Just win baby!
In 1963, Al Davis was named the head coach and general manager of the Oakland Raiders, a struggling team that won only nine of 42 games in its first three years of American Football League competition. Davis had been a highly-regarded offensive coach with the San Diego Chargers. Although he was only 33, he was recognized as a tireless strategist with a sharp football mind. Some even went so far as to call him a genius.
Under Davis’ direction, the Raiders launched a “commitment to excellence” program that paid dramatic dividends even in his inaugural ‘63 campaign. The Raiders recorded its first winning season with a 10-4 record. Davis was a unanimous choice as AFL Coach of the Year.
With the exception of a three-month hiatus in 1966 when he served as the AFL commissioner, Davis has been the “main man” in charge of every element of the Raiders organization. He became the Raiders managing general partner when he returned from his AFL commissionership.
In 1992, Davis was accorded this sports highest honor, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was recognition many thought should have come sooner. For Davis, it caused a moment for reflection on a life devoted to the game he loves.
“A chill went through my body last night as I met with many of the special people that I went to school with, lived with, played with, coached with, coached and for a few brief moments I remembered many of the special people who can’t be here today,” he shared during his enshrinement speech on the front steps of the Hall of Fame.
Davis’ mark on the game is distinguishable to say the least. In the 29-year span (1963-1991) that preceded his election to the Hall of Fame, the Raiders compiled a better than .670 winning percentage, the best record of any major professional sports team in that period. For 21 years from 1965 to 1985, the Raiders had only one losing season, that in 1981. They played in four Super Bowls and won three of them. They were the lone AFC team to win a Super Bowl in the 1980s.
Since ’92, the Raiders have continued to add to his and the team’s legacy with more winning seasons and yet another Super Bowl berth. In 2002, the Raiders won the AFC Western Division title with a11-5 record and followed with convincing victories in the AFC playoffs. Oakland downed the New York Jets 30-10 in the divisional playoff game and took care of the Tennessee Titans 41-24 in the AFC championship game. Despite falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, the season proved that the Raiders had again returned to the top of the NFL.
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Davis’ own Hall of Fame election came not only in recognition of his contributions to the Raiders and the AFL, but to the uniqueness of his overall career as well. He is the only person to have served pro football in the capacities of (1) personnel assistant and scout, (2) assistant coach, (3) head coach, (4) general manager, (5) league commissioner and (6) owner and chief executive officer of a team.
“I always wanted to take an organization and make it the best in sports,” Davis said shortly after his election in January 1992. “I admired the New York Yankees of George Weiss for their power, intimidation, fear, and big people. I admired the Brooklyn Dodgers under Branch Rickey for their speed and player development. I felt there was no reason the two approaches couldn’t be combined into one powerful organization.”
Davis was particularly familiar with the Yankees and Dodgers because, although he was born July 4, 1929, in Brockton, Massachusetts, he grew up in Brooklyn. Even as a youngster, he had a great love for sports. He attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, Wittenberg College in Ohio and finally Syracuse University.
After leaving Syracuse, Davis joined the staff at Adelphi College for the 1950 and 1951 seasons. The next two years, he was head coach of the highly-successful Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, Army team. In 1954, Davis did some scouting and personnel work for the Baltimore Colts. Two years later, it was back to the college ranks first with the Citadel for two seasons and then to the University of Southern California from 1957 to 1959.
When the AFL was being formed in 1960, Sid Gillman hired him as an offensive coach for the Chargers. “He thinks he is the smartest guy in football,” Gillman said. “He’s not now, but he’s going to be.”
With the Chargers, Davis not only helped develop a potent passing attack but he did an excellent job in recruiting prized college prospects for the AFL. His most memorable catch was Lance Alworth, who also was coveted by the San Francisco 49ers.
With the Raiders, Davis was determined to first create a feeling of pride throughout the Raiders organization and secondly to obtain the best players possible. Davis started by selecting new team colors – silver and black. For on-the-field strategy, he installed an exciting passing attack and a brutal style of defensive play calculated to intimidate opponents with bone-crushing tackles and, on occasion, some pushing and shoving on the side.