Super Bowl

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

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.

Advertisements

Rivalry – Bears vs. Packers

This Sunday will either be heaven or hell for me. Either the Bears will win or the Bears will lose. I don’t think I can stand the latter. Monday will be a hard day to show up for work for Bear fans in northern Illinois. It will be the 182nd game between these two storied NFL Franchises – the most in the NFL. The Bears currently lead the series 92–83–6.

I do not think the rivalry translates nationwide. Even though a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line, the game itself will be the first time the teams have met in the post season since December of 1941. Compared to other sports, the Bears/Packers rivalry is a great one, but the rivalry is just one of many across the nation.

Here are some national rivalries which garner not just the attention of local fans, but the nation.
College Basketball
Duke vs North Carolina – At its height in the 80s and 90s when Coach K and Dean Smith headed the storied programs. It has lost some of its luster with Roy Williams at the helm. Given the fact that Duke is currently the defending champion could amp it back up this year.
College Football
Michigan vs Ohio State, Army vs. Navy, and Florida vs Florida State could all be selected at one point. But I think Texas vs. Oklahoma is the biggest one in terms of national attention. Going all the way back to Bud Wilkinson and the 1950s, the Sooners and the Longhorns have been having at it.
NBA Basketball
There is only 1 great rivalry in the NBA and that is Lakers vs Celtics. All other pale to this. Click on the link.
Baseball
The press would lead you to believe it is the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. But outside of the northeast US and ESPN, no one cares. In this part of the country, it has always been Cubs vs. Cardinals. On the west coast, Dodgers vs Giants.
Hockey
Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. It’s the French vs the English. One of the oldest rivalries in sports never gets old.

For my money the best rivalry in sport the last ten years has been Tom Brady and the Patriots vs Peyton Manning and the Colts. I don’t care what Rex Ryan has to say but Brady and Peyton have provided football with some of the best football games and drama seen on TV.

Some web sites also list Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal as a great rivalry. Most Americans have no clue who those two guys are, let alone what they do. Back in the 70s, Tennis had McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Bjorn Borg going at it. Throw in Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova and one can easily explain why tennis thrived until aluminum rackets took the fun out of the game. Golf had Jack vs Arnie, Boxing had Ali vs Frazier, and history is littered with dozens of rivalries on its march.

For me, growing up in the Cold War, there was no better rivalry than the United States vs the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It did not matter if it was archery, track, basketball, ice skating, or under water basket weaving, you sat on your couch pulling for the Americans to beat the Communists!!! The greatest event in sport happened when I was sophomore playing basketball against Bushnell-Prairie City. They interrupted the game to announce the results of the hockey game between the US and the USSR. And it was not even the gold medal game. That would come two days later. Needless to say, I was pumped and poured in 16 points that night in limited duty.

Growing up, my brother rooted for the Packers, Me the Bears, It was rough during the 60s and early 70s. Despite Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, the Bears did not have much else. Jack Cancannon, then a barrage of other malcontents tried the quarterback position. Turnabout happened after Bart Starr left the Packers and throughout the 70s and 80s the Packers became as bad as the Bears were. In the 80s, Jim McMahon led a revival for the Bears. The story of the rivalry is filled with not just the greats of the game, but the legends of the game. Halas, Lombardi, Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Ditka, Favre, Urlacher, McGee, Nagurski, Baugh, Grange, Blanda, Nitschke, Adderly, Kramer, and Payton. This weekend will add more to the legends of the game.

But when it comes back to the Bears and Packers, it is almost out of avoidance that I find it hard to think of the game. The Bears won the first matchup this season 20-17 at Soldier Field. The Packers won 10-3 in week 17 at Lambeau. Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers systematically destroyed the Falcons. As a fan of football, that scares me. But what makes me happier is knowing that the Bears can play with them. I just hope Jay Cutler shows up. Unfortunately for Cutler, I am sure Clay Matthews (My defensive player of the year), AJ Hawk, Charles Woodson, and the rest of the defense for the Packers will be there. It is good knowing Devin Hester can level the playing field with one punt or kick return. Julius Peppers and the Bears defense can get in Rodgers space and disrupt the passing game. It is set up to be a classic.

In the end, I can probably handle a close loss. I don’t think I can take a blowout. I could really use a win. For me, this is the Super Bowl and a nightmare all rolled into one. The fact that it will take place outside with the temperature in the teens will only add to its luster. The chicken wings will be ready to go. I will be ready, sometimes with one hand over one eye. It would be really sweet to see the Bears win the Halas Trophy to get to play for the Lombardi Trophy.