Few, if any, owners in sports had a stranglehold on their team the way Al Davis had on the Oakland Raiders. He controlled every facet of the team until his final days -- from the players the team drafted and signed to the way the field and uniforms looked on game days.
There was no aspect of the organization that wasn’t under the watchful eye of Davis, who did everything his way, regardless of what anyone, even the NFL commissioner, thought.
The Oakland Raiders, however, as we have known them since 1963, are no more after Davis passed Saturday at the age of 83.
After the well-deserved tributes and reverences are made in the coming days, the attention will turn to his succession plan and the future of the Raiders.
Davis had previously said control of the team would go to his wife, Carol, and son, Mark, when he died.
During a press conference on Aug. 1, 2006, Davis also mentioned former Raiders coach John Madden could play a role in helping the franchise’s transition after his passing.
“If something happened to Al, I'm sure (Madden) would be someone that Carol Davis and Mark Davis would call, along with several others who have been Raiders most of their lives and still have a tremendous loyalty to it," Davis said. “That's if I don't outlive them. ... Time runs by you. My life goes on. We're still here and we want to win.”
Davis met Carol in 1950 when he was 21 years old and began his coaching career at Adelphi College on Long Island. He was only there two years before he went into the Army, and as a private, coached the Fort Belvoir football team.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated on Nov. 4, 1963, Davis said about Carol, “A friend introduced us when I was coaching at Adelphi. He thought she could handle me. You know, I wasn’t a bad looking kid and not a poor boy.”
When Carol suffered a severe heart attack in 1979, Davis talked hospital officials into giving him a bed in the intensive care unit and slept there for two weeks to be next to her.
“She’s a good girl,” Davis told Sports Illustrated in 1963. “I swear somebody’s going to steal her sometime. She worries that I don’t spend enough time with our son, Mark. I tell her I didn’t spend an awful lot of time with my daddy, but we were close. I really loved my daddy. It’s not how much time you spend, it’s what you do with the time you’ve got.”
Mark, who is now 56, graduated from Chico State and has been around the team more in recent years.
When the San Jose Mercury News asked Davis what Mark’s role was with the team on Sept. 30, 2008, he said, “He’s business and perhaps he’s doing some work on the stadium -- business and stadium. He doesn’t want to get involved in football. He used to know all the players. He still does. They were his vintage – Cliff Branch and all those guys, Fred Biletnikoff, all those guys. He never understood how I could let someone go. He just doesn’t want to get into that part of it. But he will own it someday. That is… if they let me go to my maker. ”
It is not yet known if Carol or Mark would want to have anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the Raiders. Amy Trask, the Raiders’ CEO will likely take a more prominent role with the team now and help with the transition and life without Davis.
Davis had owned 67 percent of the Raiders but that percentage dropped to 47 percent in 2007 when he sold a 20 percent minority interest to a group of investors, led by East Coast businessmen David Abrams, director of the Abrams Capital investment firm, Paul Leff, founder of the Perry Corporation money management firm, and Dan Goldring, managing director at Perry Corp. The deal gave the group no control of the franchise at the time of the sale or in the future. Davis said he made the deal for estate planning purposes.
That percentage became available to Davis when he settled a lawsuit with the heirs of one of the team’s co-founders, E.W. McGah, which reportedly included the sale of the McGah family’s 31 percent stake in the Raiders.
Davis became the third general partner of the Oakland Raiders when he purchased 10 percent of the team for $18,000 in 1966. Ever since then, Davis has slowly built his shares to become the managing general partner of the team with most of the minority shares divided among the heirs of the eight original general partners.
Last month Forbes magazine valued the Raiders at $761 million, second lowest in the NFL only behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Raiders have unsuccessfully tried to get a new stadium in Oakland since moving back from Los Angeles in 1995 but continue to play in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the third oldest stadium in the league. Since returning to the Bay Area, 83 of the Raiders' 130 home games have been blacked out on TV after failing to sell out.
There had been talk recently of the San Francisco 49ers and Raiders possibly partnering on a new stadium in Santa Clara but nothing substantial has come from preliminary discussions. Both teams shared Kezar Stadium in 1960.
When former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartalo and team president Carmen Policy were rumored to be interested in buying the Raiders in 2006, Trask came out told the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis would always control the Raiders.
“Al Davis currently has, and will continue to have, total control of the Raiders,” Trask said. “And that will continue into perpetuity.”