In 1961 in Los Angeles and 1962 in San Diego, Al Davis was an assistant coach under Sid Gillman and Chuck Noll, quite a staff. As the battle for players between the AFL and NFL heated up, a player Davis really wanted for the Bolts was a young receiver out of Arkansas. In fact, he wanted him so bad at the end of Arkansas’ last game Davis ran onto the field before the San Francisco 49ers could get there and signed him under the goalposts as the head coach of the 49ers watched helplessly from the stands. Lance Alworth was a Charger. When Alworth became the first AFL player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was Davis of the hated Raiders who introduced him. Never quite forgave Lance for that.
As time went on, Davis ended up being Raiders coach, then AFL commissioner, then Raiders minority owner in a partnership. When the majority owner of the partnership was overseas, Davis drew up a new partnership agreement and convinced the other partner to sign. Even though Davis only owned 10 percent of the team, since two of the three partners had signed on the new agreement, California law at the time enforced the new partnership arrangement. The new deal gave Davis total control even though he owned by far the lowest percentage of the three partners.
As the 70’s became the 80’s and 90’s, the Raiders just seemed to get better, often at the expense of the Chargers. Over the years, Chargers coaches were sure but with no proof that the visitors locker room at Oakland-Alameda County stadium was bugged. One account has Chargers coach of the early 70’s, Harland Svare cussing out Davis as he shook his fist at the ceiling of the locker room. Also, in the Raiders locker room the was supposedly a list of “Raiders rules of play”.
Rule 1… Cheating is encouraged.
Rule 2… See rule number 1.
As the 90’s became the 2000’s, the Raiders made one more Super Bowl before the roof caved in. As Davis aged, he still made all the decisions and the decisions became worse and worse. His draft picks seemed to become totally based on size and speed without much concern for football skill and intelligence. As the years went on, I would joke with my students who were Raiders fans that I was sending vitamins to Al to keep him going, especially during the Marty Schottenheimer years in San Diego. In 2011, Al passed at the age of 82. I can still hear him saying “Just win baby”. Much as I hated him as a Bolts fan, as time has passed, I’m starting to grudgingly appreciate what he accomplished. He hired the first African-American head coach (Art Shell) and refused to play in stadiums in segregated states. A great friend if he was on your side and a hated enemy for everyone else.
However, what I really miss is the way he ran the team his last few years. We were all but guaranteed two wins a year against the Raiders. After all those tough years, rough games and close losses, it was good to have an edge on them for seven or eight years. Hopefully, we’ll start that trend again this Sunday. It’d be about time fortune rolled our way!