Sunday, October 09, 2011

Al Davis 1929-2011

Al Davis was seldom what most would call a good man, and almost never what anyone would call a nice one. That's probably why within the narrow confines of the National Football League, Davis was one of the greatest men in its history.

Davis was pro football without the mask on. He stripped whatever was left of the "building character" Victorian moralistic nonsense the game took from its college origins and left its essence out for all to see. He was ruthless, exploitative and untrustworthy. But he was no hypocrite. Davis and the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/and maybe Los Angeles again Raiders he essentially founded and built in his own image were a constant statement that football is a cruel, ruthless, exploitative game and ergo people with those character traits have a two-step start on the field.

Football is violence inadequately controlled by rules. Davis sought out football players with a take 'em or leave 'em approach to all rules. Some were free spirits. Some had demons. Some were flat out sociopaths. In the glory days, which lasted a very long time, pretty much 40 years, all were good at beating other people up.

All NFL teams are like that now, of course. Have been for a long time, too, which is one reason the Raiders sank back into the mire in last decade. Astonishing as it may be to contemplate for those under 40, when Davis began his career in evil genuisry, they weren't. Teams still looked for players who'd make a favorable impression on pledges down at the frat house. They wanted good citizens, i.e, malleable order-takers, if possible white order-takers.

I should note that I actually had brief social contacts with some of the Raiders of the early '70s and they weren't that much different than anyone else, just bigger. Davis was good at finding players who wanted to live inside society's white lines, too. But he deliberately chose to push his outcasts to the center of the team's image. This is football, it's kind of bent, the Raiders said. Get over it.

Davis made the NFL throw a false image into the dustbin of history. He sued the NFL to move to L.A., won, and threw Pete Rozelle's idea that the league was a cooperative venture among like-minded businessmen into the dustbin, too. The tombstones of the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers are his monuments, just like the Raiders three Lombardi Trophies.

Perhaps it's a bad thing that NFL fans now know that if their team's owner has to choose between them and more money, they're going to lose. The fact Davis was able to move the Raiders BACK to Oakland indicates that fans are too far gone to care that they know.

Perhaps it's a bad thing that Davis pushed the cruel reality of the sport of football into people's faces, too. I don't think so. To truly love a person or thing, one has to acknowledge what he/she/it is really like. Otherwise, it's not love, just a preteen crush.

Al Davis was not an admirable man. But within the world he chose for himself, he sure was an important one.


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