"Holy Toledo!"

April 11, 2012

Al Davis: Maverick, Rebel, Legend

Filed under: NFL, Oakland Raiders — Bill @ 6:28 am

(The following article was written & submitted to me by my friend Jeff L. (a.k.a. Dr. Death in some circles). It’s a well done heartfelt tribute to the man Al Davis. I hope you enjoy it.)

Today, the 8th of October, I received the news that Raider owner Al Davis passed away. Despite his 82 years, he was one of those iconic figures that we all just assumed would live forever. I remember years ago reading a quote from Al about death being the one thing that he couldn’t conquer and despite his efforts, he succumbed as we all will one day.
To say that Al Davis is a legend is an understatement of the highest order. No person in professional football has accomplished all he did and nobody ever will. He was, at one time or another, everything from personnel assistant, to scout, to assistant coach, to head coach, to league commissioner, to general manager, to owner/CEO and he succeeded at every turn.

To say that Al Davis was a rebel is an accurate statement. During the sixties, when tensions were high between blacks and whites, Mr. Davis saw no color. All he saw was talent. He recruited black players in college and he drafted them in the NFL and he paved the way for so many great black players to make names for themselves when no other team would give them a chance.

Al didn’t care what ethnicity a person was; all he cared about was could the player help his team win. During a time when black players were not being allowed to play on the offensive line, Al drafted two future Hall-Of-Famers in Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. Those two dominated the left side of the Raider offensive line and paved the way for Clarence Davis to rush for 137 yards in Super Bowl XI, the first Super Bowl title in Raider history.

To say that Al Davis was a maverick is also a very accurate statement. He sued the NFL – twice! And he also testified on behalf of the USFL in their lawsuit against the league. But don’t condemn him for these circumstances, instead, marvel at how he foresaw the future of the National Football League and was trying to do all he could to position his team to be at the top. Today, with luxury boxes and stadium deals with corporate sponsors… Al Davis saw it all coming, long before anybody else did.

Al Davis was a man who believed in loyalty. He expected those who worked and played for the Raiders to be loyal to the organization and he reciprocated with an undying loyalty to those who were loyal to him. There are numerous accounts of this in action, from the support that he showed Raider great Jim Otto over the years, to the many ex-Raiders he hired as assistant coaches. But there are other stories out there that not many know about; stories of his loyalty that show, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the class with which he carried himself.

Former Raider backup quarterback David Humm was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1988 and in 1997, while working as a color analyst on the Raiders radio network, he lost the use of his legs. Humm phoned Mr. Davis and informed him that he would no longer be able to be part of the Raider radio team. Al told him to find a way. Ultimately, Mr. Davis paid to have Humm’s home set up so that he can still do the radio broadcasts without having to travel to the games, a job that Humm still does to this day.

In February of 2000, when rival Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs died, he left behind seven children from seven different mothers. He also left behind a substantial amount of debt. His Kansas City home was opened for Chiefs fans to walk through and buy merchandise to help pay off his bills. It was Al Davis that provided a substantial amount of money to Derrick’s mother to help her and the family out in a time of need.

Perhaps his greatest display of loyalty came in 1979 when his wife Carol slipped into a coma and doctors told Al that her chances were not good. Al remained by her side 24 hours a day and spoke to the love of his life. The term “visiting hours” didn’t apply to him as he held court in her room and told her she needed to return to him. He whispered into her ear and whilst nobody knows the exact words, somehow he prevailed over death on this occasion and doctors were stunned when she awoke after 17 days and the attending physician told Al he had only seen that type of recovery two or three times in his 30+ years as a doctor. Today, some 32 years later, Carol is alive and well.

Throughout his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis revived the careers of many players who were given up for dead. Al brought them in, made them feel comfortable and part of the Raider family, and they in turn responded by playing unbelievable football for him.

George Blanda was one of the first as he signed with the Raiders prior to the 1967 season. Blanda was 39 and turned 40 early in the season. In 1970, at the age of 43, Blanda turned in a five game stretch of miracles that Hollywood would reject if it were presented as a movie script.

