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Al Davis died this morning at age 82. I grew up in Michigan in the 70s and 80s. It's always been tough being a Lions fan. As I've grown into an adult it's gotten easier (and the team might actually finally be better!), but as a kid there wasn't much to celebrate in the silver and Honolulu blue.
The first football game I actually remember watching was a contest between the Raiders and Patriots at night, and I want to say it was snowing. A precursor to the later playoff Snow Bowl perhaps. Maybe just conflated memories. I was at my step mom's house in Wisconsin. She was there getting her Masters. The Raiders won. And a fan was born.
Not long after I was given an Oakland Raiders raincoat. It was instantly my favorite possession. I could hardly wait for it to rain so I could put it on. Kids then, as now, were not too tolerant of those different from themselves. I didn't anticipate the amount of hazing I got for wearing my raincoat, but looking back on it, I should have. I hadn't yet grown into the super-cool, together, man-among-men that I am today. In fact, I often felt like the world's doormat.
The ridicule was the final turn of the screw. If they'd just let me be, my love for the Black & Sliver might have ended up being a passing phase. As it was, I became fascinated by a team that not only gave hope to losers such as myself, but won championships by putting them together and letting them terrorize the rest of the NFL.
Sure, there were the stars: Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Mark Van Eeghan, Ken Stabler, Cliff Branch, Fred Belitnikoff, George Atkinson, Jack Tatum, Dave Casper, Dave Dalby,Ted Hendricks, Ray Guy (c'mon Canton, it's time), Willie Brown. But there were also the 'others': Neil Colzie, John Matuszak, Terry Robiskie, Otis Sistrunk, Phil Villipiano. And over all of them Coach John Madden. And over him, Al Davis.
And so it continued, Davis mixing highly paid stars with reclamation projects (Jim Plunkett, Lyle Alzado, Bill Romanowski), and complete flyers (Willie Gault or James Jett, anyone?). I was never a fan of the move to L.A--'Who needs Hollywood?', I thought, "That's not what the Raiders are,'--and celebrated their eventual return to Oakland.
My love of all things Raider also intermixed with my love of music. Ice Cube, Santana, Snoop, Ernie C.,, and both Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman all wore their Raiders pride publicly. One of my current prized possesions is a Raiders sideline cap I got Kerry King to autograph after getting the chance to interview him. Slayer and the Raiders together? Perfection.
Along the way, some started to question Davis' ability to run his franchise. 'The times have passed him by,' they'd say. The true believers never voiced this though. They had too much respect for the man and what he had brought them, not just as Raiderfans, but as people.
Al Davis showed that value is not in what can be seen or measured, but in what can be brought out of people and acheived. He was not concerned with the past, only the future. Both of these beliefs shape my actions on a daily basis.
I've had a lot of fun along the way, and am a Raiderfan for life. Godspeed Al Davis, and thank you.