First of all, I didn't volunteer to sculpt Al Davis. The Hall of Fame folks asked me, as a favor, to handle the irascible Oakland Raiders owner.
This is the man, after all, who had repeatedly sued the NFL and generally made himself a serious pain in the rear end. The Hall of Fame guys knew that I, with my light manner, was the man for a difficult job. But even they couldn't have imagined how difficult it would be.
I had gotten a similar call in 1985 when longtime commissioner Pete Rozelle was voted in. He and his wife had ordered numerous revisions to a previously commissioned painting and the Canton brain trust was queasy. Rozelle turned out to be a pleasure to work with and, at the Pro Bowl at least, so was Davis.
I had heard all kinds of things. But when I met him he was congenial, easy to be with. I left there thinking, "I think I can do him."
Davis is an interesting fellow. Going back to his days in the AFL, he's the only man to serve in the professional game as a scout, personnel assistant, head coach, general manager, commissioner and team owner. On his watch, the Raiders have made five Super Bowl appearances, with three victories. But, back in 1992, it had been almost a decade since the last one, which capped the 1983 season, when I arrived at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif.
I had spent an enjoyable afternoon the day before with Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey and his family in San Diego and with that momentum I was ready to go to work. I started setting up at 10 a.m. and the secretary told me Mr. Davis would be in soon, as scheduled.
Three hours later, Davis walked in and shook my hand. "I'm here to do your bust," I said, managing my best smile. "Not today," Davis said. "I've got too much going on, too many meetings."
"I'm only here for the day," I said, smile fading. "We'll just sit you down between meetings. We'll get this thing done."
"Look," said Davis, scowling, "I don't want you here."
Nine hours later, after about 30 scattered minutes with the Raiders owner — he was "shooting darts" at me the whole time — I left the Raiders facility under emotional duress.
If the finished bust didn't look like him, it reflected on me. I stuck around and got as much as I could. There's always got to be someone who hasn't been a great experience. Maybe he was just having a bad day. He didn't want anything to do with me.