It began in Pittsburgh on 25 October 1970 when he replaced an injured Daryle Lamonica and completed 7 of 12 passes for 148 yards and 3 touchdown passes, leading the Raiders to a 31-14 win. The following week he kicked a 48 yard field goal as time expired to secure a tie against their hated rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. The next game saw the Raiders trailing 13-20 to the Cleveland Browns with 1:34 remaining. Blanda threw a touchdown pass to Warren Wells to tie the game and then, with just :03 left, he kicked a 52 yard field goal to lift the Raiders to victory.

The following week he once again spelled Lamonica and drove the Raiders down the field, connecting on 4 of 6 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown to Freddy Biletnikoff with 2:28 remaining, to defeat the Denver Broncos, 24-19.

His amazing run concluded one week later when he kicked two 4th quarter field goals, including the game winner in the waning seconds, as the Raiders beat yet another divisional rival in the San Diego Chargers, 20-17.

Blanda would play until 1975 and the age of 48. His final game, on a frozen turf at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, he kicked a 41 yard field goal and successfully delivered an on-side kick as the Raiders narrowly lost, 10-16 in the AFC Championship Game.

John Matuszak was a #1 overall pick of the Houston Oilers, who was then traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, then eventually released by the Washington Redskins, all in the span of 3 short years. Al brought him in early in the 1976 season and The Tooz, as he was known by all, became a staple on the Raider defensive line, helping the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles. {XI & XV}

Jim Plunkett was also a former #1 overall pick who had been beaten up during five dreadful seasons in New England, traded to San Francisco and cut during the summer of 1978. Davis brought him in for the waiver wire price of $100.00. It would turn out to be the best $100.00 bucks Al ever spent, as Plunkett would go on to lead the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins {XV & XVIII} and would be Comeback Player Of The Year in 1980 as well as Super Bowl XV MVP.

Todd Christensen was floundering in Dallas and New York {Giants} as a running back, but when Al brought him to Oakland, he convinced the sharp-witted young kid to move to tight end. All Christensen did was become the most feared tight end of his time.

In 1983 Todd caught 92 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns and was a very instrumental aspect of the Raiders crowning achievement; winning Super Bowl XVIII. In 1986 he caught 95 passes, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to catch more than 90 passes in two different seasons. From 1983-86 his 349 receptions led all receivers.

Willie Brown was undrafted coming out of Grambling University but signed with the American Football League’s Houston Oilers before being cut in training camp. He then signed with the Denver Broncos where he made the All-AFL team his second year. Before 1967 Al traded for Brown and the creation of the Bump-and-Run cornerback first began to take form.

Davis saw in Brown something nobody else did. For starters, Brown had great size for a corner, standing 6’1” and weighing 195 pounds. He was also quick and Davis envisioned him as a player who could take on the opponent’s best wide receiver and shut him down all game.

Brown would play for the Raiders until 1978 and in Super Bowl XI he would return a Fran Tarkenton pass 75 yards for a touchdown, a Super Bowl record that would stand an amazing 29 years.

Rich Gannon was originally drafted by in 1987 by the New England Patriots, who wanted him to be a Safety. When Gannon declined he was traded to Minnesota. Gannon’s time in Minnesota was frustrating. He was finally given a chance to start in 1990 and produced adequate numbers. In 1991 he was better and by 1992 he had led the Vikings to an 8-3 record when he was inexplicably replaced by Sean Salisbury.

The Vikings went 3-2 down the stretch and with Salisbury starting in the play-offs they were quickly dispatched by the Washington Redskins, 24-7.

In 1993 Gannon made a handful of starts for Washington and was out of football completely in 1994. He returned in 1995, serving as Steve Bono’s backup in Kansas City. In the Chiefs 7-10 play-off loss to the surprising Indianapolis Colts, Gannon replaced a struggling Bono and drove the Chiefs down the field on a frigid Kansas City afternoon.

Completing five of his eight passes for 30 yards and scrambling twice for 19 yards, he had the Chiefs in position to at least tie the game. A pass into the end zone was dropped by Lake Dawson, setting the stage for a game-tying field goal by Lin Elliott. However Elliott missed the kick, his third miss of the day and the Chiefs season ended.

