Without Al Davis, the NFL may never have become arguably the world’s most popular sports league.
That is heavy praise for Davis, the Raiders’ longtime owner and a controversial figure. But even referring to the impact Davis had on professional football as “meaningful” is an immense understatement.
When Davis passed away in 2011, the Raiders found an improbable, unpredictable, and heartwarming way to honor him.
Al Davis owned the Raiders for nearly 40 years
Al Davis defined the Raiders, regardless of what city they played in, for almost half a century.
Between Davis’ thick Brooklyn accent, his relentless attempts at inclusion, and his “Just win, baby,” motto, the late Raiders owner is one of the league’s greatest characters and ambassadors.
Davis had a wild journey with the Raiders. He coached the team from 1963-65 before he became the AFL’s commissioner in 1966. The 36-year-old Davis returned to the Raiders later that year as the head of football operations.
Davis officially became the Raiders’ owner in 1972. The Raiders won three Super Bowls in his time as owner and general manager.
Davis was an eccentric and risk-taking owner. Above all, he hired those who he thought were best for the job regardless of their background, skin color, or gender.
Davis was the first owner to hire an African-American head coach (Art Shell) and the second to hire a Latino head coach (Tom Flores). Shell was the first black head coach in modern NFL history.
Longtime Raiders front office member Amy Trask was the NFL’s first female chief executive.
Davis even hired USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, a 31-year-old who’d never been a head coach at any level, as the Raiders’ head coach in 2007. Kiffin lasted 16 games and is now the head coach at Ole Miss.
Davis passed away in 2011
Al Davis lived a long and successful life. He unfortunately battled several health issues in his later years.
Davis passed away at age 82 on Oct. 8, 2011. Coroners found Davis died from an “abnormal heart rhythm, congestive heart failure, and a heart muscle disease,” according to ESPN.
Davis also had a form of skin cancer at the time. He had throat surgery three days before his death.
The Raiders found an improbable way to honor Al Davis
A day after Davis’ death, the Oakland Raiders took on the Houston Texans in Texas.
Oakland led 25-20 with seven seconds left and the Texans needed a touchdown to win. The Raiders only had 10 men on the field, though, as Texans quarterback Matt Schaub scrambled to find an open man.
Schaub tossed a ball that Raiders safety Michael Huff snagged in the end zone for an interception. Despite missing a man on the play, Oakland sealed the victory and dedicated the game to their late owner.
Immediately, many pointed out the fact the Raiders played the last down with only 10 players a day after Davis’ death. The connection was accidental, but it created the idea Davis was the team’s 11th man.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, the Raiders did Al Davis proud. They just won, baby.