Oakland Raiders' Al Davis 'True Legend' Of The Game

Longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, whose maverick style had a huge impact on professional football, has died. The 82-year-old saw his team win three Super Bowls. His independent streak was both admired and excoriated, but stubbornness in his later years was blamed for the team's struggles. NPR's Allison Keyes has this remembrance.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host: Al Davis, the legendary owner of the Oakland Raiders, died yesterday. He was 82. His tough teams earned legions of loyal fans and his maverick style helped transform the National Football League. NPR's Allison Keyes has this remembrance about the man viewed by many as one of the most important figures in professional football.

ALLISON KEYES: Whether you're a Raiders fan or not, you've got to admit the guys in the silver and black could be an exciting team to watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Seventy-four yards for Marcus Allen, and the Raiders are starting to shove this one in the winner's column.

KEYES: And win they did in 1984, their third Super Bowl under Al Davis. ESPN panelist and university of Maryland sports journalism professor Kevin Blackistone says it was all about Davis's signature style of coaching.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: He always had a quarterback who could throw deep and always had receivers who could run fast and make those catches and make for an exciting brand of football.

KEYES: Davis sought out castoffs from other teams who then became fierce disciples of the silver and black. Blackistone says Davis's defensive line played hard-hitting, on-the-edge-of-your-seat football.

BLACKISTONE: I think he gave the NFL a flavor. He introduced, through his players, a certain swagger in the NFL. And he created a really raucous fan base.

KEYES: In 1963, he was named general manager and head coach of the Oakland Raiders and was coach of the year of the American Football League. Later, Davis was one of the reasons the AFL and rival NFL merged. But the pugnacious man with the slicked-back ducktail and trademark black leather jacket was also a thorn in the side of the NFL. Davis successfully sued the league to move the Raiders to L.A. in the early 1980s. And journalist Blackistone adds that Davis was an early and consistent supporter of diversity in the league.

BLACKISTONE: You got the first Hispanic coach in Tom Flores. You got the first black coach in modern NFL history in Art Shell. And you got the first woman CEO of an NFL franchise in Amy Trask.

KEYES: In 1992, Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three years later, he moved the Raiders back to Oakland, but in the last 10 years or so the team's reputation - and Davis's - faltered. Still, that doesn't diminish the effect Davis had on football. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls Davis a true legend of the game, whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL. Davis himself, speaking to the Raiders after their 1981 Super Bowl victory, made his love for the team clear.

AL DAVIS: Take pride and be proud. Your commitment to excellence and your will to win will endure forever. You were magnificent.

KEYES: Davis's mantra was just win, baby. Al Davis was 82 years old. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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