In 1997, Gannon took over for an injured Elvis Grbac and led the Chiefs to a 5-1 mark and helped them to secure home-field advantage throughout the play-offs. In a very controversial move, Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer decided to go with Grbac in the play-offs. The Chiefs promptly lost to the Denver Broncos 10-14.

It was Al Davis who saw something special in Gannon and after hiring Jon Gruden in 1998, suggested that Gruden take a look at Gannon. Following the 1998 season Gannon was a free agent and despite the plea of the majority of Chiefs fans, the Chiefs made it clear that Grbac was their man.

Gannon met with Gruden in 1999 and quickly signed with the Raiders. In the final game of the 1999 season, Gannon led the Raiders to an amazing come-from-behind win. The Raiders fell behind 0-17 very early in the game, but Gannon kept fighting, eventually defeating his former team 41-38 in overtime and knocking the Chiefs out of the play-offs entirely.

In 2000 Gannon had a great season, leading the Raiders to a 12-4 mark and getting them to the AFC Championship Game. In 2001 they again made the play-offs before losing to the New England Patriots in the now infamous “Tuck Game.”

In 2002, with Bill Callahan supplanting the recently traded Jon Gruden, Gannon set several NFL records and tied a number of others while also being voted MVP for the season. In the week two game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Gannon set an NFL record for most completions in a regulation game with 43. He tied the record for most games in a season with 300 yards passing at 10 and on a chilly Monday night in Denver, he completed 34 of 38 passes for 352 yards and 3 touchdown passes. While Gannon was credited with completing 21 straight passes in the game, the number should have been 29. Replays showed that an official made a mistake when calling an early pass to running back Charlie Garner incomplete.

That same season the Raiders would make it to their fifth Super Bowl. Unfortunately for them, they would be facing the Jon Gruden-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gruden knew their play calls and knew every idiosyncrasy of Gannon and the Bucs dominated the game, winning 48-21.

Over the years Al Davis helped revive many other players’ careers. From Lyle Alzado to Andre Rison to the aforementioned Garner and even legends like Jerry Rice; all made substantial contributions to the Raiders after other teams had given up on them.

During his 49 years with the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, the teams that Al Davis put on the field played in some of the most memorable games in NFL history.

There was the 1968 Heidi Game in which the Raiders trailed the Joe Namath-led New York Jets 29-32 with just :42 left when quarterback Daryle Lamonica threw a 43 yard touchdown pass to running back Charlie Smith, lifting the Raiders to a 36-32 lead. On the ensuing kickoff the Jets fumbled the ball and Raider Preston Ridlehuber recovered in the end-zone, expanding the Raider lead to 43-32.

However, fans across the country did not see either of these plays, which happened in a span of just :09 on the game clock. At NBC, executives had been heavily promoting the show Heidi and orders were given prior to the start of the Raider/Jet game that Heidi would start at 7:00 EST no matter what. During the 4th quarter, when the brass at NBC realized the game was running long, phone calls were made and all agreed the game would be shown in its entirety.

However, not everyone involved received the message and at 7:00 PM sharp, the game was cut off and a young Swiss girl who lived with her grandfather in the Alps was seen on television screens instead of the heated battle between two of the AFL’s best teams.

In an era where there was no ESPN, no Internet and no DirecTV, fans were left out in the cold as the “family movie” aired. A scroll along the bottom of the screen would shock fans everywhere when they saw the final score: Raiders 43 – Jets 32.

That was the last time that ever happened. And it is because of this game that today all games are shown in their entirety no matter the score.

In 1972 the Raiders met the Pittsburgh Steelers in the play-offs in Pittsburgh. For the Steelers, a team that had last been in the play-offs in 1947, this was a monumental event. The game was a defensive struggle as Pittsburgh managed just two field goals through the first three plus quarters, clinging to a 6-0 lead.

Knowing his team needed a spark, and with quarterback Daryle Lamonica struggling, having completed just 6 of 18 passes for 45 yards and 2 interceptions, Raider coach John Madden inserted the young and largely untested Kenny Stabler into the game.

The move worked. Stabler drove the Raiders down the field in the final moments and from the 30 yard line rolled left and then took off for the end zone. He scored and the extra point gave the Raiders a tenuous 7-6 lead with 1:13 left to play.

