Al Davis has been the owner of the Oakland Raiders in good times and bad. There's no getting around that he's currently recognized as one of the worst owners in American sports. But in other terms, he's been one of the most successful as well. With Al, it's a business, but he has had some share of blunders over the years. At the age of 81, Davis still has the ability to attract an audience jam-packed of reporters and cameras at every angle.
The last appearance in the Super Bowl was in 2002, when the franchise featured Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and someone with a cannon, Rich Gannon. It wasn't a happy day though for Raider Nation, as the defense was caught with its shorts down. Ever since then the organization seemed to be moving in circles.
Only last season they appeared to be on the right track. So what are the top five blunders that made this all happen caused by Davis.
(1) The most recent blunder was exemplified on ESPN during the 2009 NFL Draft when the team selected Darrius Heyward-Bey. Mel Kiper Jr. and former star NFl receiver Chris Carter had their jaws hit the floor and then couldn't stop criticizing the team's decision, while the kid sat at home celebrating his introduction into the NFL. Funny thing about it is—the Raiders passed on two prospects that were as clear as cyrstal superior at the same position—Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. But even though Raider Nation could foresee something like this unraveling, it's no excuse for the irrational selection. However, while DHB is no star by any means, he progressed very well in his second season in Oakland, playing 15 games and racking up 26 catches and 1 TD, but only had an average of 24 yards per game (YPG).
(2) The second blunder that comes to mind was the hiring of Lane Kiffin, who came from the great teams under Pete Carroll at USC and his father Monty Kiffin has coached in the league for years, but had no prior experience as head coach of a professional team, much less an NFL franchise. Moreover, Kiffin had no ties with the Oakland Raiders. He entered a losing organization that required an experienced coach to build up and improve the team in all aspects. It was ultimately unimaginable for him to repair at the next level.
His first press conference with Davis was a complete joke... and it only got worse from there. Kiffin was the youngest head coach in Raiders history and in the NFL's "modern era" as well. I know Davis likes young coaches...but come on. Kiffin held his own press conference at the end of the season and it looked as if he was on life support. He expressed to the media "plans and changes he was going to make in the 2008 offseason." Rumors circulated that he was interested in accepting an open head coaching position in the college ranks and at that time he denied such reports.
There was something good that came out of it though—Al Davis turned around the sinking ship. With mixed reviews during the offseason, ole' Al finally cut ties with Kiffin in September 2008. Kiffin was incredible in his 20-game stint with the Oakland Raiders—incredibly bad—leaving with a 5-15 record. Making the matter even worse, former coach Tom Cable lashed out towards Kiffin on his antics against Oakland.
(3) Let's take it back a few years for this next situation in Los Angeles that still stirs up fans today. The Raiders moves to Los Angeles to establish themselves in clearly one of the world's largest media markets. Davis agreed to keep the team here in my hometome of L.A. and even its their last Super Bowl back in 1988. But before you know it, he took his players and staff and moved back to Oakland without any by's. Plans were never cleared to build a stadium in the L.A. Area.
It was in 1995 when Davis moved the Raiders back to Oakland. He then sued the NFL, claiming "the league sabotaged the team's effort to build a stadium at Holywood Park in Inglewood by not doing enough to help the team move from the anticipated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to a new stadium complete with luxury suites." The NFL won the verdict in 2001, but the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge at the time ordered a new trial amid accusations that one juror was biased against the team and Davis, and that another juror committed misconduct. A state appeals court later overturned that decision.
The case was thrown out the window on July 2, 2007 when the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the verdict against the Raiders stood. This was the last of several lawsuits the Raiders had outstanding against the league and its stadium landlords. In the mid 90's Davis sued the NFL on the behalf of the team, claiming the Raiders had exclusive rights to the LA market, albeit the Raiders were located in Oakland. Davis and the Raiders lost the lawsuit. Story was reported by the LA Times.
(4) Marcus Allen was one of the greatest running backs in the NFL history. His career started with a bang, as he won the NFL Rookie of the Year award. In his second season, he led the Los Ageles Raiders to a victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII and won the MVP. Allen provided the Raiders with the most potent running game in the AFC.
