Just Win, Baby: Remembering Al Davis

As a kid growing up in Boston in the 1970s and completely obsessed with anything to do with professional sports, I couldn't help admiring Al Davis, who passed away Saturday at the age of 82, and his rebellious Oakland Raiders.

"I had a dream ... that someday, I would build the finest organization in professional sports," David told NFL Films.

Who can forget the likes of Oakland's quarterback Ken "The Snake" Stabler? Kids in my neighborhood idolized plenty of giants from that era such as Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw. But for me and my friends, we couldn't help being mystified by Davis, Stabler, and tight end Dave Casper.

Even though I was only 10 years of age at the time, I'll never forget that 1976 playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Raiders. Earlier that year the Patriots crushed Oakland at home, the Raiders' only loss during the regular season.

When the two teams faced off in the wild card game, I thought for sure the Patriots would roll over Davis' Raiders once again. Late in the fourth quarter the Patriots had the lead until Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton was penalized for roughing the passer. The ball was spotted on the 1-yard line and it was first and goal for Davis and his Raiders.

I'll never forget my father screaming at the television set that the Patriots had been ripped off. With 10 seconds remaining and the Patriots ahead, 21-17, "The Snake" snapped the ball, rolled out of the pocket, and scored on a quarterback keeper.

That was the day, Saturday, Dec. 18, 1976, in which Al Davis and his Oakland Raiders became the villain to me and my friends.

From that day on, whenever my friends and I would play a pickup game of football, one of the teams would always be the Oakland Raiders.

Longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said it best on an NFL Films program entitled "The 10 Most Controversial Calls in Football."

"They (Patriots) were the best team in football and they got screwed," said Ryan.

But no matter what you think of that pivotal 1976 playoff game, Al Davis and his contributions to professional football are like no other. Davis, who has enshrined nine players into the Hall of Fame, to me was always much more than just some executive who bankrolled a team and sat in a luxury box during every home game.

It's important to remember that Davis and other owners like Billy Sullivan (founder of the then Boston Patriots) took a chance and were pioneers of the American Football League.

What Davis and other owners did at the time took guts. While those teams didn't play against the NFL until years later (1969), they introduced professional football to areas of the country that only watched it on television at the time.

Davis was such a visionary, too. His slogans like "Just Win, baby" and "Commitment to Excellence" are enduring images to sports fan all across the country and especially for me.

Besides all the great players that played for Davis, he should also be remembered for bringing to football fans the greatness of John Madden. Under Madden's tutelage, the Raiders won six division titles during the 1970s, including Super Bowl XI.

May he rest in peace.

Comments and Conversation

October 11, 2011

Marilyn J. Mallett:

I thought this was a very well written story and I learned alot about 1976 Patriot’s and Raider’s rivalry.

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