by Marc Tracy, Tablet Magazine
|Davis in 1989 (George Rose/Getty Images)|
Born on the Fourth of July, Al Davis died on Yom Kippur at the age of 82. He was the owner of the Oakland Raiders. But he was the Raiders: tough, brash, obnoxious, with a truly heroically sized chip on his shoulder. Many have tried to figure out where that chip came from, and one of the most frequently proffered explanations—for why Davis felt like an outsider who constantly had to antagonize authority, all the while having the canny and willpower to succeed—is that he never stopped being a Jewish kid from Flatbush.
As I wrote earlier this year, Davis was one of a few Jews who was central to the success of the American Football League, the upstart that merged with the National Football League and whose noisy, sensationalistic aesthetic came to define the game. As the second and final AFL commissioner, he waged brilliant war with the more powerful NFL, creating an environment where the dealmakers could strike a peace (which Davis, characteristically, compared to FDR’s bargain with Stalin at Yalta). Meanwhile, with “the Raiduhs,” as coach, then part-owner, then principal owner, and all the while, for more than four decades, as “general managing partner” (translation: the Lord our God, who is one), Davis revolutionized the vertical passing game; invented the “bump-and-run” style of pass defense, which is now as elementary to the game as the handoff; and upended the popular understanding of players, who no longer needed to be cogs who fit tidily into predetermined systems but could instead be electric athletes whose improvisational genius enabled their teams to win. (Davis also was the first to understand that players with character issues were just undervalued assets waiting to be utilized—he has made the comebacks of Ben Roethlisberger, Plaxico Burress, Michael Vick, and dozens of others possible.)
Deadspin’s A.J. Daulerio was right on the money in publishing an obituary of Davis that was essentially a rewrite of Steve Jobs’. It is difficult to say whose was the more original mind and who more powerfully shaped his field. Think different, baby.
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