Al Davis, one of the legends of professional football, passed away on Saturday. The tributes and stories about him have been innumerable since we heard the news.
I can't really say that I knew Al Davis personally but I have met him in passing during his many visits to Canton over the years. And, I more than know the contribution that he has made to this great sport that we preserve here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Among all that I know about him there's one story I read long, long ago that has forever stayed with me that I thought best defines the character he had. I've shared the story often including several times since last weekend.
It's usually in defense to someone who has an unfavorable opinion of the Raiders owner. There is no argument that he did things his own way. As he said in his own words during his enshrinement speech from our front steps in 1992:
I learned early on in life that if you are going to lead, if you're going to dominate, the golden rule, 'do onto others as you would have others do onto you' is not necessarily right. You must treat people in a paramilitary situation the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated. To do that, you must learn about them, learn their cultures and allow for their individual differences. We never wanted our players or even our friends to fit into ridged personality molds. There's a place in this world for mavericks, stand up for principal. Defy custom at times, be right do not hurt others. That individualism encouraged me to go forward and my heroes, my heroes when I was a young boy, dared me to dream."
If you haven't heard the speech, it's well worth giving a listen. Here's the audio>>>
Al Davis did things his way and he achieved great success in taking that route. There are endless accounts of how loyal he was to his friends. The stories of his often anonymous acts of kindness have surfaced throughout the past several days since his passing.
A book titled "The Gray-Flannel Pigskin" by William Henry Paul was published in 1974. Paul was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and his book told stories about a variety of people involved in the game at a time when pro football was gaining great popularity in this country. Each chapter profiled a different individual. Chapter 5 focused on a man named Jack Horrigan. I didn't know Jack but I've spent the past two-plus decades working for his son, Joe, who is our Vice President-Communications/Exhibits
Joe's father was the longtime Vice President of Publication Relations for the Buffalo Bills. Jack Horrigan also spent a brief stint as the AFL PR man where he worked for Davis. Jack died in 1973 at the age of 47 following a long and courageous battle with cancer.
In this chapter of "The Gray-Flannel Pigskin" a story was shared by long-time Buffalo sportswriter Larry Felser. Here's the excerpt from the book (©1974 by J.B. Lippincott Company)
Felser characterized Horrigan as having been Davis's "no man." "The two battled often," Felser says, "But there was deep respect. The day Horrigan underwent surgery for the first time in the Mayo, Davis, a Jew, bought a votive candle and kept it lit in his office. Late that night, when Davis was preparing to leave, a charlady told him she would have to douse the candle since it was against building regulations to leave a flame unattended. Davis took off his coat and stayed the night."
I've always thought this was a story that really defined Al Davis. Deep down he was a kind and loyal man.
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