Albany Herald Guest Columnist Furman Bisher
It is usually common practice to put the best finish the media can apply to one who has just died, and that was the case when Al Davis passed away the other day.
My first knowledge of him came when he was an assistant to head coach Johnny Sauer at The Citadel. Chief recruiter, as I recall, was his title, which meant he employed such practices as promising future Cadets a car if they'd go to the military school.
Al had his eyes on the head job. General Mark Clark was president of The Citadel at the time, so Al named his first-born son Mark Clark Davis. The general didn't get the message, and Al soon moved west to Southern Cal, and his campaign to improve his status in life moved forward. He became part owner of the Oakland Raiders, one of three, and when Wayne Valley, one of the three, was away at the Olympic Games in Germany in 1972, Al aligned himself with the other owner, Ed McGah, and when Valley returned, he found he had been deleted. McGah would follow next, result of some more Davis manipulating.
History will show that he was the first commissioner of the American Football Conference, until the AFC affiliated itself with what is now the National Football League. Al was now commissioner of a non-conference. But never sell Al short. He took charge of the Raiders, and if you'll check history, you'll find that the Raiders -- his Raiders -- played in the first championship game that preceded the Super Bowl game. Green Bay creamed Davis' Raiders.
Well, we move on, Al moved the Raiders to Los Angeles, then later moved them back to Oakland, each time accumulating a bundle of cash. He was a slick operator, and if he had no other weapon to use, he went to court. He cultivated friends, and he was an easy guy to know and be around. One municipality, Irwindale, made him an offer of $10 million to move his franchise from Los Angeles rather than back to Oakland. I'm not quite sure what became of Irwindale's $10 million. Or, if Irwindale, a town of about 2,000, was even serious.
We moved forward to the time his name came up for membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each meeting of the selection committee was an indoor dogfight annually. Al Davis in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Infamy, maybe. He left a trail littered with victimized partners -- but one year, he made it. A travesty in the eyes of many.
Then came the nomination of Wellington Mara, who had a clean sheet -- the man who championed shared gate reciepts with visiting teams. He still ran into some kind of resistance -- until at one meeting, I stood and made this statement: "What Hall of Fame is it that Al Davis can get into and Wellington Mara, a gentleman contributor, cannot?"
Wellington Mara won admittance in an overwhelming vote. Thus joining Al Davis, who had already preceded him in the membership. I'll say this: There has never been another owner of a team in the NFL that even came close to matching Al Davis' background.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.