OAKLAND, California — Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders owner whose passion and willingness to buck authority eventually made him an iconic figure in the NFL, has died at the age of 82, the Raiders said Saturday.
Davis died at his home in Oakland on Saturday, while the Raiders were in Houston preparing for Sunday’s game against the Texans.
An announcement on the team’s website gave no details on the cause of death, but news of Davis’s passing brought immediate tributes in the gridiron world.
“Al Davis’s passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level.
“The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL.”
Davis, with his famous “Just win, Baby” philosophy, built a reputation as a rebel, his team’s pirate logo symbolizing his attitude toward authority on and off the field.
During his 48-year tenure with the Raiders he won three Super Bowls and enjoyed 28 winning seasons, including a stretch of 16 from 1965 through 1980.
In the 1980s, Davis went to court for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles.
He moved them back to the San Francisco Bay area in 1995 — and went to court again in a bid to establish that he still owned the rights to the Los Angeles market.
Davis made Art Shell the first black head coach of the modern era. He hired the first Latino coach, Tom Flores, and the first woman chief executive in pro football, Amy Trask.
“Al Davis was a champion of diversity who maintained the courage of his convictions. His passion for the game we all love is best exemplified by his famous phrase, ‘COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE,’” the Raiders’ statement said.
He was the last commissioner of the American Football League before the merger with the NFL that made the league the sports juggernaut it is today.
Davis was born in Massachusetts and brought up in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Syracuse University he became an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts at the age of 24.
After coaching in the university ranks, he joined the Los Angeles Chargers of the fledgling AFL in 1960 and three years later the Raiders made him the youngest general manager-head coach in pro football history.
In his three seasons in the job he built a 23-16-3 record, then bought into the failing club. In 1966 he became commissioner of the AFL.
That season the first Super Bowl was played between the NFL and AFL champions and by 1970 the leagues had merged, but Davis never got the job of NFL commissioner.
He focused on the Raiders, where he was known to welcome players branded troublemakers, misfits or has-beens by other teams and where he continued to foster the renegade spirit cherished by Raiders fans.
“He brought in players that everyone else was discarding, including me, and he made it work,” recalled quarterback Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowl titles after Davis revived his career by bringing him to Oakland.
“And he let you be who you were. We had some guys who liked to have a lot of fun, me included. But when it came Sunday and game day, those guys were always ready to play. He had a knack for getting all of them to play together.”
Davis was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, a year after he was honoured by the NFL Players’ Association for his work on behalf of retired players.
» ‘I’m not the only one’: Michael Sam says ‘there’s a lot’ of NFL players who are gay
» ‘Important’ for high-profile athletes to speak out on social issues, says US President Barack Obama
» NBA better than NFL at combating racism, says Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman