Al Davis was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on July 4, 1929 but grew up in Brooklyn N.Y. after his family moved there in 1934.
Davis graduated from high school in January 1947 and immediately enrolled at Wittenberg College in rural Ohio. In mid-1947, he transferred to Syracuse University.
Although Davis repeatedly tried out for the various varsity teams, the height of his athletic career at Syracuse was riding the pine for the junior varsity baseball team.
In 1948, Davis briefly transferred to Hartwick College in New York State but soon returned to Syracuse.
Despite Davis’ lack of athletic success, he became interested in football strategy attending the football team’s practices until the head coach asked him to leave, because Davis was taking notes.
Davis also took the academic courses in football strategy which were usually only attended by players.
EARLY COACHING CAREER
After graduating in May 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Davis looked for a position on a college football coaching staff.
After numerous rejections, Davis was hired as the freshman football coach at Adelphi University on Long Island.
In 1952 Davis was inducted into the Army and started to coach one of the bases football squads.
After leaving the Army Davis worked as a free lance scout for the Baltimore Colts of the NFL for a year. After advising the Colts on which Army players to offer contracts to or draft as they returned to civilian life.
In January 1955 Davis was hired by The Citadel as an assistant to newly-hired head coach John Sauer. During games, Davis called plays from the press box and began the season by winning five of their first six games.
Davis’ next job was as an assistant coach at the University of Southern California (USC).
Head Coach Don Clark relied heavily on Davis and they won the Pacific Coast Conference championship.
Davis was then hired as backfield coach by the Los Angeles Chargers of the startup American Football League. One player that Davis recommended to the Chargers was wide receiver Lance Alworth, who was also drafted by the NFL San Francisco 49ers.
In order to secure Alworth, Davis signed him under the goalposts after his final college game while 49ers head coach Red Hickey watched helplessly from the stands.
After the 1962 season, Raiders general partner F. Wayne Valley hired Davis as head coach and general manager. At 33, Davis became the youngest person in professional football history to be head coach and general manager.
Right from the start Davis began to implement what he called the “vertical game,” an aggressive offensive strategy based on the West Coast offense developed by Chargers head coach Sid Gillman.
With Davis at the helm, the Raiders recorded their first winning season in franchise history with a record of 10–4, one more win than they had in their first three seasons combined.
In 1963 Davis was named the AFL’s Coach of the Year.
“Just win, baby” became his and the Raiders motto.
In April 1966 he was named the American Football League Commissioner.
Once again Davis went to work and commenced an aggressive campaign against the NFL by signing several of the NFL’s top players to AFL contracts.
Davis believed that the AFL would eventually be the superior league if allowed to remain separate but other AFL owners held secret meetings with the NFL without Davis, and in July the AFL and NFL announced that they were merging.
Davis was against the merger and he resigned as AFL commissioner.
RETURN TO THE RAIDERS
After resigning as AFL commissioner, Davis formed a holding company, A.D. Football, Inc. and returned to the Raiders as one of three general partners.
He owned a 10% stake in the team and was named head of football operations.
The team Davis had put together and coached steadily improved and won the 1967 AFL Championship. The following two seasons, the Raiders again won Western Division titles, only to lose the AFL Championship.
In 1969, Davis hired John Madden as the team’s sixth head coach, and under him, the Raiders became one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, winning six division titles during the 1970s.
In 1972, Davis drafted a revised partnership agreement that made him the new managing general partner, with near-absolute control over team operations and from that point on none of the other partners had any role in the team’s operations. This was besides the fact that he did not acquire a majority interest in the team until 2005. At his death Davis owned approximately 67 percent of the Raiders.
In addition to serving as owner, Davis served as his own general manager until his death. He was one of three NFL owners who had the title or powers of general manager, the others being the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Mike Brown.
Davis was considered one of the most hands-on owners in professional sports, and had more authority over day-to-day operations than any other owner in the NFL.
With Davis in control, the Raiders became one of the most successful teams in all of professional sports. From 1967 to 1985 the team won:
- 13 Division Championships
- One AFL Championship
- Three Super Bowls
- 15 Playoff Appearances.
The Raiders are one of only four teams to play in the Super Bowl in four different decades.
HALL OF FAME
Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Team and League Administrator in 1992, and was presented by John Madden.
Davis has been chosen by a record nine Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees to present them at the Canton, Ohio ceremony:
- Lance Alworth
- Jim Otto
- George Blanda
- Willie Brown
- Gene Upshaw
- Fred Biletnikoff
- Art Shell
- Ted Hendricks
- John Madden
Davis sold a minority stake in the Raiders for $150 million in 2007 and said that he would not retire until he wins two more Super Bowls or died.
Davis’ philosophy: Once a Raider, always a Raider.
CIVIL RIGHTS AND DIVERSITY
During his career with the Raiders Davis breached several civil rights and diversity barriers.
In 1963, the Raiders were scheduled to play a preseason game in Mobile, Alabama but in protest over Alabama’s segregation laws, Davis refused to allow the game to be played there and demanded the game be moved to Oakland.
In addition, he also refused to allow the players to travel to other cities to play games where the black and white players would have to stay in separate hotels.
Davis was the first NFL owner to hire an African American head coach in Art Shell and a female chief executive in Amy Trask as well as Tom Flores, the second Latino head coach in the league.
Davis died at age 82 on October 8, 2011 from “an abnormal heart rhythm, congestive heart failure and a heart muscle disease.
There was an overwhelming outpouring of support and grief in the wake of Davis’ death. The Sunday following his death, the Oakland Raiders adorned their helmets with a sticker which read “Al” in Davis’ memory.
A league-wide moment of silence was also observed.
Davis’ position as a controversial figure and his arrogant, brash personality lives on as part of his legacy as an innovative owner.