The Steelers would get the ball back and would move to their 40 yard line, but 3 straight incompletions by quarterback Terry Bradshaw left the Steelers in a desperate 4th and 10 with :22 left in the game.

Bradshaw took the snap and was almost sacked, not once, but twice, he rolled right and then fired a pass into the middle of the field. At the time, the NFL had a rule that two offensive receivers could not touch a pass consecutively. In other words, if a pass was thrown down the field and it bounced off one wide receiver {or tight end, or running back} it could not be caught by another player on the offense unless a defender touched the ball after the first offensive player had.

On this 4th down, desperation play, Bradshaw’s intended target was running back Frenchy Fuqua. Raider free safety Jack Tatum had Fuqua in his sights and arrived just as the ball did. In his typical style, Tatum, also known as The Assassin, leveled Fuqua. The ball fluttered back toward the Steelers offense and out of nowhere Franco Harris pulled it in and raced towards the goal line, just avoiding Raider defensive back Jimmy Warren before crossing the goal line, delivering a miracle of all miracles to the Steeler faithful in a stunning 13-7 final score.

For years controversy has raged over this game. Known as the Immaculate Reception Game fans and players alike have argued, and will continue to argue, as to who hit the ball. Steeler fans swear the ball ricocheted of Tatum, thus making the play legal. Raider fans protest that Tatum hit Fuqua and the ball also hit Fuqua, making the play illegal. There was also an egregious block in the back of Raider linebacker Phil Villapiano by Steeler tight end John McMakin that was not called. Had the penalty been called, the Steelers would have still needed at least a field goal to win with precious little time left on the clock and the ball somewhere around midfield.

Raider running back Marv Hubbard claims to have heard the officials talking after the play when one of the refs called security, asking how many police they could get to escort the officials out of the stadium. When the referee was told there were only six policemen available, the refs decided to award Pittsburgh a touchdown.

Whatever you believe, one thing is certain; this controversial play is one of the most storied in the NFL’s history.

December 21, 1974. The Miami Dolphins were two-time defending Super Bowl champs and heading into the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum for a grudge match against the Raiders. The Raider faithful showed up with black hankies – mocking the Dolphin fans that waved white hankies in the Orange Bowl. If you listen to ex-Raider linebacker Phil Villapiano tell the story, the Raider players encouraged all their female fans to show up with their black bras and black panties… and that’s what the silver and black fans were waving around that day. Regardless, the Coliseum on this day was definitely blacked out.

The game didn’t start out exactly as the crowd or the Raiders had hoped. Nat Moore, a rookie wide receiver and kick returner, took the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Dolphin lead before most of the Black Hole had even sat down.

The Raiders fought back and tied the score when quarterback Kenny The Snake Stabler hit running back Charlie Smith on a 31 yard touchdown pass, however Miami added a field goal before halftime to take a 10-7 lead into the break.

In the second half the game became a classic see-saw battle. Stabler threw a 13 yard touchdown to standout wide receiver Freddy Biletnikoff who made what many have called the single greatest catch in play-off history. Biletnikoff was covered by Dolphin defensive back Tim Foley, who was holding Freddy’s right arm down against his side but the sticky-fingered receiver still managed to pull the pass in with one hand while keeping both feet in bounds just inside the right corner of the end zone.

Before the third period ended Miami responded with a touchdown pass from Bob Griese to Paul Warfield, making the score Miami 16, Oakland 10 after Dolphin kicker Garo Yepremian missed the extra point.

Early in the fourth quarter Yepremian added a 46 yard field goal and Miami’s lead grew to 19-14. The Raiders, led by Stabler, answered quickly when the Snake hit speedster Clifford Branch on a long 72 yard touchdown play. Branch had to dive to make the reception and when he hit the ground, so too did the Dolphin covering him. Noticing he had not been touched down, Branch sprang to his feet and raced goal ward, putting the Raiders back in front, 21-19.

The Dolphins went back to their running game in driving down the field and backup Benny Malone scored on an incredible 23 yard run with 2:08 to play, giving Miami a 26-21 lead. However, several Dolphins, including star running back Larry Csonka and Head Coach Don Shula, were worried that Malone had scored too soon and had left too much time on the clock for Stabler to drive back down the field.

