The Dark Prince Of Football Was A Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Al Davis was born on the 4th of July. To honor the occasion, check out Richard Hoffer's 1989 Sports Illustrated profile: "Lord of the Rings":

Al Davis is suffering an unlikely crisis of mystique. The sight of him striding a sideline, rigged out in his white bell-bottoms and shiny black shoes, no longer stirs a sense of dread. Davis's team, which has made four Super Bowl appearances over three decades, now loses as often as not. When his Raiders do win, it is with the same gentlemanly flair exhibited by every other team in the NFL. His players do not dominate, they do not inspire terror, they do not engage in the cartoonish, roughhouse tactics their logo promises. "Weak sisters," sniffs Lester Hayes, a rogue cornerback who got out before Silver and Blackdom, as he has forever named the franchise, turned into Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. For all we know, that pirate is winking behind his eye patch.

Strange times in Silver and Blackdom, huh? In recent years Davis, 60, watched a life's work, a testament to his will, crash down about him. Never mind the distracting years in court. The Raiders, who are 7-6 and fighting for a wild-card playoff berth in '89, missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the longest the team has ever been out of the money.

Davis presides uneasily over this dormant dynasty. Never much of a loser, he now resorts to desperate measures. Hiring Mike Shanahan from the Denver Broncos in February 1988 to coach his Raiders was a wild departure from form. Davis admitted his mistake no later than Game 1 of the Shanahan era. Shanahan might be a good coach, Davis said, but he wasn't a Raider coach. Four games into the 1989 season Davis made that literally true, replacing Shanahan with Art Shell, the offensive line coach, who brought Raider heritage to the job. Davis had never fired a head coach in his life.

Strange times? Davis is considering hauling the franchise back to Oakland, having fought the NFL and the city for years so he could leave it. The attraction might be not so much that he would reap a relocation windfall but that the Raiders used to win in Oakland. It was in 1963 that rookie coach Davis turned a 1-13 team into a 10-4 contender, and the club enjoyed a mighty success for seasons to come. In Oakland. If Davis can work miracles only in one ZIP code, so be it.

[Photo Credit: Andy Hay/SI]