Oct 9, 2011

(AP) OAKLAND, Calif. - Al Davis, the Hall of Fame owner of the Oakland Raiders known for his rebellious spirit, has died.

The team announced his death at age 82 on Saturday.

It was not immediately clear when and where he died.

It was Davis' willingness to buck the establishment that helped turn the NFL into the establishment — the most successful sports league in American history.

Davis was charming, cantankerous and compassionate — a man who when his wife suffered a serious heart attack in the 1970s moved into her hospital room. But he was best known as a rebel, a man who established a team whose silver-and-black colors and pirate logo symbolized his attitude toward authority, both on the field and off.

Davis was one of the most important figures in NFL history. That was most evident during the 1980s when he fought in court — and won — for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Even after he moved them back to the Bay Area in 1995, he went to court, suing for $1.2 billion to establish that he still owned the rights to the L.A. market.

Until the decline of the Raiders into a perennial loser in the first decade of the 21st century he was a winner, the man who as a coach, then owner-general manager-de facto coach, established what he called "the team of the decades" based on another slogan: "commitment to excellence." And the Raiders were excellent, winning three Super Bowls during the 1970s and 1980s and contending almost every other season — an organization filled with castoffs and troublemakers who turned into trouble for opponents.

Davis, elected in 1992 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also was a trailblazer. He hired the first black head coach of the modern era — Art Shell in 1988. He hired the first Latino coach, Tom Flores; and the first woman CEO, Amy Trask. And he was infallibly loyal to his players and officials: to be a Raider was to be a Raider for life.

But it was his rebellious spirit, that willingness to buck the establishment, that helped turn the NFL into THE establishment in sports — the most successful sports league in American history. He was the last commissioner of the American Football league and led it on personnel forays that helped force a merger that turned the expanded NFL into the colossus it remains.

Born in Brockton, Mass., Davis grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, a spawning ground in the two decades after World War II for a number of ambitious young people who became renowned in sports, business and entertainment. Davis was perhaps the second most famous after Barbra Streisand.

"We had a reunion in Los Angeles and 500 people showed up, including Bah-bruh," he once told an interviewer in that combination of southern drawl/Brooklynese that was often parodied among his acquaintances within the league and without.

A graduate of Syracuse University, he became an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts at age 24; and was an assistant at The Citadel and then Southern California before joining the Los Angeles Chargers of the new AFL in 1960. Only three years later, he was hired by the Raiders and became the youngest general manager-head coach in pro football history with a team he called "the Raid-uhs" in 1963.

He was a good one, 23-16-3 in three seasons with a franchise that had started its life 9-23.

Then he bought into the failing franchise, which played on a high school field adjacent to the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland and became managing general partner, a position he held until his death.

But as the many bright young coaches he hired — from John Madden, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden to Lane Kiffin — found out, he remained the coach. He ran everything from the sidelines, often calling down with plays, or sending emissaries to the sidelines to make substitutions.


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