Remembering Al Davis

Rick Reilly writes about the paradox that was Al Davis. Reilly highlights Davis’s shortcomings throughout the piece-e.g.:

Yes, Al Davis, 82, was a color-blind genius who changed the game. He was an original with guts and vision who “belongs on the pro football version ofMount Rushmore” (Adam Schefter, ESPN).

But somebody needs to come along and mention: He was about as warm as Rushmore granite, too. Utterly single-minded, he was a selfish egocentric who only liked you if you could help him. Mostly, Davis had all the charm of C. Montgomery Burns.

Here Reilly gets to the heart of the matter, but misses the point. Al Davis was a football genius. Period.

His innovations changed the way pro football was played. His emphasis on speed-which propelled his vertical passing game-revolutionized a game which hitherto focused on running the football up the middle-three yards and a pile of dust.

Davis raised a number of eyebrows with his draft picks. He certainly did so in recent years, when it could be argued that Davis had gone senile. Nevertheless, Davis scored a number of coups with his heterodox drafting plans.

Many recognized this after Davis took a first round pick on punter Ray Guy in 1973. This was not something team’s did. Critics scorned this decision. Who picks a punter in the first round? Guy turned into the best punter of all time. Many think he should be in Canton (no punter is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

Special teams’ talent remains important to the Raiders. They undoubtedly have the best punter/kicker combination in the NFL today.  They drafted kicker Sebastian Janikowski (1st round pick) and punter Shane Lechler (5th round pick) in the 2000 draft. Both have been perennial all-pros in Oakland. Janikowski, the Polish Cannon, recently tied the all-time longest field goal record (63 yards) and has one of the strongest legs in the game. Lechler, meanwhile, is the NFL’s all-time leader in career punt average.

Like all draft selectors, Davis has had memorable draft misses (JaMarcus Russell and Robert Gallery immediately jump to mind) in recent years. Poor drafting has made the Raiders a bottom-feeder for the last decade.

That misses the point: All great football men lose it at some point. Tom Landry, for instance, finished his career with the Cowboys at their lowest point since the franchise’s inception.Davis’s Raiders have been a joke since they went to the Super Bowl in February 2003. Suffice it to say: Scouting is an imperfect science. When you shoot blanks, it sets back a franchise for years.

And it’s natural that Davis remained as stubborn as ever. His drafting philosophy had worked for nearly forty years and had filled the Raiders with tough football players ready to out-muscle opponents on Sunday.Davis always thought he was a single draft away from taking his team from worst to first.

All geniuses have huge egos. That’s why they’re geniuses to begin with. No one mentioned the warm-and-fuzzy side of Steve Jobs when the Apple founder passed away last week. Davis was no different in his field. Just win, baby.That mantra motivated Davis every day and helped him create a dominant franchise.

Davis wanted to intimidate. He kept his opponents on their toes, unsure of what the crazy Oakland owner would do next.

He changed the Raiders-they wear Silver and Black because of him.

The Raiders won three Super Bowls and created the most distinct identity in professional sports.

That aura grew into the Black Hole-the creepiest environment in the NFL.

It’s all thanks to one man. Al Davis was an iconoclastic genius.



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