Al Davis Set the Standard for Modern Football

Al Davis Set the Standard for Modern Football


“Commitment to Excellence.”  “Just Win, Baby.”  These were the two mottos Al Davis lived his life by as owner of the Oakland then Los Angeles then Oakland again Raiders.  Unfortunately, that life ended Saturday evening at the age of 82.

Davis wanted to win above anything else, whether on the gridiron or in the business world, hence the “Just Win, Baby” motto.  He brought in veterans who many thought were past their prime and won with them.  He sued the NFL numerous times– once for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles (and won)– and then again to move them back to Oakland but maintain the rights to the L.A. market (another win).  He was also the only franchise to abstain from voting for the new 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

Davis’ contributions extended far beyond the football field, as he was the second owner to hire a Latino head coach with Tom Flores and the first to hire an African American coach in Art Shell.  Davis did each of these moves without the Rooney Rule, which mandates that each team must interview a minority candidate when a head coaching position becomes open.  (The Raiders current head coach is Hue Jackson, who also is an African American.)  Davis also was the first to hire a female CEO, Amy Trask, who still holds that position today.  He became the first pro team to recruit players from historically black colleges and universities.

“Just Win, Baby.”

Many say that Davis is responsible for the modern NFL.  As commissioner of the American Football League (AFL), he negotiated the merger of the two leagues by aggressively pursuing NFL players to the fledging league.  His actions led to the creation of a league that now generates over $9 billion in revenues that are expected to almost double over the life of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“Just Win, Baby” did have its faults though.  Davis often battled with the NFL over every issue and often voted “no” to every league action.  He battled with all NFL Commissioners, namely Pete Rozelle, who got the commissioner job Davis wanted when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.  He returned to the Raiders as a general partner, where he would eventually oust owner F. Wayne Valley for control of the team, a position he would hold until the day he died.

Davis was all-controlling.  He ran the team as owner, general manager, and many believed as head coach from the owner’s box.  After a successful run in the early 2000s, the team has suffered through several losing seasons, with Davis hiring and firing five coaches during that span.  Some coaches felt they couldn’t coach the team they deemed fit without Davis’ iron fist compromising their authority.  He sent in plays, decided who would play, and made draft decisions, which many believe have caused the recent demise of the team in recent years.

With his death, much speculation has been made about which direction the team will take with his son Mark Davis and Amy Trask running the day-to-day operations.  Trask and Davis will probably start looking for a director of football operations or a general manager.  There is more speculation that the team will probably move back to Los Angeles, with a new ownership group headed by Magic Johnson planting seeds in building a new stadium in downtown LA.

For all of his faults, Al Davis was a man who did a great deal for the National Football League.  The Raiders were victorious on Sunday, defeating the Houston Texans 25-20 in dramatic fashion.  The players and coaches showed their emotions on the field, improving the team to 3-2 on the season.  A playoff run would be most fitting to honor their owner.  “Just Win, Baby.”