The Greatness of the Raiders


Last weekend was the end of an era.  The National Football League, for better or worse, will never be quite the same.  The passing of longtime Raiders owner and personality Al Davis last weekend was, by some accounts a bit of a surprise.  I know I was a little surprised when I heard the news.  It had appeared in recent years that time was catching up with him, but for some reason there was a feeling that he would outlive all of us.  In some ways, he probably will.  I guess in retrospect the idea that his Raiders won last Sunday shouldn’t have been a surprise.  It seemed predetermined they would win no matter what, and when the clock read double zero and the Raiders walked off the field, everything seemed right.

While his team has fallen on hard times in the last decade, Mr. Davis never stopped believing in the Raiders and never stopped trying to win.  In their glory days the Raiders were one of the top franchises in any sport, to be respected by everyone.  Al Davis built an organization that was more interested in winning than what a player was before getting to the Raiders.  He was more interested in how they conducted themselves once they arrived, and was willing to take chances on players that other teams might not have.

The Raiders wanted football players.  What a guy looked like, where he came from, and what his history was didn’t matter.  Just Win Baby.  The Raiders let their players be themselves and didn’t try restricting them to anything that would detract from their play on the field.  John Madden once perfectly explained this idea when he discussed his coaching tenure with the team.

“I only had two rules,” said Madden, “Be on time, and play like hell.”

For a time the Raiders were the most feared, hated, intimidating and talented team in the league.  To this day the Raiders have a passionate fan following, and just as many people seem to despise them.  Nobody wanted to see them on the schedule, and the team’s classic playoff duels with teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Miami in the 1970’s were evidence that even with their image of renegades, they were a damn good team that could not be taken for granted.

With the many recent poor management decisions, from player personnel to head coaching fiascos, at least the Raiders were willing to take chances.  The idea of returning to an era of success and glory on the field had always been the driving force behind the moves the team made.  Mr. Davis might not have been the most successful owner in the last 10-20 years, but that never prevented him from doing what he thought was the right thing for his team.  To return the “Greatness of the Raiders”.

Taking chances is how the Raiders were forged into one of the league’s best organizations.  From the early days of the AFL, Al Davis had been a pioneer in leading the fledgling “other league” into direct competition with the more established NFL.  His progressive thinking on everything from players, to league direction, to on-field strategy helped force the merger of the two leagues in the late 1960’s and led the way for the great game we all enjoy today.

For all of the things he has meant to the game, at this time I think it would be an appropriate tribute to Mr. Davis if the NFL were to create a new annual award in his honor.  This could be the “Al Davis Commitment to Excellence Award”, given to the best “Commitment to Excellence” exhibited by any player, coach, GM, owner, etc. in a given season.  If this isn’t the case, then I hope that the league would at least do something which would result in an appropriate tribute for Mr. Davis.

In a way, the Greatness of the Raiders is about more than just winning.  It’s about all that Al Davis stood for – to DARE to be great.  Winning was a byproduct.  For the next week it would be good to remember all the great things the NFL is because of men like Al Davis.  The game we all know and love would not be anywhere near as great without his contributions.  The league owes him.  We owe him.  We can all get back to hating Oakland later.  For now, we’re all Raiders.