The National Football League lost a legend today. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis passed away early this morning at the age of 82. While in recent years he was often mocked by the talking heads of the sports world, it is important to remember how great of an impact this man had on the most popular sport in America.
Davis needs to be remembered for more than just his accomplishments with the Oakland Raiders, but let's start there. When Al Davis came to the Raiders, they were the worst team in the upstart AFL. He took them from a one win team, to a 10-4 team in one season. The ten wins in Al Davis' first season as head coach and general manager were more than the Raiders had been able to notch in their first three seasons in existence combined.
One of the first things that Al Davis did for the Raiders was to change their color scheme. Before Al Davis, the Raiders wore black, gold and white. Davis wanted to simplify the color scheme and with colors that would inspire fear in their opponents. Since then, Silver and Black has and will forever be associated with the Raiders. As Ice Cube pointed out in his ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Straight Outta LA, Raiders attire had become so popular for a period in the 1980's that other teams, including the Los Angeles Kings, changed their colors in hopes of having the same success.
For a period of time, the Raiders were nearly unstoppable, winning three Super Bowls in eight years. Before their struggles over the last seven years, the Raiders bragged of being the winningest team in NFL history. They are truly one of the most epic and known teams in the NFL and that is all thanks to Al Davis.
Oh, and let's not forget, that when everyone was talking about how the game had passed Al Davis by, and that he no longer knew what he was doing, he built a resurgent Raiders team through smart drafts and smart additions. People mocked the trade for Seymour as a rip off. Since then he has played a major role in turning this team around. People mock Davis as being one of the worst drafters in the NFL but has found incredible talent and especially in later rounds. Darren McFadden, Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, Michael Bush, Louis Murphy, Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, Matt Shaughnessy, Lamaar Houston, Stanford Routt, Tommy Kelly, Jared Veldheer, Stefan Wisniewski, Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler are all major parts to the new and improved Raiders and were all drafted by Al Davis. Not to mention undrafted free agents Desmond Bryant and Marcel Reece and former Raider draft picks Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller.
Ok, enough about Al Davis and the Raiders, let's talk about how he changed the game of football. When Davis came to the Oakland Raiders, he implemented what he called the "vertical offense". At the time, football was the polar opposite of what it is today. It was primarily a running game with intermittent passing, most of which was done to running backs and wide receivers near the line of scrimmage. The Bill Parcells' style of run first football was the only style of football for the most part.
The change started with Sid Gillman in San Diego, who firmly believed in a more expansive passing game than had been seen in professional football to that point. Davis, who was an assistant coach under Gillman in San Diego, took that philosophy to an extreme with the vertical offense. While Gillman believed in passing deeper down field than was commonly done at the time, Davis believed in an aerial assault down field with deep passes being the norm rather than the exception to the norm. This style of offense, developed by Al Davis, was massively influential in turning the NFL into the passing league it is today.
Speaking of the NFL, let's talk about the league and how Al Davis played a major role in making it what you see today. In 1966, Al Davis was named the commissioner of the AFL. Immediately, Davis took aim at the NFL and sought to make the AFL the dominant professional football league in America. Davis played a major role in signing key NFL players to contracts with AFL teams, drastically increasing the popularity of the AFL as well as the quality of play. Al Davis' assault on the NFL was a major factor in the decision of NFL owners to agree to the merger with the AFL. Yup, the same merger that created the Super Bowl.
Finally, and in my mind, most importantly, Al Davis was a leader in creating diversity in the NFL. Al Davis named the first Latino head coach in NFL history with Tom Flores. He named only the second black head coach in NFL history with Art Shell. He was the first person to name a female to a front office position when he named Amy Trask the Chief Executive Officer of the Oakland Raiders (she is still the only female in the NFL to hold such a high position). Long before the NFL created the Rooney Rule to force teams to consider black coaches for open head coaching jobs, Al Davis was considering all coaches, regardless of ethnicity, without having to be told it was the right thing to do. Till the day he died, Davis was still considering all people for positions as was shown by the immense amount of responsibility he trusted Amy Trask with.
Al Davis has played a major role in shaping professional football. From the way the game is played to being a leader in diversity, Davis left his fingerprints on many aspects of the most popular sport in America. He should forever be remembered as one of the most influential men in the history of football.