Al Davis Dead; Oakland Raiders Owner Was A Gamechanger

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Al Davis, the Hall of Fame owner of the Oakland Raiders known for his rebellious spirit, has died. Host Scott Simon talks with ESPN's Howard Bryant about Davis' impact on the NFL as well as the baseball playoffs and the NHL's season.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, and it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And there's some sad sport news this morning. Al Davis, the owner and the founder of the Oakland Raiders has died in Oakland. He was 82. We'll also talk about last night's games, and of course, the unfolding baseball playoffs. ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us from Dallas.

Howard, thank so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hey, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thanks. Let's talk about Al Davis, 'cause this was, I believe he was the youngest owner of a football team, the youngest person to run a football team when the Raiders and the American Football League opened business, and of course, then we witness his passing today when he was certainly the oldest.

BRYANT: Yeah, Al Davis was a towering, towering figure in the history of the National Football League. When you think about what this league is, when you think about it in the imagination of what the Oakland Raiders are as an iconic franchise, he was as polarizing as he was towering. There's no question about that. In the same mold as George Steinbrenner was with the Yankees, although - in fact they were born on the same day, as a matter of fact, in both July 4th. And I think the big issue with Al Davis - the difference between those two, as polarizing as they were, was that Al Davis was a football man. He was a great coach. He was an innovative coach. He was a general manager. He was the commissioner of the American Football League before they merged with the National Football League, becoming the league that we have today. And on top of that, he was an owner. And so you talk about - you're talking about a person who had pretty much covered every area of the game. And more than that, I think than in the history of modern American sports, the Oakland Raiders were the first team that began to cultivate an organizational bad boy image.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: If you look at the team, very few teams before the late 1960s ever began to use that sort of culture as a commodity, and the Raiders did it and they did it very successfully. This is a huge loss in the National Football League.

SIMON: Let's then if we can, transition to to talking about the baseball playoffs, having marked the passing and the career of Al Davis. Doesn't look like the teams with the most money are winning.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: A lot of us thought that this was going to be Yankees-Phillies World Series. And look, if you can't buy a baseball championship, what's happened to big-time sports, I'd like to know.

BRYANT: Well, the superpowers took one on the chin this year. When you look at - even going back a month, you had the Boston Red Sox with the best team in baseball for a long time. They didn't even make the playoffs. Everyone had forecast the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees to meet in the World Series and they didn't get out of the first round - neither one. But this is also a tribute to really good, hard well-played baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals earned this. The Phillies had everything they wanted. They had their best pitchers on the mound, they set up their rotation the way they wanted, they had a 4-nothing lead with Cliff Lee, the great post-season pitcher on the mound with a chance to go up 2-nothing in a five game series. And St. Louis overcame all of it. So, I think that it's a tough one to take in, in Philadelphia, but if you're in St. Louis you played the game the right way, you played tougher, you were harder, you were grittier and you earned it.

SIMON: Yeah. And of course the Brewers put away the Arizona Diamondbacks last night. With regard to Milwaukee, I want to ask a quick Yankees question, OK?

BRYANT: Yes.

SIMON: A Rod strikes out twice in critical situations. Let me ask - along with the readers of the New York Post or the New York Daily News - $32 million a year. How much do you have to pay a guy to get him not to strike out in two successive critical situations?

BRYANT: Well, this is a tough one for him, and a tough one for Ryan Howard of the Phillies, who ended the season last year the same way. Alex Rodriguez is owed six more years at $143 million dollars on his contract and he's not aging well. He looks like a 36 year old guy who had hip surgery. And I think that this is going to be a cautionary tale for organizations that are going to give players long-term contracts when they get into their 30s because as the bodies are breaking down. Alex Rodriguez was a super - this season he was a superstar in name only. He looked very old, he didn't quite look like the dangerous Alex Rodriguez that we're used to.

SIMON: Well, Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks very much for being with us. We will note - just not as an afterthought - that the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Atlanta Dream last night, 73-67 to win the WNBA Championship. Thanks, Howard

BRYANT: Thank you.

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