Friday Evening, April Third, Nineteen Hundred-Ninety-Two” is how the Annual Hall Of Fame Dinner Dance program reads. It was much more than that, it was a celebration of Al Davis, Alumni, innovator, sports revolutionary and the President of the General Partner of the “Team of The Ages”, the (hated by me always as N.Y. Jet fan), Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. That day, I got my supervisor at the school I taught at to give me the afternoon off and drove out to the early Press Conference on my old campus. Being rather new to interviewing at the time, I usually questioned entertainment celebs and cool musicians to that point; that was all about to change.
Al Davis was a one-of-a-kind man. I loved it and it simultaneously sent chills down my spine when he spoke of “Fear, Intimidation, Big People and Speed” being the qualities that he looked for when evaluating talent and teams. Unabashedly he told us he was always “aggressive and never lacking in self-confidence.” I loved this guy, and was scared of him like I was my father when I was a child. The kind of “I know he can kick my ass” scared respect. More kids need that these days, but that is for another post. This event was about Al’s association with Adelphi University baseball back in those days just after the institution first allowed men to complete the undergraduate population.
Although I botched the final one-to-one interview by forgetting to disengage the “pause” button on my hand-held recorder (a classic Jimi B “absent-minded professor” moment) at least I remembered smoothly on-the-fly in-time to get a last up-close reply to my question where he repeated the “dare to dream” reply that I initiated by asking him what special qualities he thought that attending Adelphi University instilled in all of the many successful alum who passed-through that University. Then he was dismissing me with his body language for the next reporter to ask a question. Al Davis was a real “direct” kind of man. I like that, and want to incorporate more of that quality into my own personality for the duration.
In 1952, Mr. Davis left Adelphi; then came back several times, but this was the first time back since around ’55 or so, he said.
Things Al Davis said that afternoon:
“42 years ago I was invited to be at Adelphi College… (what it was called when it was an all woman’s school) to start the Freshman football program”…when he said he drove a “Desoto convertible; black, white tires, chrome…” (a lot of laughs on that one!) They eventually hired him. He also played/managed the Adelphi Baseball team.
“My inspirations (in response to a question by one of the assembled media reporters from all the metro NYC dailies were in attendance) were two teams,the New York Yankees and the Dodgers. Two teams that epitomized the qualities that I eventually developed in The Raiders, tradition, intimidation, speed, and the Big Play…”
“I was always interested more in the man behind the scenes. Especially Branch Rickey and George Weiss; they were my inspirations to lead.”
“I was given a chance to assert my authority…”
When asked how he felt and if it made him feel a certain way to be inducted into the Adelphi University Athletic Hall of Fame, replied, “I don’t know what constitutes being inducted into the Hall Of Fame; what the criteria is, etc”
Al Davis was the first and only Commissioner of the AFL (American Football League), which I took affinity to as a young man, by-the-way, over the older NFL that my Dad’s generation was into. He said he never sought-out to be Commissioner; he was an English/Secondary Education major at Adelphi and into “writers”. On the merger with the NFL, that he told us, “It was a big accomplishment for me.”
Al Davis is tough to paraphrase. If you asked a follow-up question and it wasn’t exactly what he said or you rephrased it in your own words, he’d quickly correct you! It was cool and amusing to me after I dug it, but the first time, you almost think he is just being rude.
At one point, a woman reporter asked him, “Are you from money?” I couldn’t believe she asked him that!! He made a wise crack that is intelligible on my cassette tape of that day that broke up the room, and then recounted a story of how he grew up across from where Mike Tyson did, playing in Lincoln Terrace Park, Brooklyn (which is not “from money”). He told that story and that Tyson heard him tell it one time and that Mike’s park across from that was in Brownsville/East New York, and Tyson had commented to his boys about Al being “One tough sonofabitch!” Great laughter followed that story too!
What is Al Davis like? He said, “I know I was Aggressive…” Then he spoke of “the Golden Rule that many of us were taught to live by in those days (I don’t know about now..) but he learned that “If you are going to lead men and be in-charge, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t do unto others as you would have them do unto you – you do unto others as they want to be treated!” He went on to say, (and I think this point of the press conference was where Al Davis had become comfortable in-front of this particular group and dropped his best science) “You have to learn what they [the players in this instance] like to be treated. Yes, they will sulk…” And he went on to recount some specific player examples by name.
As Adelphi University baseball Coach he said that his experience was “not that much different from what I’m doing today in pro football.” He “tried new things [positionally with players]; specialization sharing…”
From an early age, Al Davis said that he had “insights”. “I never lacked self-confidence...” I mentioned having “great players” often. I liked that. He told us of a time that he sent a telegram to Vince Lombardi that said “The toughest ting is to maintain” (as opposed to Lombardi saying it is to rebuild).
“Everyday is a new experience in life & death” he repeated a couple of times in response to questions about he his life and sports have intertwined during this press conference.
Since I was covering this even for the (then) Adelphi University radio station WBAU, I asked him, “Did radio covered your on-field exploits back in those days?” He said he didn’t know if radio covered or carried the games, but that [long Island newspaper] Newsday did. As a follow up, I asked him about a hot news story at the time, “How did the Bo Jackson career-ending injury affected The Raiders? He was candid at that moment when he replied, in a slightly softer tone of voice, “Devastating for The Raiders, the player…he was very unique…” his voice trailing-off a bit. Ever notice how guys like Mr. Davis, Bill Parcells, etc always refer to their guys as “the player’ ? Rarely by name; interesting, but not a big deal. By the way, he showed his love and respect for one John Madden, by mentioning that he became the Head Coach of The Raider in 1969 a few times. He also talked about the great singer Sarah Vaughn fondly. He’s met her doing the national anthem at Raider games, and stayed in-touch with her, even going to see her in New York City’s Greenwich Village jazz clubs!
So I did a follow-up-follow-up since I had the floor and asked Mr. Davis the name of the only Black player in the picture displayed of the old Adelphi baseball team he coached. Uh-oh, that might have been one query too many. He replied, “I don’t like to look at people that way [inaudible]…” talked something about “all cultures”, and kind of never answered my question while giving a lesson on how [color] didn’t matter. A great point! Maybe I should have worded my question differently to evoke the answer that I wanted – for all of you aspiring journalists – if there are any anymore. Or maybe I got just the right answer from “Mr. Direct”.
The only other question I hit him with was “Since there are many successful Adelphi University graduates out here in the world who’ve gone on to achieve big things, to what special qualities do you attribute that to?” “I’m not sure, but a solid foundation and the ability to dream BIG. Dream big…” he replied.
Al Davis, President of the General Partner, was a real “man’s man”. ‘Took no shit… I could tell. I wrote these words about him that day in the beautiful program, “direct, arrogant, determined, mysterious.”
Pick-Hitt: This blog is two years old, this month! Hoorah! What began as a vehicle to vent about heartbreak is now a legitimate writing exercise and way to creatively share experiences and some stories of my past, express the love I feel for my fiancee along with joy, frustration, pain of my present promotions and anticipation of a successful second half of my life. And, even though it hasn’t earned me a red cent as those who suggested I begin bloggin’ said it would, and it became another “labor of love” that I do less frequently than at its inception, I still am bold enough to say and please raise a challis in celebration of my efforts and the comments and encouragement begot by all of your many eyes upon my words, if you will… Happy birthday to “Achilliad”! Feel free to comment.