Raiders’ Davis looks back, and ahead

Posted on Tue, Aug. 01, 2006

By Cam Inman

Contra Costa Times


Al Davis lives. And he speaks.

“You’ll be able to tell the world you saw Al in person and he’s alive. He’s not dying and all that stuff,” Davis, the Raiders’ managing general partner, said July 21 during an exclusive interview from his silver-and-black clad office at the team’s Alameda headquarters.

Fascinating. Extraordinary. Debatable. Insightful. And nostalgic, of course. That was Davis, a rarely accessible icon who touched on an array of hot-button topics during the hour-long interview.

He’ll have much less time than that Saturday to present John Madden for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It will mark a record ninth time Davis has served as a Hall of Fame presenter. Consider this payback, for Madden presented Davis at his Hall of Fame induction in 1992.

Asked what he recalled from his speech, Madden said: “One of the things was not everyone likes him. Some people do, some people don’t. Through it all, he’s always been a man who believes in what he stands for and stands for what he believes in. He’s been strong, been a leader, been a coach, been a commissioner of a league (the American Football League), just all facets. He’s given his life to it. Al Davis doesn’t have any other life other than pro football.”

Davis turned 77 on July 4. While his health has been speculated upon this past year _primarily because he uses a walker to assist with a nagging left quadriceps – he doesn’t look ready to bow out of the NFL world anytime soon. He spoke up to help resolve the NFL’s labor crisis in March, and he’s on the search committee to uncover the next NFL commissioner.

Also on that committee is Dallas Cowboys owner and Davis confidant Jerry Jones, who called Davis “sharp as a tack” and a visionary. “His memory is unbelievable and so impressive,” Jones said. “His passion for the NFL has not diminished from the first day I ever met him. When Al has comments, which are frequent but of value, everyone listens.”

Here are the more salient comments Davis told the Contra Costa Times:

On if he has health problems: “No, just this damn thing, my (left) leg, the quadriceps is weak. It gives me a problem with balance just a little bit. But I’m fighting it and working on it. No, I don’t have any problems.”

On the Raiders’ future in 10 years: “Boy, 10 years, I think we ought to be more concerned about the country.”

On who’ll run the Raiders in the future, and on reports that it could be a combination of his son Mark, Raiders chief executive Amy Trask and coach Art Shell: “Oh, it’s going to be the Davis family, sure. People are just talking. They don’t know what the (heck) they’re doing. Amy will be a factor. There’s no question about that. She’s earned that. She’s good.”

On if he’s excited about the 2006 season: “Yeah, I want to win. I am excited. I just told (receivers coach Fred Biletnikoff) that I’m excited for him, because I think he’s excited and I haven’t seen him like that in a while.”

On Shell referring to his offense as the “Al Davis System”: “He’s being nice to me every once in a while. I keep telling him to leave me out of it. If you mean we’re going to do certain things, a couple things, yeah, that’s probably true.”

On the AFC West, where the Raiders are 2-16 the past three years: “We’re not there yet. We’re fighting for our lives. We’re in a tough division.”

On if the NFL will ever return to Los Angeles: “Oh yeah. It’s (NFL commissioner Paul) Tagliabue’s legacy. He said he’s made one mistake. Do you remember what he said? He said it was letting the Raiders go and not letting them build that stadium at Hollywood Park.”

On searching for a new commissioner: “I’m on the committee. I’ll see how I feel about it. I’m just getting into it. … John (Madden) could be a decent commissioner.”

On if he could envision Madden ever returning to the Raiders: “Yeah, I could. John is always there for Carol Davis and Mark Davis if something happened to Al, if they sent him over to the Middle East to solve that.”

On if he could solve the Middle East conflict: “Yeah. I didn’t say I’d broker peace. I said I could solve it. There are a few things that I do know and that’s one of them, foreign affairs. Always have. Yep. Always have. … I’ve always been interested in foreign affairs, naval fleet moves. I’m watching what’s going on there now and have a feel of what’s going to happen and what should happen.”

On the 1976 Raiders’ victory in Super Bowl XI: “It was big and exciting for us. I can remember saying, `John now takes his place in the sun.’ For a while, there were words that we and he couldn’t win the big one, because we had lost so many championship games.”

On Madden’s championship-game defeats: “The worst one to me was `77 (a 20-17 loss in AFC final against Denver). We were good. We were better than `76. We had the one kid, Pat Toomay, pass rusher. But we got hurt. We got in to play Denver in the championship game, and there was a thing called the `(Rob) Lytle fumble.’ It was like the tuck rule (that cost the 2001 Raiders). They took the (expletive) thing right from us. They start blowing whistles. They didn’t blow it before (the Raiders’ Mike McCoy) got it. So they took the game from us.”

On Madden being only 32 when promoted to head coach: “It’s never a factor. It’s people. I don’t worry about (age). Sid Gillman once said about me when I was working for him in San Diego: `He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the world; he isn’t, but he will be.’ I thought I was. I could have (been a head coach) earlier, and so could have John, possibly.”

On other Raiders worthy of the Hall of Fame: “I throw out names like (Ken) Stabler, (Daryle) Lamonica, (Jim) Plunkett, (Tom) Flores, Ron Wolf, Clifford Branch, there’s a guy who’s been (snubbed) totally. He’s so much better than the receivers (Lynn) Swan and those guys, ask any player. I’m going to name those seven who wait their turn patiently, (including) Ray Guy. They’ll all say he’s the best, but they just don’t want to put a punter in.”

On helping broker a new collective bargaining agreement: “I thought it was important to the league, and they felt they couldn’t handle (union chief Gene) Upshaw, and I knew we could handle Upshaw. It’s not done yet. There’s problems now.”

On sitting down with Madden at San Diego State in 1966: “I remember talking to him quite a bit. When I was a kid, I used to travel the schools all around the country, looking at the players and meeting young coaches. I was still coaching. Then I went off to be (AFL) commissioner, and he was looking for a job. We gave him a job.”

On Madden’s role with the Raiders’ racial diversity: “That’s the big thing with John that has never come out. He fought the fight. He wasn’t afraid. There were a lot of forces at work.”

On former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw: “At the start of the (1974) season, we played them in Pittsburgh and we beat them good. Chuck Noll had been a close confidant. Terry Bradshaw_you can call him and ask him and he’ll tell you_comes into the locker room, says, `Mr. Davis, you’ve always been in my corner, you’ve got to get me out of here, I want to go to Oakland,’ because they weren’t playing him. I said what the hell am I going to do with you Terry? So what do I do, like a jerk? One of the dumbest things. I talked Chuck into starting Bradshaw, and he plays the rest of the year and they come into the Coliseum and beat us with the tackle trap, it’s a new thing they were running.”

On black quarterbacks: “One day I was telling Paul Tagliabue something, (and) he said Doug Williams was the first black quarterback taken No. 1 overall. I said, `No he wasn’t.’ It was Eldridge Dickey (the Raiders’ first pick of the 1968 AFL draft).”

On his childhood idols growing up in Brooklyn: “The things that inspired me were not the coaches, not the players. It was the general managers, Branch Rickey and a guy who ran the Yankees. I used to watch batting practice. And (the Yankees) were power, intimidation, big guys, feared. The Dodgers were speed, the Dodgers were pitching. They had a way of playing the game, the Dodger way of playing. They sold that. I thought you could put the two of them together, big guys that could run faster than anyone else.”

On what he prefers discussing: “Too bad we couldn’t sit here and get on Charlie Rose and talk about the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, the Taliban, Afghanistan.”

~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on August 2, 2006.

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