On the ensuing kickoff Ron Smith returned the ball to the Raider 32 and the two minute warning was signaled. On first down Stabler connected with tight end Bob Moore for six yards. After a short gain on a running play the Snake went back to Biletnikoff for gains of 18 and 20 yards. A quick out pass to Branch netted four yards and then Stabler hit reserve wide out Frank Pitts on a pass over the middle. The play nearly turned disastrous for the Raiders as Pitts juggled the ball, but he was able to secure it before being tackled at the 14 yard line.

Clarence Davis then ran for 6 yards setting the Raiders up with a first and goal at the Miami 8 yard line with :35 on the clock. Stabler called timeout to confer with Coach John Madden.

What happened next was almost surreal. Stabler lined up under center Jim Otto and surveyed the Dolphin defense. He then dropped back to pass, his intended target being Biletnikoff. He was covered, as was his second option. Stabler, being left-handed, felt pressure from his blind-side and began to roll to the left. Dolphin defensive end Vern Den Herder reached out and grabbed Stabler’s right hip and tried to sack him. As he was falling on his face Stabler spotted Clarence Davis in the end zone and let the ball go in his direction.

The ball floated – it was as if time had slowed to a crawl – and Davis, surrounded by three Dolphins, raced back for the ball and reached out for it. With Dolphins all around him, somehow the guy who had the worst hands on the team came down with the ball in the end zone. Raiders 28 – Dolphins 26 with a mere :26 left to play.

Miami quarterback Bob Griese would throw an interception on the Dolphin’s first play following the kickoff, bringing to a close what NBC announcer Al Derogatis called, ‘Maybe the greatest game I’ve ever seen.’

The game would become known as the Sea Of Hands game and is among the top five of the NFL’s greatest ever games.

In the 1976 season opener, the Raiders were hosting the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. With just over five minutes to play the Steelers held a 28-14 lead. Then Snake started working his magic. He drove the Raiders down the field and ended the drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Dave Casper, cutting the lead to 28-21 with 2:56 to go.

On the ensuing kickoff the Raiders kept the Steelers from gaining any yardage and Pittsburgh played it safe, hoping to avoid a turnover. After three downs they punted. The Raiders partially blocked the kick and Charles Phillips, a backup defensive back, recovered. After three straight incompletions the Raiders were facing 4th and 10. Stabler dropped back to pass and Mean Joe Greene had him dead to rights, but the Snake, living up to his nickname, slithered out of the sack by ducking under Greene and then stood up and drilled a bullet to Cliff Branch that took the Raiders down to the two yard line. On the next play the Snake rolled left and scored, tying the game at 28-28.

Now the Steelers were scared. They didn’t want to go into overtime, so Bradshaw came out throwing. His pass was picked off by linebacker Willie Hall and the Raiders ran the clock down until the waning seconds, when rookie kicker Fred Steinfort came in and delivered the game-winning 21 yard field goal for a miraculous 31-28 come-from-behind win. In all, the Raiders scored 24 of their 31 points in the 4th quarter and 17 of those came in the final 2:56.

On Christmas Eve of 1977, the Raiders went into Memorial Stadium for an AFC Play-off game against the Baltimore Colts. The weather was a balmy – for Baltimore – 41 degrees and the two teams played a tight first half, with the Colts leading 10-7 at the break.

In the second half however, everything changed. The scoreboard started to light up like a slot machine in Las Vegas as points were scored at a ridiculous rate. Late in the game, trailing 28-31, the Raiders faced a 3rd and long with less than a minute to go. Stabler called timeout to confer with Head Coach John Madden. As Madden was busy trying to think of a play, the Snake was calmly surveying the crowd and said; ‘You know what John, these fans sure are getting their money’s worth today.’

Tom Flores, the offensive coordinator, had called a play that had been a bread-and-butter play all year for the Raiders; both Branch, on the left, and Biletnikoff, on the right, would run deep in routes and the tight end, Dave Casper, would run a post route in order to draw the safety’s away from the middle of the field, clearing a path for one of the receivers. However, Flores had noted during the game that the safety had been cheating up on the play and instructed Snake to “take a peek at Ghost to the post.”

