By Ken Crippen
Pro Football Researchers Association
On Saturday, the NFL lost a legend in Al Davis. Love him or hate him, he was influential in both the American Football League (AFL), and subsequently the National Football League (NFL).
But, what is missing in his tributes is how he truly touched the people around him. People can talk about his feuds with the NFL and the multiple times he took the league to court. They can talk about his “maverick” ways and that he was a “rebel.” However, that should not overshadow his contributions to the league.
According to former NFL general manager Ernie Accorsi in a statement to this author for this article, “Al Davis was a force in pro football for many years. But in my opinion, what he was most was a pure football man. He ran a successful organization, won championships, but when you talked about the game with him the real passion came out. From evaluating players to the technical X’s and O's. He had a brilliant football mind.”
Over his tenure with the Raiders, the franchise won an AFL championship as well as earning three victories in their five Super Bowl appearances. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. In a statement released by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, executive director Steve Perry commented, “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.”
To illustrate how he impacted the lives of the members of the Raiders organization, a record nine people have been presented for induction into the Hall of Fame by Davis: Lance Alworth, Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Ted Hendricks, John Madden, Jim Otto, Art Shell, and Gene Upshaw. These men could have chosen anyone. They chose Davis due to the impact that he had in their lives.
Former NFL general manager Ron Wolf worked under Davis twice during his career. He felt honored to have worked for a man like Davis. In an earlier interview this author had with Wolf, he elaborated. “I think that I was blessed with [working for Davis] because he was energetic…so smart,” recalled Wolf. “In those days, if you were in a pro football operation, you ran
the operation entirely from a business sense and from a coaching sense. He had that capability. We are talking about George Halas’, Paul Brown’s, people of that ilk who could do that and Al was in that vein. The same vein. Brilliant man. He took the time to train me. I am very, very fortunate to have been under his tutelage.”
Davis influenced Wolf. “I think that most of how I did things was a result of working for Al Davis,” Wolf said. “There were several things I would never incorporate or operate the way he did because my personality is not like his, but as far as learning work ethic and certainly the evaluation process, that would be all Al Davis.”
In a statement to this author for this article, Wolf summed up his feelings:
“Can you imagine having an opportunity to learn from a legendary figure such as Al Davis? This was my good fortune to say the least. He taught me every aspect of pro football from an organizational standpoint, scouting & personnel, signing, building a team, etc.
I accompanied him to New York when he was named Commissioner of the American Football League and returned with him after the merger to the Oakland Raiders when the Raiders became a force in football for many decades, the 70s & 80s. I left in 1990 after 25 years under his tutelage and I am deeply and forever grateful for him giving me an opportunity to learn under him.
His accomplishments are too lengthy to mention but he was as a dynamic force in pro football as George Halas and Curly Lambeau were in their era.
My thoughts are prayers are with Carol, his wife and Mark, his son.
My wife and I are deeply saddened by his passing but his legacy and image will forever loom large in the annuals of the game he helped make the best in the USA.”
In a statement released by NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, “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 a statement released by Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, “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.”
It is hard to quantify the impact that a man like Davis had on professional football. His influence spread to everyone who had contact with him, regardless of whether you were a player, coach, administrator, owner or a fan. Men like Ron Wolf were shaped by him. Many were influenced by him. There is no way that a single article could cover everything that he did to touch people in positive ways. He has left a small piece of himself with everyone who had the opportunity to come in contact with him.
Al Davis was 82.