Fred Biletnikoff

Al Davis in the 1960s and 1970s – Just Win, Baby!

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For the past eight years, the Oakland Raiders have not been very good. This year, however, there is some hope for the team. Running back Darren McFadden, along with quarterback Jason Campbell, and the team have returned the Raiders to respectability. On Saturday, October 9, 2011, legendary owner Al Davis passed away. Not many of today’s young fans can remember back to a time when Al Davis and the Raiders were not only a dominant team, but a team to be feared. In the 1960s and 1970s, Al Davis put together a series of teams that challenged for the AFL and NFL title year in and year out.

Al Davis and Hall of Fame center Jim Otto

Al Davis began his career in professional football with the Los Angeles Chargers as an assistant to Sid Gillman in the old American Football League. Gillman, maybe the biggest offensive innovator in NFL, had a huge impact on how Davis looked at the game. Gillman used the deep pass along with sending men in motion to destroy defenses. The motion revealed whether a team was playing zone or man-to-man coverage. Using the deep pass stretched the field and created more room for offense. After the 1962 season, Davis was hired away from the AFL Champion Chargers (who had then moved to San Diego) to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Davis brought what he learned from Gillman and used it with the Raiders. Two of the first three years saw the Raiders win the AFL West Championship. In 1966, Davis stepped out of coaching to be the AFL Commissioner. The AFL was in a bidding war with the NFL over players. With its wide open offenses and flashier play, the AFL was becoming more attractive to prospective players. AFL Owners revered Davis who originally signed Lance Alworth (my early hero) for the Chargers during his tenure there. Davis was an in your face kind of person. He took prisoners and many NFL Owners feared him. In fact, when merger talks began in 1966, the NFL went directly to the AFL owners and bypassed Davis. Davis was against the merger because of fees the NFL would impose on the franchises to join the league. After only two months on the job as commissioner, the other owners reached a deal in June of 1966 with the NFL. It would take four years to merge. In 1970 the Steelers, Colts, and Browns from the NFL joined the ten team AFL to become the AFC.

Soon after the merger was announced, Davis stepped down and returned to the Raiders. He would not coach anymore. He would be the General Manager and an owner of the franchise. The Raiders would go on an unprecedented winning streak the next ten years. That run included AFL West Championships, and AFL Championship, and a trip to Super Bowl II only to lose to the Green Bay Packers.

In 1969, Davis brought in a young coach, John Madden, to take over the team. Davis would assemble a team built on speed and stretching the field. Madden would do the coaching. Ken Stabler would the southpaw quarterback. Speedster Cliff Branch would be the deep threat. Fred Biletnikoff would be the other threat. Throw in Dave Casper at TE and this team with a bevy of interchangeable running backs dominated the league with six straight division titles. In 1977, the Raiders would win the Super Bowl. Madden would soon resign after not making the playoffs in 1978.

Receiver Fred Biletnikoff, left, and quarterback Ken Stabler

The Silver and Black were to be feared. The Raiders of the 1970s played hard. They were vicious defenders and ball hawks. From Ted Hendricks to Lyle Alzado, and John Matusak, the Raiders defense did not just tackle you, they punished you. Nine players from those early 70s teams are in the Hall of Fame. They include Dave Casper, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Ted Hendricks, and Bob Brown. Surprisingly, Ken Stabler should be, in my opinion, along with WR Cliff Branch and DB Jack Tatum. That is an impressive feat as the Steelers from that era.

Davis valued speed above all else. In the 1980s, the team would win its second and third Super Bowls under coach Tom Flores, the first Hispanic coach in NFL history. Those teams were far different beasts than the 1970s teams. The San Jose Mercury News stated Davis’ genius as General manager was that

“He routinely signed players that other teams wouldn’t touch, and he wasn’t afraid to buck convention, as evidenced by his selection of punter Ray Guy and kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round of the draft.”

One of those players was quarterback Jim Plunkett.  Plunkett lead the team to the 1980 and 1984 Super Bowl. That team was built on speed, all over the field. In 1983, the Raiders would win the Super Bowl again. Led by RB Marcus Allen, the team dominated going 12-4 and cruising to 38-9 victory in the Super Bowl.

After the third Super Bowl Championship, the 80s were not kind to Raider Nation. Davis would sue the NFL, move the Raiders to LA, and then back to Oakland. Public feuds with star player Marcus Allen did not help. But there is no denying the influence Davis held on the game in the 1970s. In an era, and a league, predicated on running the ball down the throat of the defense, Davis stretched the field with the long ball. First with Daryl Lamonica, then Ken Stabler, and finally Jim Plunkett. However, other apprentices to Gillman further changed the game in the 1980s. Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense across the bay in San Francisco changed the offensive game plans of many throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Davis’ greatest days were behind him.

The Raiders would have a brief resurgence under Jon Gruden as head coach only to see Davis trade Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season. The next year, the Raiders and the Buccaneers would meet in the Super Bowl with Gruden and the Buccaneers winning.

Some famous Al Davis Sayings
- Just win, baby!
- The quarterback must go down, and the quarterback must go down hard|
- Don’t adjust. Just Dominate.
- We don’t take what the defense gives us; we take whatever the hell we want.
- We want to win. The Raider fans deserve it. The Raider players deserve it, even my organization deserves it. You have to win and you have to win with a vision for the Super Bowl. That’s our passion here.