Just Pigskin, Baby

Posted on October 12, 2011


With the passing of Al Davis on October 8th, the football world lost a legendary character and entrepreneur who did more for modern football than almost any other individual in history.

A polarizing figure by any measure, Allen “Al” Davis has nonetheless been regarded as an elite figure in the world of professional football for decades. As owner of the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, Davis consistently cultivated the reputation of an anti-establishment maverick, for both himself and his franchise.

Davis was consumed by the game of football throughout his lifetime. He played the sport in high school, and subsequently coached the sport for fifteen years. In that fifteen year span, Davis managed to rise in stature from an assistant coach’s role at Adelphi University, a small college on Long Island, to that of commissioner of the American Football League. During his very brief stint as the league’s commissioner, Davis recruited star players away from the NFL and, in effect, hastened the merger of the AFL and NFL.

Eventually settling into the persona of the NFL’s most strident rebel as the strongman of the Raiders, Davis’s ever-combative business style earned him the scorn of his peers and superiors. He forced out Oakland’s remaining ownership interests in the 1970s, and endlessly battled NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for the right to relocate his franchise in the 1980s. During those same decades, Davis’s fierce loyalty to his team’s athletes and coaches resulted in their efforts winning three Super Bowl championships.

While the dominance of the Oakland Raiders has waned in the past quarter-century, its owner’s relentless will to win on the football field did not. Davis continued to play an active role in the management of the franchise, although his decision-making track record has been inconsistent. To that end, exhibit A may very well be the hiring and departure of head coach John Gruden — the man who built the Raiders in the early 2000s — who then beat the Raiders in the 2003 Super Bowl while coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There’s little doubt, however, that the most important decision Al Davis ever made as a businessman in the NFL was the decision to fight the system. His status as a perennial outsider rewarded him with an infamous — but highly-decorated — record of success in one of the most competitive business environments in America.

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