When Al Davis died last year, he left the most mixed of NFL legacies. He did so much for minorities and his players. But he also he also ran his team into the ground for two decades while hopping along the California coast in search of stadium renovations. He gave us John Madden. But he also gave us Lane Kiffin. Davis's imprint on the game was perhaps good, perhaps bad—and assuredly giant. He interacted with seemingly everyone and made choices that would have drastically changed the NFL's trajectory (for example, Davis was thisclose to dressing John Elway in silver and black, and owning the Oakland Athletics). Murray Olderman's Just Win, Baby, which was released in August, has lots of stories of the life and times of the old pirate.
If Al Davis had taken a job at Penn State, Linebacker U might have been Wide Receiver U:
Davis had another option. Just before he left for the convention in New York, he helped Don Clark coach a postseason All-Star Game at the Copper Bowl in Phoenix. Working with them was Rip Engle, the head man at Penn State. Engle confided to Davis that he was going to lose his offensive coach to Yale and said, "I'd like you to consider going to Penn State." On the Penn State coaching staff was another young man named Joe Paterno, out of Brooklyn like Davis and about the same age.
Davis went home from Phoenix and told Carolee [his wife] about the opportunity. In maybe the only time she has directly influenced his career in football, Carolee said firmly, "We can't leave California to go to Happy Valley (the legendary lair of the Nittany Lion)." In other words, there was no way they were going to move from the la-la land of southern California sunshine to the cold gray skies of the mid-Pennsylvania hills.
Davis had an obsession with lifting weights, even when he went on vacation:
Davis had been lifting weights since he was 16 years old because, sensitive about his slight frame, he thought they would help him become stronger in basketball. At Syracuse, the other players used to tease him about it, but Davis pointed out, "You could see in pictures that I was starting to fill out. At Fort Belvoir, I hid the weights under my bed. I lifted all the time."
All through his subsequent coaching career, and after he went into the administrative end, he took a set of weights on his travels. He once joined Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose on a vacation trip to Mexico, and Tose brought along a couple of his friends, comedians Bob Newhart and Don Rickles. The fun highlight of the trip for Davis was watching Newhart and Rickles on the beach trying to lift his weights and buckling under the burden, sprawling in the sand as their legs flailed like flapping wings.
Davis had a love for aesthetics:
"I'm hooked on nice graphics," said Davis. "I've always believed in putting something on the blackboard, and you leave it up there. A lot of players in team meetings are a little reluctant to ask questions because of fear of being razzed. But after the session, they'll come up and point to something and ask about it because it's still on the board. That was a different way of teaching than most people were doing. Plus I used a viewgraph, projecting a page on a screen, and you read the material right along with them. 'Please read that to the class,' I'd say. And it's big up there on the screen. I hate small print. It makes it difficult to read and comprehend." (In my communications with Davis for research on this book, my emails to Davis were always written in 18-point type.)
If you want more Al Davis stories, get the book on Amazon.