Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Sep 2006

Appreciating Al Davis

More than any current NFL owner, Davis is a football man first and a businessman second. Don't let his failures in old age obscure what he did in the past.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 29 Sep 2006

27 comments, Last at 05 Oct 2006, 5:23pm by Daniel


by underthebus (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 4:14pm

Living in the Bay Area, I've always liked Davis, sure he's old now and making poor decisions, but in his day he really contributed to the NFL as we know today.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 4:34pm

Very well said.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 4:53pm

He's the Brett Favre of Owners.

He was great at one point, but that point is gone, and its just painful to watch now.

by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 4:53pm

Al moves his team around to the highest bidder no matter the fan base. He ruins the coliseum for baseball and still has the nerve to sue the county for a billion dollars because people won't see his team. Hey sue me for a billion and see if I buy a ticket. To me Al always cared about the money more than anything else. I'm glad the football gods are punishing him for being a greedy old man.

by Richard (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 5:17pm

I kinda like Al Davis, but it's mostly because I hate LA and hate the Raiders.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 5:20pm

Football fans have Al Davis to thank for many things, but not the least of which is the pure comedy of his track suits.

by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 5:29pm

As a Raider fan one great thing about the franchise is that you know they'll try to win next year. They may not succeed, but there's hope.

Come the offseason, they'll look to spend out money on the best FA rb available or consumate a trade for the best WR in the league. By comparison, some franchises that have been losing for a decade or so, and do nothing.

BBS :)

by Sid Finster (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 5:31pm

I am with Rich Conley here, and I am a Raider fan.

To me, the Al Davis Saga is like watching a beloved grandpa stubbornly running the business he built into the ground.

It is sad, more than anything.

by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 5:45pm

Re:4 ... I came to the conclusion that the Raiders fanbase troubles are really Davis' 'karma' coming back to haunt him. (As you sow, so shall you reap).

Imagine you're born in 1976 and now just turning 30 ... your first football memories begin at six years old as the 49ers win Super Bowl XVI. The crosstown rivals, the Raiders, have just deserted to a distant place called "LA". There's some local anger about the move and so Joe Cool and the boys seem like the team to support. Once you pick a team you don't change, especially not when they go onto win 5 Super Bowls.

It's a generalisation but my theory is that anyone from the Bay Area under 30 would be a 49ers fan, anyone over 40 would resent Davis for taking the team away; which leaves a little group in the middle who remember the glory years of Oakland, were too young to understand the politics, and stayed loyal through the LA years. And those are the only people who will buy season tickets from him.

What do others think?

BBS :)

by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 6:55pm

i'm fairly sure that fans of KC, san diego and denver fully appreciate al davis now-a-days.

by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Fri, 09/29/2006 - 7:57pm

My Al Davis theory:

In the 60s, 70s and early 80s, he was one of the singularly best talent evaluators in football. The perception is that he then "lost it." I don't think so. I think it's just a matter of the rest of the world catching up. Now, through no fault of his own, he is an upper-middle-of-the-pack evaluator at best.

His real flaw comes in not understanding the implications of this. His old teams used to succeed because they just had better damn players than the other team. It didn't matter what offense they ran. But he's under the mistaken conviction that they won those games *because* of that 1970s offense, when it would be closer to the truth to say they won *despite* that offense.

Now, to compete, you need creative and innovative Xs and Os guys who understand that, lacking superior talent at most positions, you can't just try to run the other team over every play.

Then again, Bobby Petrino *is* one of the those guys, so maybe I'm way off base.

- Alaska Jack

by ZS (not verified) :: Sat, 09/30/2006 - 12:52am

I think the specific year he lost it was 1991, and he didn't so much as "lose it" as just stop absorbing new information. It really hasn't shown until now, but the decline of the Raiders over the past few years are an affect of this, since the last of the 1991 players are retiring. Thus, Jeff George and Art Shell.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Sat, 09/30/2006 - 3:18am

Of course, it was Davis' willingness to go to court to defend his move to Los Angeles that led to the Mayflower trucks at night in Baltimore, and the subsequent move of the Browns, and the league's inability to do anything about owners who want to move.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Sat, 09/30/2006 - 11:38am

Re 13: Of course if Davis didn't do it, Irsay or Modell probably would have anyway.

by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Sat, 09/30/2006 - 2:29pm

Re:12 ... I think if anything it's not the year of 1991, but the fact that free agency came along a couple of years later.

Look at how he treated Marcus Allen / Steve Beuerlein in 1990. Their only option was to accept the terms and conditions imposed on them.

These days people like Branch/Owens just hold the team to ransom until they get a trade.

A renowned turning point was 1994 when the Bronco's signed Tim Brown to an offer sheet. Davis backed down and matched. Add in that was the time he sacked Shell and almost everything has been downhill since then.

