Al Davis turns 77

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Born on the 4th of July

As scattered fireworks commemorate freedom throughout the Nation known as the United States, a smaller nation will rejoice for yet another reason.

The Fourth of July, for the Raider Nation, will also embody the birth of the face of their beloved franchise.

Al Davis, born on born July 4, 1929, is the breathing identity of the Oakland Raiders organization--an organization that played its first game on September 11, 1960.

With an atypical Monday Night meeting with San Diego on September 11, 2006, Al Davis' franchise will enjoy its 46th Anniversary on the football field.

Today, on Al Davis' 77th birthday, let's take a look at how the longstanding face of the Oakland Raiders has built his own independent, venerable "Nation."

Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, Davis' Independence Day birth began a life defined by the ideals of an American Dream. Ironically cut from his own college football team as a player, Davis began his career as coach in 1950, taking on an assistant job at Adelphi College in New York. After serving two short seasons at Adelphi and another seven with the U.S. Army team, the Military College of South Carolina, and the University of Southern California, Davis entered the professional ranks in 1960.

With the Los Angeles Chargers, Davis served as the offensive end coach under the great Sid Gillman.

During his short stint with Al Davis, Gillman commented, "Al thinks he's the smartest guy in football. He isn't. But he is going to be."

It took all of three years to turn Gillman's prophesy into reality, as Davis became the head coach and general manager of a neighboring California team at just 33 years of age.

That team was the AFL's Oakland Raiders .

Just three years old, the franchise was already in great disarray under the previous guidance of coaches Eddie Erdelatz, Marty Feldman, and Red Conkright. Compiling a dismal record of just 9-33, Davis promptly changed the face of the franchise.

First, he changed their colors to the bold Silver and Black.

Next, he boldly led his 1-13 team to a 10-4 record.

Davis was promptly named the AFL Coach of the Year in his first season, and, in the following pair of seasons, would assemble a 23-16-3 three-season record. Already honored as one of the league's foremost coaching profiles, Davis was offered a four-year contract in 1966 to become the Commissioner of the AFL.

The 36-year-old signed on the AFL's dotted line in April of that year; just three months later, under the aggressive player signings of Al Davis, the AFL and NFL joined forces, beginning an era of sports history that would sweep through American households rapidly for decades to come.

Following the agreement, Davis stepped down from his commissioner pedestal and returned to his Silver and Black roots. For $18,500, he purchased 10 percent of the Raiders' franchise in 1966. In his second season back with the team, the NFL entrepreneur watched head coach Johnny Rauch and quarterback Daryle Lamonica roll through a 13-1 season, winning the AFL Championship game 40-7 until finally falling in Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers .

Finally, after another AFL West division title in 1968, Davis made one of the most revered moves in Pro Football history. The part-owner, who invested just over $18,000 in his team, would hire then-assistant John Madden as his next head coach.

For the following 10 seasons, the team would prosper under Davis' and Madden's guidance. Never dropping lower than second in their division, the Raiders would register a 103-32-7 record, win seven division titles, and celebrate their first Super Bowl victory in 1976. Davis would bring forth a long list of respected NFL athletes during that tenure, including Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Otto, Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Jack Tatum, and Willie Brown.

Looking back on Madden's years with the team, Davis commented, "I saw greatness in John and he lived up to it. I also saw a tremendous competitor who loved to win. John is a standard bearer, someone that players, coaches, fans and the Raider Nation can all look up to. One of his great virtues, the fire that burned brightest in him, was his love and passion for football, which was seldom ever equaled."

Following the Madden regime, the Hall of Fame owner would make yet another unforgettable decision, naming American Football's first Hispanic quarterback, Tom Flores, head coach in 1979. Flores picked off where Madden left off, guiding the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl XV victory and the Los Angeles Raiders to a Super Bowl XVIII victory. From 1979 to 1987, Flores would hoard an impressive 83-53 head coaching record, permanently labeling him as Raider great--both as a player and as a coach.

Following Flores' tenure came two controversial years with now-Broncos head coach, Mike Shanahan. Shanahan and running back Marcus Allen would make the late 1980s and early '90s a turbulent time in Los Angeles. Both fell out of the favor of owner Al Davis, as Shanahan's tenure would come to an unwelcoming end in 1989, while Allen would join the rival Chiefs in 1992.

However, with Shanahan's abrupt departure in 1989 came another legendary move for the NFL great. Davis would appoint Art Shell to the team's new head coaching position, making him the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history. From that point on, Shell would register a 54-38 regular season record with the team, reaching the playoffs three times in five years.

Shell, now 59, will return to the Oakland Raiders ' organization in 2006. Under Al Davis, Shell will look to return to the form of the early 21st century Raiders--a team that reached the playoffs three times and Super Bowl once under the guidance of Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan, and quarterback Rich Gannon.

"It may take a short while, but we'll get that nastiness of the Raiders back. And that's one of the reasons we're going to depend on the great Art Shell to help us get that done," Davis stated.

In today's modern-day era of football, owner Al Davis is simply working to achieve small-step future goals.

On the whole, however, Davis has already accrued countless unforgettable strides in achieving his ultimate goal:

"I had a vision and a dream that some day I would build the finest organization in professional sports."

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Al Davis turning 77 today makes you sit up and take notice. The winds of change are in the Raiders' organization. It's kind of a sobering thought after following this team for over 40 years. Yikes. Long live the King.

~CB
 
Dammit Bones, ya thief!! :p Reading that makes non-raider fans really think about what Davis has done for the Raiders though....:)
 
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