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Al Davis, Oakland Raiders owner, dead at 82

October 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Oakland Raiders owner, former coach and Hall of Famer Al Davis has died. He was 82.

The Hall of Famer died at his home in Oakland, the team said. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Davis was a very important figure in NFL history. He is best known as a rebel who established a team whose silver-and-black colors and pirate logo symbolized his attitude toward authority on and off the field.

His renegade approach was most evident during the 1980s when he went to court - and won - for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Even after he moved the Raiders back to the Bay Area in 1995, he sued for $1.2 billion to establish that he still owned the rights to the L.A. market.

It was Davis' willingness to take on the establishment that helped turn the NFL into money-making giant that it is - the most successful sports league in American history.

"Al Davis's passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "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, a trailblazer, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. 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.

"Al Davis was unique - a maverick, a giant among giants, a true legend among legends, the brightest star among stars, a hero, a mentor, a friend," the Raiders said in a statement.

Coach Hue Jackson told the team of Davis' death at a meeting in Houston on Saturday morning.

"Definitely shocking news for us," said Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell. "To hear that we've lost our owner, the guy who led this team for many, many years, it was tough. He loved his players. It don't matter if he was here now or you played for him 30 years ago, he still loved his players."

Davis is survived by his wife, Carol, and son Mark, who Davis had said would run the team after his death.

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.

After graduating Syracuse University, Davis became an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts when he was 24 years old. He was also an assistant at The Citadel and then Southern California before joining the Los Angeles Chargers of the new AFL in 1960.

Three years later, he was hired by the Raiders and became the youngest general manager-head coach in pro football history in 1963.

Then he bought into the franchise and became managing general partner, a position he held until his death.

Even as owner, Davis was the definition of hands on. The many bright young coaches he hired - from John Madden, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden to Lane Kiffin - found that the former coach was still, in essence, the coach. He ran everything from the sidelines, often calling down with plays, or sending emissaries to the sidelines to make substitutions.

As Davis aged, his teams declined.

The Raiders got to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, losing to Tampa Bay. But for a long period after that, they had the worst record in the NFL, at one point with five coaches in six years.

Once a constant presence at practice, training camp and in the locker room, Davis was rarely seen in public beyond the bizarre spectacles to fire and hire coaches where he spent more time disparaging his former coach than praising his new one.

He did not appear at a single training camp practice this summer and missed a game in Buffalo last month, believed to be only the third game he missed in 49 seasons with the franchise. Davis did attend Oakland's home game last week against New England.

Although he was no longer as public a figure, he was still integrally involved in the team from the draft to negotiating contracts to discussing strategy with his coaches. Jackson has said Davis was unlike any other owner he had worked for in his ability to understand the ins and outs of the game.

"Al Davis was a good man, and we were friendly rivals," Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney said in a statement released by the Steelers. "He was a football man and did a lot for the game of football. I had a lot of respect for him, and he will be missed throughout the entire NFL."

Will Davis' death mean a move to L.A. for the Raiders?

With the death of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis on Saturday, many Raiders fans are wondering what impact it could have on the future of football in Los Angeles.

The push to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles appears to be inching closer to reality, but the question that remains is what team will take the field.

"I don't know what his passing means yet. I don't know what arrangements were made, but it certainly will open up an interesting door that might not have been open before," said L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry.

ABC7 reporter Leanne Suter and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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