BBS :)

by Blake (not verified) :: Sat, 09/30/2006 - 4:46pm

Davis did win GM of the year award in 2002 season when they went to the Super Bowl. That was the most recent turning point. They were 4-12 the next season because they got to old and the head coach wasn't NFL caliber. His past two drafts have been pretty good and they are among the youngest teams in the NFL right now. If he sticks around long enough he'll see another turn around in the teams success.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Sun, 10/01/2006 - 5:04am

Re #14:

As much as I hate to say something nice about him, Modell was too good a league guy to move without permission; the owners did get to vote on the move to Baltimore with only Pittsburgh and Buffalo voting no. Irsay I don't know about, but I doubt he'd have been as willing to fight the league in court as Davis was.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sun, 10/01/2006 - 12:13pm

Davis has too many facets to really sum up in a brief paragraph. The fact that so many players have chosen him for their HOF induction speaks extremely well of him. His treatment of Marcus Allen was inexcusably stupid. Getting rid of Shanahan, the best coach he's ever had outside of Madden, and then failing to live up to the terms of a contract was dumb. The Super Bowl appearances and victories speak for themselves.

Hey, he's 77, and everybody loses their fastball eventually.

by NF (not verified) :: Sun, 10/01/2006 - 1:09pm

Al Davis' problem wih running the Raiders today is an avoidance of new ideas and an obsession with the possibility of quick fixes.

What separates 2006 from 2002 is that the Raiders had the talent then to run a vertical pass offense, in the form of a lot of veterans still hanging on to their ability long after they should have declined, such as Charlie Garner, Jerry Rice, Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson, and RT Lincoln Kennedy. The year before he also had a good coach in Jon Gruden until he traded him to the Bucanneers.

by Yakitat (not verified) :: Sun, 10/01/2006 - 2:04pm

Big Ego. Has a mobster mentality. He thinks you owe him despite what you gave to his team and winning for him. Those that love him, did what he said, those that hate him thought for themselves and ended up being ostracized. He's so good for the league that he had his players go out and cheap shot and injure other players in the league?

Lot of fuzzy loving memories for a guy that isn't. His selfish methods have bred some good because he will help those that follow his way, but if you are on the other side of that line, he could care less...unless he wants you on his team later so he can win. He's just a competitor not a social trailblazer, don't mistake his moves for something they truly are not.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 10/01/2006 - 2:58pm

I was in the generation that knew him as Raiders owner (moved from Oakland era). As I started to learn more about the game, it wasn't that much of a shock to learn he was the AFL commissioner, but I was shocked to learn about his role as scout/coach. Once I learned how important he was in the formation of the current NFL, both on and off the field, I got a lot more respect for the guy.

by senser81 (not verified) :: Mon, 10/02/2006 - 11:27am

re: #11

I would disagree that the 1970's Raiders won in spite of their offense.

by Sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 10/02/2006 - 7:29pm

#20: Well said.

by Matt (not verified) :: Mon, 10/02/2006 - 9:35pm

#3 is almost right.

He’s the Brett Favre of Owners.

He was great at one point, but that point is gone, and its just hilarious to watch now.

by Daniel (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 11:28pm

Davis, at one point, was the second most powerful man in pro football, behind Pete Rozelle. He was influential in many of the league decisions that have directly resulted in the successes the NFL enjoys today. He was instrumental in the development of the owner/player relationship, and was an early advocate for unrestricted free agency. He understood the importance of image and worked hard to explore alternate revenue streams to give his club a financial edge. For years the Raiders were leaders in using technology to assist in franchise operations. But as it was mentioned earlier, the other franchises have caught up, and Al's only advantage now is his reliance on his "gut instincts," which leads to the disasters that have befallen the Raiders of late.

Although many people blame him for the chaos of franchise movement that followed his lawsuit against the NFL in 1982, it should be pointed out that it was the Rams move to Anaheim that triggered the whole mess. Davis took advantage of the situation and grabbed the money that LA was offering. Many other owners also flirted with moving their teams to the Coleseum, including Gene Klein of the Chargers, Art Modell of the Browns, Jim Irsay of the Colts, and Bill Bidwell of the Cardinals. You cannot blame Davis for Modell's financial instability, or Irsay's mental instability and the franchise shifts that resulted from them. David Harris wrote a pretty good book on the NFL in the mid 1980s called 'The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL.' You can find it online for a buck or two and it gives some pretty interesting insight on the way the NFL worked back then and how this eclectic collection of owners came to control the most popular sport in America.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 7:50am

Re #25:

Until Davis moved the Raiders, city-to-city moves only took place with league approval. (I'm sure Anaheim was considered to be within the Rams' territory.) I don't know how enthusiastic the majority of owners would have been to see what had been good markets like Baltimore and Cleveland abandoned if those owners had even been willing to propose moving, but Davis' move and his litigation made that moot.

by Daniel (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 5:23pm

According to the Harris book, Rosenbloom didn't ask for league permission, and made a point of saying that he didn't need it. This prompted Rozelle to push for a rule that required league approval for a move. The vote was 27-0-1 with Davis abstaining and saying that he reserved his right to run the Raiders as he saw fit. The league never had any real tangible control over franchise movement. Its authority was rooted in every owner's willingness to comply. The lawsuit in the early 80s just reaffirmed this truth. Bidwell didn't have to ask for a league vote to move the Cardinals from Chicago to St. Louis because nobody cared, and Rozelle and George Halas wanted them to go. But there was no formal vote taken by the other owners.