I grew up in the Bay Area and was a Raider fan whilst a tadpole. The 49ers were erratic at best in the pre-Walsh-Montana era and the Raiders were not only a great team on the gridiron but wildly individualistic off the field. I was smitten and then disillusioned by owner Al Davis’s decision to move the team to LA. I also never forgave him for running off John Madden and trading Ken Stabler, which made Davis my first owner hate.
Now Davis has died at the age of 82. I considered calling this post “Just die, baby” in tribute to Al’s own motto “Just win, baby.” I consulted with my publisher lady and we agreed that it was a bit on the creepy side. Al Davis was the best sports villain of his day but my dislike for him ebbed as the Raiders got worse and worse and worse. The game had passed him by and he was too stubborn and proud to admit it. Al Davis was not a very nice man but he was neither dull nor corporate.
Al Davis was a great American sports villain, the best of his time, the best of all time. He was great, I think, because he played it big. Who else would design their team logo with an eyepatch? Think about that for a minute. Who else would say that the key to winning a football game is that “their quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.” Who else would insist that the Raiders put “Commitment to Excellence” on all of their official materials after seven straight years of the team winning five games or less? Who else could be summed up with the three words he said more often than any other: “Just Win Baby!”
Who else? Nobody else. Davis lived through times of great sports villains — Steinbrenner, Butkus, Liston, Reggie, Laimbeer, Alzado, McEnroe, Tiger Williams, on and on — but nobody could touch him. You expected him every year to announce before the season began that he intended for the Raiders to win the Super Bowl AND steal the moon. I remain convinced that somewhere in the Oakland Coliseum there is a secret lair where sharks swim, where gas rises in a glass chamber, where a Marcus Allen voodoo doll rests with pins stuck in from all sides.