Al Davis, who died Saturday at age 82, brought many things to professional football -- his love of the vertical passing game, his "Commitment to Excellence," his "just win, baby" spirit. But what contribution of the maverick Oakland Raiders owner's football life was the most important to the NFL? Our experts, some of whom personally knew Davis, share their thoughts.
Davis provided perfect counterbalance to NFL establishmentIt's an almost impossible question to answer, to be sure, given that Davis' business contributions to the game reflect on a daily basis in today's NFL. But the biggest impact he had was as a person who opened doors for others in the NFL.
Davis was the first executive to draft a black quarterback in the first round, taking Eldridge Dickey. He hired the first Latino coach in NFL history, Tom Flores, as well as the first black coach of the modern era, Art Shell. In recent years, he entrusted much of the organization's operations to a woman, Amy Trask.
On those tangible advancements, Davis also was an example of the need for a maverick to counterbalance the NFL establishment. Where Wellington Mara was a champion for unity by preaching togetherness even though he could have made more as the owner of the league's team in New York, Davis was one for differing viewpoints. His willingness to challenge the league on myriad fronts, going back to his days as AFL commissioner, opened the door for someone like Jerry Jones to change the way the league does business.
In the end, it's very difficult to measure just what Davis has meant to the NFL over the last half-century. But one thing's for sure: There are those who are benefitting from his impact everywhere in football today.
Pure and simple: Davis was a pioneerAl Davis should be remembered for being one of the true pioneers of the game. His involvement with the AFL was critical to the eventual expansion of the NFL and has been a major reason that football is America's favorite sport. He also should be commended for building the Raiders into a franchise revered by many. He transformed a bunch of so-called misfits into one of the NFL's most winning teams during his tenure.
From a personal standpoint, Davis provided me with an opportunity to finish my playing career as a Raider, which allowed me to experience the "Commitment to Excellence" firsthand. I'm deeply saddened by his passing, but I will continue to remember him for his confidence, passion and commitment to winning.
Davis among the NFL's seven most important contributorsAl Davis could claim so many contributions to the NFL that it's virtually impossible to enumerate them all.
Davis was the hammer behind the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, a delicately crafted agreement between Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm. Davis was fully willing to let the AFL operate independently and even signed away NFL players. His aggressive attitude made sure the merged AFL-NFL became what it is today -- a fully competitive league where any team could win, any year.
Davis' second-biggest contribution was turning a Raiders franchise that played in a human erector set of a stadium in a not-so-sexy market into one of the NFL's flagship franchises. What would the NFL have been in the 1970s and '80s (the two biggest eras in terms of growth), if not for the Silver and Black and its 16 consecutive winning seasons?
A couple of other Davis butterfly effects: Signing veteran players that other teams didn't want was something only George Allen of the Redskins could match. Pushing the limits of man coverage by constantly threatening a vertical attack, partially a product of Davis' time with Sid Gillman's aggressive Chargers offense in the early '60s. Yet another effect of Davis' tenure in the league was franchise movement, which -- love it or hate it -- brought unequivocal changes to the NFL landscape.
No matter your thoughts on the man, Davis, along with Pete Rozelle, Hunt, Schramm, Paul Brown, George Halas and Bert Bell (NFL commissioner in the '40s and '50s), had the biggest impact on the NFL as we know it.
Davis played big role in crucial AFL-NFL mergerAl Davis was a football man who happened to own a team. He really was the point man of the old AFL. His efforts had a lot to do with the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, which brought innovation to the game. The AFL was a wide-open passing league with lots of deep passers and man-to-man defenses. The NFL changed for the better when the leagues joined forces.
Two summers ago, I stood next to Davis at a Raiders practice, and we discussed a number of topics while practice went on, but he never missed a thing on the field.
Davis championed creativity that grew the gameIt's almost impossible to single out one thing in such a distinguished his football life -- a life that Mr. Davis spent in many ways dedicated to the game. It was his life, and he was at the vanguard of so much on and off the field.
For me, though, Davis' role as a coach, general manager and owner while also innovating the vertical passing game and ushering in an era of more offense and creativity always will stand out. That brand of football attracted fans who otherwise might not have watched the game. It helped pro football evolve as a television product and, in turn, made the game the social, cultural and economic power that it is today.
Davis committed himself to excellence -- and changeWith so many things Davis did with the game -- the emphasis on speed, the razzle dazzle, the team's marauding style and image, the bravado to constantly challenge the NFL establishment -- what's at the forefront to me is his willingness to give people a chance.
Davis brought in players, like Lyle Alzado and Jim Plunkett, whose careers had flamed out elsewhere, and he hired Art Shell at a time when black coaches were passed over by just about every other organization. Davis also hired Tom Flores, a Hispanic, to coach his team and lead it to a Super Bowl. Amy Trask was hired to run the franchise and is one of the most powerful and influential executives in the NFL.
Davis did more for the sport and opening the eyes of others than just winning championships. He lived one of his most famous catch-phrases, and that's "Commitment to Excellence."