Al Davis, Raiders owner and NFL pioneer, dies at 82

In this Dec. 26, 1998, photo, Oakland Raiders

In this Dec. 26, 1998, photo, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis gives a thumbs-up to fans before a game with the Kansas City Chiefs, in Oakland, Calif. The Oakland Raiders announced Saturday that longtime owner and Hall of Famer Davis has died. He was 82. Photo Credit: AP File

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Al Davis, who spent time as a scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner of the three-time Super Bowl champion Raiders and was one of the NFL's most influential yet controversial figures, died Saturday at his home in Oakland, according to the team. Davis was 82. The cause of death was not announced.

During his career, Davis imparted a legacy of on-field and off-field contributions that included dynamic game-day strategy, progressive hiring practices that promoted diversity, and contentious legal maneuverings against his fellow owners. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Davis, who was born on July 4, 1929, in Brockton, Mass., and spent his youth in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, attended Erasmus Hall High School and began his coaching career at Adelphi College (now University) in Garden City, as offensive line coach in 1950-51.

"Al Davis' 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. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL.''

Davis coined the phrases "Just win, baby!" and "commitment to excellence" to underscore the success of a Raiders franchise that often ran counter to conventional football theories, and won with players whose rebellious and colorful personalities mirrored their owner's. Davis also hired the NFL's first Latino head coach, Tom Flores, the first African-American head coach, Art Shell, and the first woman CEO, Amy Trask, who continues to preside over the team's business affairs.

"Over the years, the guy who could represent the owners, the players, the coaches and the game as it's played on the field, he did that,'' said Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory after the 1976 season. "He had a real passion for the game."

Davis put his stamp on the Raiders beginning in 1963, when he became the youngest GM/ head coach in pro football history. That year, he implemented the vertical passing game, an aggressive downfield passing attack he learned under former Chargers coach Sid Gillman. The Raiders went 10-4, and Davis was named AFL Coach of the Year.

Davis was named the AFL's commissioner in April 1966 and immediately began competing directly with the NFL by luring several of the more established league's players to the upstart AFL. Davis was against a merger with the NFL and resigned as commissioner in July 1966 rather than side with many AFL owners who preferred to join the NFL. The leagues eventually merged in 1970.

After resigning as commissioner, Davis bought a 10-percent stake in the Raiders for a reported $18,500 and became director of football operations. The Raiders won the AFL championship in Davis' first season back with the team but lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.

In 1969, Davis hired Madden at age 32, making him pro football's youngest coach. Madden led the Raiders to five AFC title games in seven years but lost every game. He finally won Super Bowl XI after the 1976 season. The Raiders also won Super Bowls XV and XVIII.

During the 1970s and '80s, Davis' teams featured some of the NFL's most colorful -- and sometimes controversial -- players, including quarterback Ken "The Snake" Stabler, linebacker Ted "The Mad Stork" Hendricks and defensive ends John Matuszak and Lyle Alzado. Matuszak died in 1989 at age 38 from an overdose from a prescription painkiller and Alzado, who admitted to using human growth hormone, died of brain cancer in 1992 at age 43.

Davis also took a chance on quarterback Jim Plunkett, once the No. 1 overall pick of the Patriots. After a disappointing career in New England, Plunkett helped the Raiders win their next two Super Bowl titles.

The Raiders last went to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season under first-year coach Bill Callahan, now the Jets' offensive line coach. The team lost to Tampa Bay, coached by Jon Gruden. Gruden had coached the Raiders from 1998-2001 before forcing his way out of Oakland after repeated clashes with Davis.

"Coach Davis had a great grasp of personnel, schemes and strategy," Callahan said. "His sole focus and passion in life was the Raiders. He was at practice every day and very aware of what was going on organizationally. He challenged you to be your best."

Davis also challenged his fellow owners in court. In 1982, a U.S. District Court jury unanimously ruled for the Raiders and against the NFL on antitrust grounds, paving the way for the team to move to Los Angeles. The Raiders won their third Super Bowl after the 1983 season, and in the locker room afterward Davis shook hands with his rival, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

The Raiders moved back to Oakland after the 1994 season, but Davis continued to claim that the team had retained territorial rights to the Los Angeles market. The NFL hasn't had a team in L.A. since the Raiders and Rams left the same year.

"Al was a pioneer whose passion was deeply rooted in the game of professional football that he helped to shape at every level," Jets owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. "A unique man of conviction, Al had a profound impact on the National Football League as we know it today and will forever be identified with the team he loved so much."

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

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