"Just win, baby," "Commitment to Excellence," "Going vertical" and "The Raiduhs" all became part of our lexicon because of one man.  For better or worse, Al Davis made the Oakland/L.A. Raiders relevant, and had a huge influence on two major professional football leagues.

Davis was just 33 years old when he was tabbed to coach a struggling franchise in a struggling league.  Davis took the pass oriented offense he learned from Sid Gillman in Los Angeles north to Oakland in 1963.  He also changed the colors to the instantly recognizable silver and black.

Davis paid instant dividends.  The Raiders went from one win in 1962 to ten wins in '63.  In April 1966 Davis left the Raiders to be the commissioner of the AFL.  After the AFL announced it was merging with the NFL after the 1969 season, Davis stepped down as commissioner.  Davis was against the merger, and his loyalty to the AFL is something that remained with him throughout his life in football.

Davis returned to the Raiders in 1966, this time as a minority owner.  By the late 60's the Raiders had established themselves as one of the dominant teams of the AFL.  By going vertical, and attempting to put the opponent's quarterback on his back the Raiders were mean and didn't make any apologies for it.

The renegade mentality of the Raiders appealed to a less than savory element of society, and that became a problem in the increasingly corporate NFL.  Rather than kowtow to the NFL, which he hated, Davis made it a goal to be it's gadfly.  Whether it was taking Pete Rozelle to court, or leading the league in personal fouls, Davis only knew one way, the Raider way.

In his later years Davis often cut off his nose to spite his face.  In my opinion he went from a rebel with a cause to a rebel without a cause.  He was an AFL guy until the day he died, but he refused to evolve with the league.  As the NFL game became increasingly complex, he still valued speed, athleticism, and toughness over intelligence and decision making.  He meddled too much and probably should have ceded his gm duties years ago.


He also gave opportunities to people who may have otherwise not received them.  He hired the first latino coach, Tom Flores.  In 1989 he hired the first black coach in football's modern era, Art Shell.  He also made Amy Trask the first female CEO in league history.

For all his foibles Al Davis was known as a fiercely loyal friend, and served as an inspiration to those of us who refuse to follow the herd or take crap from others.

This afternoon the Oakland Raiders played their first game without Al's presence since 1962.  In a game Davis would have probably hated because of the mistakes and overall sloppiness, the Radiers were able to pull out a 25-20 victory in Houston.

In an emotional scene, the cameras caught Raider coach Hue Jackson on his knees, with his hands shielding his teary eyes.

It will never be remembered as a great Raider victory, but all Oakland did today was "Just win, baby."

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