After graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2011, I was quickly whisked away to Sacramento to partake in a fellowship with California’s state legislature. Now while learning about tax laws, budget battles, bill writing, and the nuances of politics was expected during my summer in the state capital, I was fortunately bestowed the opportunity to learn more about my favorite sports team, the Oakland Raiders.
During that time, myself and the other fellows were fortunate enough to have a home base across the street from the Capitol with a lobbying firm. Without getting into an argument over the role of special interest, the gentlemen in that building who fostered a connection with my alma mater, were not your stereotypical nefarious, black hat lobbyists of the Jack Abramoff ilk. And while their support and insight to state politics was invaluable, I enjoyed my time there tenfold because the office was decorated in Raiders memorabilia. Helmets and footballs signed by legends past and a framed picture of John Madden adorned the mantel in the main conference room. The room’s polished desks collected tokens of the firm’s achievements that shined brighter next to small trinkets of Silver and Black pride. And while this arena was captivating, it was, not for professional reasons, the Raider temple.
Regardless, my eyes were still wide in awe. Naturally, the boss noticed by glee so we talked Raiders and soon enough he brought me to his office and with the flick of the switch, I became awash in Silver and Black lore. The conference room widened my eyes, but this small office made them explode. As my pupils ejected from my sockets and splattered on the walls, they noticed a plethora of pictures, helmets, footballs, a framed Howie Long jersey and novelty items from coasters to magazines. The room was painted in Raiders glory. It was hands down the best workstation I have ever laid my eyes on. And behind a stack of papers, behind the chaos of government, was the shining beacon in this treasure trove of Raiders riches.
An exact sized replica of the Oakland Raiders’ first Vince Lombardi Trophy won by John Madden’s 1976 Super Bowl XI team, stood gloriously behind a cubed glass display case. I was floored, but puzzled at the same time. How did this make its way here, let alone exist? Turns out, Raiders’ owner Al Davis, much to the chagrin of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, manufactured replica trophies for the entire Super Bowl winning team. Everyone involved with the success not only got a ring, but a taste of the original trophy to take back home. And there in that Sacramento office, decades after “Old Man” Willie Brown secured the Raiders’ first Super Bowl triumph, stood a testament to Al Davis’ pioneering spirit.
That fellowship began in May of 2011 seven months after Al Davis passed away that same year in October. And while I write this article 2 years and one day after Davis succumbed to heart failure at the age of 82, the man’s renegade spirit and attitude continues to emit throughout the Raider Nation. While many across the NFL spectrum, professional media and nosebleed zealots alike, will deride Davis’ inheritance as nothing but noxious fumes, Raiders fans know better.
We remember him as the man who created the AFL and NFL merger, thus creating the league we all know today. We remember him as the innovator who allowed the game to open up and be played with a fury of aerial excitement. We remember him as the groundbreaker that viewed race, gender, and age as not a deciding factor in one’s professionalism. We remember him as the voice behind timeless phrases such as: Just win Baby, Pride and Poise, a Commitment to Excellence. And most of all, we remember him as the man who gave the Raiders their mystique and iconic place in sports history.
Now, it is without a doubt that Al Davis’ managerial judgment lapsed in his later years. A vicious Pandora’s Box was created and in it was a colony of ill judged draft picks, overblown paychecks, and a lack of coaching continuity, inflated that receptacle to otherworldly levels of frustration and torment. I would be a lying imbecile if I were to tell you that I never lashed out at Davis’ expense in the years following 2002. You would be hard pressed to find a diehard that never expressed the same sentiments at one point or another in the last decade. But in those failures it was Davis who suffered the most. He wanted to win above anything else, plain and simple.
Younger fans of the NFL, particularly those who wish internal suffering for the team better known as the Raider Haters, will immediately point these flaws out just as quickly as they made jokes about Davis’ physical appearance in his waning years. But that is too easy and dismissive of the work ethic and persona Davis brought to the sport and the Bay Area.
Every man makes mistakes in life, but few men take life by the neck, rattle out the status quo and fashion it in their own image. Al Davis did exactly that and to cast him in any other light is assumption entrenched in pure ignorance.
Although I never met Al Davis, his legacy reiterated to me a truth that my parents and grandparents instilled in me since I was a little boy: that nothing is given. Davis was unrelenting in his uniqueness and desire to succeed; traits that few people today possess. And now, two years and one day after his death, that is how he should be remembered.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @jermg11.