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He was loved and despised, revered and ridiculed.
But he was one of a kind, a man who made his mark.
Davis was the Oakland Raiders, and the franchise – and pro football -- will never be the same without him.
Davis, 82, died at his Oakland home Saturday morning, the team announced on its website.
He came to the Raiders after the 1962 season to become head coach and general manager of the team at the age of 33, then molded the franchise in his image for nearly 50 years. He was coach, general manager, owner and managing general partner, and even in recent years – when the Raiders lost their winning ways and NFL observers said Davis had lost his touch – he remained the undisputed, iron-fisted leader who hired and fired coaches, had his say in the draft and warred with many inside and outside his organization.
Under his leadership, the Raiders won three Super Bowls and had 28 winning seasons, including 16 in a row.
In 1992, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame not just for his contributions to the Raiders, but to the NFL: as commissioner of the old AFL, he engineered the AFL-NFL merger and helped mold the game into what it is today, America's most popular sport.
He was an innovator who believed in the “vertical passing game,” the bump-and-run defense, speed and a physical – some would say dirty, at times – style of football.
A renegade himself who often wasn’t in step with the rest of the league owners or commissioner, he did things his way. He ripped his team from Oakland, moved to Los Angeles and then moved back, infuriating fans and the NFL. And he gave second chances to players cast off by other teams, and embraced the “outlaw” personalities of the likes of Ben Davis, Jack Tatum, Warren Wells and John Matuszak.
Even current head coach Hue Jackson has tried to rebuild the Raiders in the Davis mold, promising to “build a bully” in the East Bay that will stop at nothing less than a Super Bowl.
Davis – often dressed all in black himself -- chose the Raiders’ silver and black colors to be intimidating, and they were. When the Raiders and their silver-and-black clad Raider Nation of fans came to town, people noticed.
“I don’t want to be the most respected team in the league,” Davis once said. “I want to be the most feared.”
So, when others around the league referred to him as sinister or devious, Davis took it as a compliment. The fear factor was his.
Said author Hunter S. Thompson, years ago: “Al Davis makes Darth Vader look like a wimp.”
As news of his death spread across the NFL, tributes poured in.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Davis “Is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL.”
Former Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica said: “When you think of Al Davis, that commitment to excellence was him. Pride and poise was more than just words. That was our way of life.”
And Rich Gannon, the last quarterback to lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl, said, “He was never satisfied. He always had his eyes on the big prize. That was the standard of excellence he expected, and demanded, from players and anyone who walked through the building.”
What’s next for the Raiders is uncertain. There will be a successor, someone who will run the Raiders.
But it won’t be anyone like Al Davis. He was one of a kind.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the National Football League – with the possible exception of George Halas – who’s had as big an impact as he’s had,” former Raiders linebacker Matt Millen told the New York Times. “He influenced a ton of things, either overtly, by pushing for rules, or covertly, by twisting the rules.”