After Allen's NFL MVP year in '85, the team would be absent from the post-season until five years at the beginning of the '90s, when the Raiders once again won the division under Davis' understudy Art Shell—who, for the record, had no relations to Art Vandelay or the global power company. Nevertheless, All en was plagued with leg injuries since '89 and at the juncture, was delegated to play more as a situational back-up.
More or less this was instigated by Davis at the time due to his injuries. The Raiders were eliminated in the Wildcard round by their AFC West long-time hated rival Kansas City Chiefs in 1991. The following year the Raiders failed to qualify for playoff berth, ending the season in the losing column. Allen became disgruntled by limited playing time under the then-not-so-old team owner.
Davis labeled Allen as the modern day Vince Young or Randy Moss and felt that the running back was turning the locker room against him. Of course this all sterned from a contract dispute he had with Davis that started in 1990. Allen went to the media and spoke about the matter to the extent of telling Al Michaels ofMonday Night Football,"He's trying to stop me from going to the Hall of Fame. They don't want me to play," basically stirring the pot of uprising in the land of the Raiders. After a prolonged battle, which included trade demands, Allen was finally allowed to part ways after the '92 season and sign with Kansas City. Unfortunately for him, the Allen saga would blow back at him immediately like a '56 Rambler. But it kept stirring up even to the point when Allen told the media in an interview.
Allen's reputation is well-recognized today as one the all-time greats in the Raiders organization and will be reminisced in Raider Nation as one of their favorites. Years passed and in 2003 Allen was inducted...going all the way...into the Hall of Fame. And at the time this happened you could see that even Davis knew he let a good one get away but now it was too late.
(5) The weirdest, wackiest or more outrageous thing Al Davis engaged was trading away his Head Coach. In basic terms, this was absurd and unheard of then and still is in the present. Not only did he trade away a coach—he traded away one of his best coaches—current Monday Night Football analyst John Gruden. He was the best coach since the days of John Madden. And that's not just an opinion, it's a fact that can be proven with science. Well, maybe.
John Gruden was hired as head coach of the Raiders in '98. He led the team to its first AFC West division title in 10 seasons in the turn of the century. Oakland displayed a 12-4 record, only to lose to Baltimore in the AFC Championship. He was also none to lure Hall of Famer wide receiver Jerry Rice to join the Raiders that would make the passing attack the creme de la creme in the NFL with WR Tim Brown on the other side. Gruden guided Oakland to another playoff spot the next year but came up short by the infamous tuck rule call against the New England Patriots. The most bizarre trade of its kind proceeded in the following offseason when Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay for money and future draft picks... almost to the effect his coaching capabilities were meaningless.
Funny thing—the two teams met in the Super Bowl the next year. Bill Callahan replaced the new fiery Bucs coach. Gruden and Tampa had an edge with him knowing the Raiders' strategy, having coached them the previous years, and the Buccaneers defense took full advantage. 'Til this day Al Davis must regret his decision because the team has been haunted by this with not a single winning season since. That's assuming he still remembers. Your memory tends to fade away at rapid pace in your 130's.
"I decided that we no longer as an organization can fight the battle of personal problems for certain players," Davis said in a recent press conference referring to the huge mistake that cost his team after all—let's not forget the real mess—drafting JaMarcus Russell. He cost the team more than anything ever and set them back a few years. I can go on with that but really do I want to cost the team $30 million and he was a screw-up.
In the same news conference telecasted on ESPN and NFL Network, Davis said something I felt actually great about. It's like he finally recognized something he said, "We tried it in the past, we had been successful with some of the greatest players who've ever played professional football, and we failed with some of the greatest players who've ever played professional football who had personal problems." It's like something clicked in his mind and now he's figured it out.
Raider Nation, players and coaches—learn to adapt to his sometime strange business and antics and recognize who he is and what great things he's done for the Raiders and the NFL there many years. He has been there with us as not just an owner, but an owner with a personality everybody hates to love. And in all due respect, it may just come with the territory of being the boss of an NFL franchise for all these years.