Saturday, October 8, 2011

Al Davis Goes to Valhalla

"In football, I root for the Oakland Raiders because they hire castoffs, outlaws, malcontents, and fuck-ups, they have lots of penalties, fights, and paybacks, and because Al Davis told the rest of the pig NFL owners to go get fucked... Someday, the Raiders will be strong again, and they will dip the ball in shit and shove it down the throats of the wholesome, white, heartland teams that pray together and don't deliver late hits." -George Carlin

I have often thought of this day and what my reaction would be. There were even times where I hoped this day would come sooner rather than later. Now the day is upon us and I am not entirely sure how I should feel. Allen Davis, the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders, has passed away at the age of 82. Death has a way of making a deity out of absolute assholes (see: Steve Jobs) and I have repeatedly used this blog to voice my displeasure against Al and the trail of bad decisions he has made over the last decade, so I will do my best to not turn this post into a wankfest for him. I will try to keep this even keeled, and to keep from becoming an Al Davis apologist.

JULY 4th, 1929- OCTOBER 8th 2011

Al Davis is the reason the NFL is the money making machine it is today. Not "a reason". Not "a contributing factor". He is THE reason. When other owners were content to sit around and count their money, Al was on the field evaluating talent. When other owners were sitting on their yachts, Al was in the film room with his coaches. When other owners were willing to accept what the commissioner was going to give them, Al demanded more. He sued the NFL often. Sometimes he won. Other times he lost, but the fact that he had the balls to do it empowered other owners. Al's lawsuits were the first dominoes in the chain of events that lead to teams being able to slap the logo of the company of their choice on their jerseys, opening the flood gates for teams to sign with the apparel maker who offered them the most money instead of the one the NFL commanded them to. Every time Jerry Jones looks up at his one billion inch HD TV hanging from the roof of his monument to his tiny penis, he should give a nod to Al. Every time Dan Snyder signs a free agent to a laughable contract, he should pay his propers to Al, who was doing it before it was cool. Al's swashbuckling ways made being an NFL owner profitable. Profitability attracted billionaire prospective owners. And the league grew by leaps and bounds into the juggernaut that it is today.

Al Davis was a classic contrarian. When the NFL was a white faced, buttoned down operation, he was the first to hire Latino and black head coaches and draft black QBs. When NFL playbooks consisted mainly of power running plays, Al's teams threw the ball. When owners wanted their players to be squeeky clean Stepford Wives in pads, Al hired miscreants. All other NFL owners would have been terrified to see Eazy E, Ice Cube and Dre wearing their gear while rapping about murder and hoes. Al Davis actually PROVIDED THEM with hats and jackets. For decades this rebellious, counter culture intuition served the Raiders well, as they won 3 Super Bowls. Catchphrases like "Commitment to Excellence" and "Just Win, Baby" were thrown around. Things were great. Ultimately, Al lost his golden touch and things fell apart. The NFL had evolved, and despite being the impetus of that evolution, Al Davis was left behind. Al assumed his style of football would always win in the NFL. He was wrong. The days of man coverage and 4 man pass rush have come and gone, yet the Raiders still cling to it. To be a great receiver in the NFL you need to be big, physical and have great hands more than you need a good 40 time. The Raiders still only consult the stopwatch before drafting receivers. Al Davis did things his way and his way only, and when it blew up in his face the finger was always pointed at someone else. Marcus Allen. Mike Shannahan. The City of Oakland. The City of Los Angeles. Jon Gruden. Tom Cable. Lane Kiffin. Al Davis was never wrong, and those around him dared not say otherwise, lest they find themselves being shown the door. Al's final years were spent surrounded by spineless yes men who watched as he threw money at Javon Walker, drafted JaMarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey and hired Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable despite anyone with a functioning brain knowing these were all terrible ideas. Yet even while in the grips of senility, he was still capable of making great decisions and finding diamonds in the rough. When he traded a 1st round pick to the Pats for aging defensive end Richard Seymour, I was the first person to scream out in terror. Turns out that trading for Big Rich was exactly the jolt this team needed. When he drafted Jacoby Ford and Jared Veldheer, I rolled my eyes. Now, Ford and Veldheer are both integral pieces to the future of the Raiders. Denarius Moore on the surface was nothing more than a stopwatch pick. In reality, he's going to be a solid NFL receiver. This is what makes me so conflicted about the death of Al Davis. Even in the midst of insanity, he was still capable of brilliance. This isn't a blind squirrel finding a nut. Al had become that old TV with the rabbit ear antennas down in your basement. The picture has faded and most of the time you get static, but when the antennas were turned just right you ended up getting perfect reception and for a few moments it was just like old times.

