For nearly all of Al Davis’ tenure with his beloved Oakland Raiders, the NFL team has been a near-perfect reflection of its prominent leader.
That was true when the rebellious owner of American football’s renegade franchise built a team that dominated on the way to three Super Bowl titles in the 1970s and 1980s and the best record in American professional sports.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, that has also been the case more recently when an owner described by his critics as out-of-touch and often times vindictive has overseen a run of failure in one of the most dismal spans any team has ever endured.
Oakland, at 3-9, is one loss away from becoming just the third NFL team to lose 10 or more games for six straight years. Unlike the previous biggest losers — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1983-1994 and the Detroit Lions from 2001-2006 — the Raiders began this period the year after going to the Super Bowl.
But with 70 losses and counting since that title game loss in early 2003, Davis’ team has a chance to tie the Buccaneers’ record for ineptitude with 74 losses from 1983-1988.
“It’s hard for him,” former Raiders coach Tom Flores said.
“I’ve known him for a long time. I worked for him for 20 years and helped him win Super Bowls. I’ve been through the good days, the bad days. His whole life is this team. Until he can’t he’ll never stop doing what he thinks is right for this team. That’s the way he is and he’ll always be that way,” he said.
While there have been five head coaches, numerous assistants and scores of players in this span, the constant has been Davis.
By serving as both owner and general manager of the franchise, Davis is a throwback to a simpler era in the game when titanic figures like Paul Brown and George Halas ran every aspect of their franchises.
Davis is not nearly the public presence he once was, when he attended practice almost daily and strutted the sidelines in his trademark jumpsuits. Now at age 79, Davis struggles to get around and spends much of his day working at an office away from the team facility.
He plans to hire another front office executive in the offseason and has talked about eventually passing the team on to his son Mark.
But for now he remains in charge.
“Al has always been his own general manager. He relies on a lot of people but he remains in charge. Al Davis works just as hard as he ever has worked,” said senior executive John Herrera, one of Davis’ closest advisers with the team. “Everybody says that the game has passed Al Davis by, that all of his success was in the sixties and seventies. But what about the eighties when we won two Super Bowls, or the nineties when we were competitive or the beginning of this decade when we were a dominant team?”