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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Stories That Don't Suck: Hunter Thompson On Al Davis

Illustration for article titled Stories That Dont Suck: Hunter Thompson On Al Davis

Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear And Loathing At The Super Bowl" essay ran in the Feb. 15, 1973 edition of Rolling Stone magazine. In it, Thompson chronicles a pair of encounters with the general manager and "de facto owner" of the Raiders.


It's what you'd expect from Thompson. It's what you'd expect of Davis.

[Raiders training camp]
There were two other solitary figures moving around on the field(s) beyond the small enclosure near the locker-room door where LoCasale and several assistants made sure the half-dozen local sportswriters stayed.

One was Ray Guy, the rookie punter and number one draft choice from Mississippi, who spent all afternoon kicking one ball after another in tall spiraling arcs above the offensive unit to a brace of ballboys just in front of the sportswriters' huddle ... and the other was a small wiry man in a tan golf jacket with a greasy duck-tail haircut who paced along the sidelines of both fields with a speedy kind of intensity that I never really noticed until he suddenly appeared very close to me and I heard him ask a sportswriter from the San Francisco Chronicle who I was and I was doing there...

The conversation took place within 10 yards of me, and I heard most of it.

"Who's the big guy over there with the ball in his hand?" asked the man with the DA.

"His name's Thompson," replied Chronicle sportswriter Jack Smith. "He's a writer for Rolling Stone."

"The Rolling Stones? Jesus Christ! What's he doing here? Did you bring him?"

"No, he's writing a big article. Rolling Stone is a magazine, Al. It's different from the Rolling Stones; they're a rock music group... Thompson's a buddy of George Plimpton's, I think... and he's also a friend of Dave Burgin's-you remember Burgin?"

"Holy shit! Burgin! We ran him out of here with a cattle prod!"

I saw Smith laugh at this point, then he was talking again: "Don't worry, Al. Thompson's okay. He wrote a good book about Las Vegas."

Good god! I thought. That's it... If they read that book I'm finished. By this time I'd realized that this strange-looking bugger named "Al," who looked like a pimp or a track-tout, was in fact the infamous Al Davis-general manager and de facto owner (pending settlement of a nasty lawsuit scheduled for court-action early this year) of the whole Oakland Raider operation.

Davis glanced over his shoulder at me, then spoke back to Smith: "Get the bastard out of here. I don't trust him."

[two pages later]
Davis suddenly rushed onto the field and grabbed the quarterback, Ken Stabler, along with a receiver and a defensive back I didn't recognize, and made them run the same pass pattern-a quick shot from about 15 yards out with the receiver getting the ball precisely at the corner of the goal lone and the out-of-bounds line-at least twelve consecutive times until they had it down exactly the way he wanted it.

This is my last real memory of Al Davis: It was getting dark in Oakland, the rest of the team had already gone into the showers, the coach was inside speaking sagely with a gaggle of local sportswriters, somewhere beyond the field-fence a big jet was cranking up its afterburners on the airport runway...and here was the owner of the flakiest team in pro football, running around on a half-dark practice field like a king-hell speed freak with his quarterback and two other key players, insisting that they run the same goddamn play over and over again until they got it right.

That was the only time I ever felt that I really understood Davis... We talked on other days, sort of loosely and usually about football, whenever I would show up at the practice field and pace around the sidelines with him... and it was somewhere around the third week of my random appearances, as I recall, that he began to act very nervous whenever he saw me. I never asked why, but it was clear that something had changed, if only back to normal...

After one of the mid-week practices I was sitting with one of the Raider players in the tavern down the road from the fieldhouse and he said: "Jesus, you know I was walking back to the huddle and I looked over and, god damn, I almost flipped when I saw you and Davis standing together on the sideline. I thought, man, the world really is changing when you see a thing like that - Hunter Thompson and Al Davis - Christ, you know that's the first time I ever saw anybody with Davis during practice; the bastard's always alone out there, just pacing back and forth like a goddamn beast..."


Fear And Loathing At The Superbowl: No Rest For The Wretched [Rolling Stone]

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