From his own 44 and with precious little time remaining, Stabler dropped back to pass. Casper was late getting off the line because a linebacker had held him, forcing Stabler to hold the ball a little longer than usual. When Snake saw the defense he noticed the corner was open and threw the ball there, forcing Casper to change direction and look back up; making this a most difficult reception. However, as Casper later explained, he played a lot of center field as a kid and when he looked up; the ball was right there. The Ghost pulled it in and set the Raiders up for a game-tying 22 yard field goal.

Sudden-death overtime in the play-offs means you play until one team scores, and neither the Raiders nor Colts could muster a drive in the first overtime period. The Raiders did try a long field goal, but it was blocked, thus the game continued on. Finally, near the end of the first overtime period Snake had the Raiders moving. On a 3rd an 18 he drilled a beautiful pass to Branch that gained 19, with Branch making a diving reception to keep the drive alive.

As the fifth period ended and the sixth began, Snake once again looked for Casper, connecting with him on a 10 yard pass for the winning touchdown. Final score – Raiders 37 – Colts 31. It remains the 4th longest game in NFL history.

Week two of the 1978 season saw the Raiders playing in San Diego against their hated rivals, the Chargers. The game was ugly, from a Raider stand-point, and early in the 4th quarter San Diego took a 20-7 lead. However, in the 4th quarter when trailing was when Kenny Stabler liked to be on the field. He drove the Raiders for one score, throwing a 44 yard touchdown pass to reserve wide receiver Morris Bradshaw, cutting the lead to 14-20.

With just over a minute to play the Raiders took over at their 20 and Stabler threw a pass to Morris Bradshaw that took the Raiders to the 32 yard line. With :54 seconds left Snake then hit running back Pete Banaszak over the middle for a gain of 14 to the 46. Stabler called timeout with :45 seconds left and then connected with tight end Raymond Chester on a deep pass down the left seam, setting the Raiders up at the Charger 27 yard line with just :33 seconds to play.

Snake then tried a deep pass into the end zone for Chester, but this pass would fall incomplete, bringing up second down. Stabler then coolly stood in the pocket and drilled a low dart to Freddy Biletnikoff, setting the Raiders up at the 14 yard line with a first down. On the next play Snake again tried to hit Freddy, this time in the back of the end zone, but that pass too was incomplete, bringing up second down and 10 with just :10 seconds to play. What happened next was the most bizarre and crazy play in NFL history.

Stabler retreated in the pocket but had instant pressure from blitzing Charger linebacker, Woodrow Lowe. Knowing that the game would end if he was sacked, Stabler intentionally fumbled the ball forward and Pete Banaszak, whose job it was to block Lowe, tracked the ball down and shoveled it forward to Dave Casper, who kicked the ball from the 5 yard line until he crossed the goal line, resulting in a touchdown that stunned fans everywhere.

Raider radio announcer Bill King provided a great call of the play:
“The ball, flipped forward, is loose! A wild scramble, two seconds on the clock…Casper grabbing the ball…it is ruled a fumble…Casper has recovered in the end zone! The Oakland Raiders have scored on the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play! Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it’s real. They said yes; get your big butt out of here! He does! There’s nothing real in the world anymore! The Raiders have won the football game! The Chargers….they don’t believe it. Fifty-two thousand people minus a few lonely Raider fans are stunned. This one will be relived… forever!”

In week 14 of the 1979 season, the Raiders traveled to New Orleans to play a hungry Saints team who were hoping for their first ever play-off appearance. The Saints entered the game with a stadium full of fans and a 7-6 record. The Raiders began the game by driving down the field and Kenny Stabler threw a 3 yard touchdown pass to Raymond Chester, giving Oakland an early 7-0 lead. From that point on however, the Saints would dominate the first half.

The score at the break was New Orleans 28 – Oakland 14. Midway through the third period and deep in his own end of the field, Stabler was rushed, his pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown and the Snake was knocked woozy on the play. As the ABC cameras went to commercial we could see Jim Plunkett warming up. For the Raiders, it appeared the game was over.

