In the summer of 1995, as I prepared to move across the country and start the job that qualified as my big break, I read “Slick” by Mark Ribowsky.
The biography of Al Davis was required reading, a mentor had told me, before I started covering Davis’ Oakland Raiders for The Oakland Tribune.
It’s a gripping account of Davis’ life, and I felt I had a good sense of him as I embarked on the move as a raw 26-year-old who’d written a lot but was about to take on his first beat.
There was no sign of Davis as I struggled through my first days at training camp in Oxnard, Calif.
But not too long after I started came several days of joint Raiders-Cowboys practices in Austin, Texas. And there, in the white sweatsuit, he emerged.
The three fields at St. Edwards University ran end to end, so it was a pretty good walk from the second or third down to a fenced-in pathway that led players and coaches to the locker rooms. Reporters walked with them as they left the field.
I was ready to introduce myself to Davis. I waited a reasonable distance from him as he signed autographs and charmed fans until he stepped away to start that walk. He knew of me and the Tribune's plan, he said, and was welcoming. We chit-chatted about a variety of things, including where I went to high school -- he said he’d heard of it, though we didn't have a football team and there no reason for him to know it.
It had gone well, I thought. But we still had a distance to cover and so my mind started racing. What else could I turn to in an introductory conversation when it was clear I’d be walking with him all the way to the building?
And the question I came up with produced the greatest answer I’ve ever gotten from a prominent sports figure. It was something like this:
“So can you give me some advice, one Northeastern guy to another? How do I adjust to California?”
We had been walking side by side, but Davis stopped, and turned to face me. I responded in kind.
He put a hand on my shoulder and he said: “You don’t adjust. You just dominate.”