One of the reasons the NFL is the NFL is because of Al Davis.
The league is as successful as it is today in large part because of things Davis brought to the game. He created rivalries, was influential as part of the new league's competition committee, became an innovator in the passing game and always thought years in advance as to what trends would emerge.
First and foremost, though, I go back with Al Davis to 1954. We competed against Davis, but we admired him for the job he did. I was close with him, and we talked at least once per week.
It's a great loss, not only to Raider Nation but also the NFL.
One of the biggest influences Davis had was in bringing the passing game to the league. He probably doesn't receive enough credit with what this did for the league, although I don't know if anyone gets enough credit. But he deserves it as much as anyone. Davis was one of the first to truly spread the field, and he helped create new formations and positions that still are used today.
Davis spearheaded the movement to throw the ball down the field -- and finding the right players to do it. He was a speed freak and helped revolutionize what we're doing in football at that time. He took guys like Art Powell and made great receivers out of players who only had speed.
Cliff Branch was an ideal, great example. When Branch came out of Colorado, he couldn't catch a cold. But he could run. Davis and his coaches spent a lot of time developing Branch into a receiver. The most recent example of Davis' influence is Darrius Heyward-Bey, who's just starting to show some of the same signs as to what he can be in stretching the field.
Davis also was on the competition committee, with Tex Schramm and Paul Brown, that formed right after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Faced with the challenge of forming one league, what that group did was nothing short of miraculous. Although some probably believed his ideas helped the Raiders more than the rest of the league, Davis always was very astute in offering suggestions that would be for the betterment of all.
Davis was a true football man. He understood every facet of the game, and he was one of the first to identify the importance of individual matchups. He would trade for players, such as cornerback Willie Brown, for specific matchups against teams the Raiders had to play twice per season. It also should stand out from Davis' impact on the game that he truly was a great tactician. He knew players, he knew talent and he knew the game. A great example is the revolution of bump-and-run coverage. It was unheard of before Davis. Now, it's commonplace in the league.
Many of my favorite memories of Davis come from sitting in the first row, at the start of the 40-yard dash, at the NFL Scouting Combine, along with Bill Parcells. Davis was there from the start, and we shared so many stories. Davis was very good at coming up with names, facts and figures from memory. Parcells was the other way, not knowing names but always suggesting of who certain players reminded him. Davis always knew exactly which player.
That, to me, was a special treat to sit between those two guys -- one who's in the Hall of Fame and one who's certain to be.
It will be a legacy of Davis that he was very, very loyal to employees and former employees. He will be missed by all of them.