But Stabler wasn’t ready to quit. He went back out on the field, told Plunkett he was fine, stepped in the huddle and said; ‘I got us into this mess; now I’m gonna get us out of it!’

He then drove the Raiders down field and Mark van Eeghen scored from 1 yard out to make it 21-35 entering the 4th period. In the 4th quarter Stabler was red hot. He would throw three touchdown passes, one to reserve tight end Derrick Ramsey, and two to Clifford Branch. In all, Stabler would throw for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading Oakland to an improbable 42-35 comeback win.

January 4th, 1981, is a day that will stand in Raider lore forever. The Raiders were playing in icy-cold Cleveland, where the temperature had dropped to 2 degrees with a 21 mile an hour wind and a wind-chill of -20. The game was like playing on an ice rink. Plunkett threw an early interception that was returned for a touchdown, but the Browns missed the extra point. Van Eeghen scored to make it 7-6 Raiders at the break.

In the 3rd quarter, Browns kicker Don Cockroft kicked two 30 yard field goals and Cleveland led 12-7 heading into the 4th. A huge catch by Chester set the Raiders up and van Eeghen scored again from 1 yard out and the score was now 14-12, Oakland.

The Browns were known as the Cardiac Kids all season for their wild finishes and on this day it looked like another game would be decided in the final seconds as Brian Sipe drove the Browns toward the Raider goal-line.

The Browns were at the Raiders 13 with less than a minute to play when Sipe called timeout. Conferring with Coach Sam Rutigliano, Sipe was told “Red Right 88” and “if it’s not open, throw it into Lake Eerie.” As Sipe dropped back his protection was good. He spotted tight end Ozzie Newsome and decided to throw for the win. However, Raider safety Mike Davis had other ideas. The guy who was known as having the worst hands on the team came down with the ball in the coldest of conditions and ended Cleveland’s miracle run. And set the Raiders on the path to their second Super Bowl.

Over the years the Raiders would play in many more memorable games, from the final week of the 1993 season when they had to rally to defeat Denver to get in the play-offs in a wild, overtime win of 33-30, scoring the tying TD on the last play of the game.

There was the final week of the 1999 season when they traveled to Kansas City and trailed 0-17 very early in the first quarter, only to rally for an amazing 41-38 overtime win.

There was the now infamous Tuck Game that saw the Raiders get royally screwed by the officials, who made one call on the field – “The quarterbacks arm was going forward; it’s an incomplete pass” – but changed it to the Tuck Rule following the game.

In the history of the Raiders, they have played in more games with nicknames than any other team. To list them:
The Heidi Game
The Immaculate Reception
The Sea Of Hands
The Ghost To The Post
The Holy Roller
Red Right 88
Wheatley Won’t Go Down
The Tuck Game

All of these games happened because Al Davis had a vision; a vision to build the greatest organization in all of sports. There were the team’s many mottos like “Pride & Poise” and “Commitment To Excellence” and “Just Win Baby” and the man behind it all, was Al Davis.

The legacy of Al Davis will burn brightly forever. Every time someone puts on an Oakland Raider t-shirt or jacket, every time someone cheers for the Raiders in a game, every time a player is discarded from another team and resurrects his career in Oakland, the legacy of Mr. Davis will be shining through.

He taught me, as a young kid growing up, not to be afraid to go against the grain, to stand up and stand tall for what you believe in, and to fight for the things you hold dear. He also taught me about loyalty and he taught me that it’s better to be feared than respected. With fear… respect will come.

I had the great privilege of meeting Al Davis several times, but one was very memorable. There were people all around wearing jerseys of their favorite players and I just had a gray t-shirt with a huge Raider logo sewn on the front. Al saw that logo, looked at me and smiled, and then he walked over and told the crowd he would only sign one autograph. It was the authentic Raider helmet I was holding. I think, to him, seeing me supporting the Raiders, as a team, as an organization, as an idea, meant something to him. I will never forget that moment and I am blessed to have been in his presence.

So Mr. Davis, take pride and be proud, your commitment to excellence and your will to win will endure forever! You, sir, truly were, magnificent!

Dr Death


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