There were times when I thought I'd treat the death of Al Davis as a holiday. I thought I'd sing and dance, like I did in the middle of a classy Malibu restaurant the day I received a text saying JaMarcus Russell was released. I thought I'd hug my children and tell them our Raiders were headed back to relevance. I thought it would be a reason to celebrate. I feel none of this. Yet I don't feel sadness, either. As someone who lost a sister at the age of 22 to cancer, I don't get misty over people who die after living long, fulfilling lives. That's a rule I live by. Yet it's not that, either. I do feel a tinge of sadness because at the end of the day the team I have rooted for since I was 4 is the very projection of Al Davis, and his contributions to football are countless. The Silver and Black was once feared and respected, and that was all Al's doing. But I also have a great deal of anger towards Al for taking that once feared team and piledriving it head first into the ground through his own arrogance and refusal to hand over the reigns. I suppose there's also a sense of relief that perhaps now the insanity is over. Maybe now there will be some back and forth dialogue between ownership and management. Perhaps now there will be more Darren McFadden's drafted and fewer DHB's.

When all is said and done, we Raider fans are forced to remember Al Davis for all that he was. Outsiders will probably only remember the barely coherent, disheveled old man who still used overhead projectors during press conferences and made bad decisions. Those of us who were there and saw it all know his legacy is more than that. He was a brilliant man who was fatally flawed. He was a bright shining light that eventually grew dim. He was a mad scientist hellbent on world domination who eventually became a feeble old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. He was the bold, swashbuckling pirate who gave way to the aged, arthritic old fart who pissed and shat his pants. You cannot cling to the achievements of young, brilliant Al Davis while dismissing the hardships the decisions of his later years brought upon the franchise. Likewise, you cannot point out the fossil in the all white jumpsuit while looking past the visionary with the shrewd eye for talent that won 3 Super Bowl rings. Al Davis was both of these men. They both existed at different eras of the same life.

After reading through this I suppose I am an Al Davis apologist after all. As much as I'd like to say his death is good for the franchise, I'm forced to accept the reality that his life was what made the franchise. With equal parts of respect, anger and awe I say goodbye to Al Davis. I will always respect you for building a winner. I will always be pissed at you for ruining that winner. I will always be in awe of you for being able to be the biggest presence in every room you walked into, no matter how old and decrepit you became. Your legacy is firmly written in the blood of your enemies, and the heads of your vanquished foes will forever line the walls surrounding Raider Nation, the country you built. Your "Commitment to Excellence" will live on, albeit without your input or meddling. Your eye for finding gems in the NFL scrapheap will be missed. Your insistence on being right when clearly you were not will not be missed. As the doors to Valhalla fling open, the horn shall sound to welcome the arrival of a Raider. Take your seat at the table of the Immortals, and feast on meat and mead with Tatum, Dalby, Alzado, Matuszak, Blanda and all the other warriors who preceded you in death. Rest in peace, Raider.


Raven Mack said...

Absolutely fucking beautiful man.

Whiouxsie said...

Couldn't be said better than this.

Al Davis, for better AND for worse, WAS The Raiders. Usually when someone says "so and so IS the team" it's hyperbole. Not here. I can't imagine them without Al. I don't know if anyone can. It's going to be interesting.

Neil said...

Masterful, old friend. Masterful.

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