In Search of the Raiders Mystique



Has anyone read the New York Times piece today on Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis?

Now, I'm not a big sports fan, but it's kind of like Moneyball without the stats nerds and sports finance, and with more Black Panthers, heavy drinking and analogies between football gameplay and the Third Reich. In other words: both claim that Oakland teams built their successes on zigging where the rest of their respective leagues zagged, and maverick managers who made hires that other teams wouldn't have considered. Writer Bryan Curtis, for example, points out that Davis was one of the first owners to scout historically black colleges, and that:

He became the first owner to draft an African-American quarterback in the first round, Eldridge Dickey, way back in 1968. He made Art Shell the first African-American head coach in the modern era; he made Tom Flores the first Hispanic coach. Amy Trask is the first woman to serve as chief executive of an N.F.L. team.

Or, as he, writes: "Davis could look at a castoff and see a future star, like Jim Plunkett, who had been cut by the San Francisco Forty-Niners, or Todd Christensen, a washed-up fullback whom Davis converted into a rangy tight end." Such disparate players, Curtis says, were united by an unusually strong camaraderie and the "Raiders mystique."

But now, says Curtis, after several disappointing seasons, after other teams learned to copy what made the Raiders successful, and in the face of Davis' rumored ill health, the Raiders mystique has been lost. "Davis's personality-driven football is dead," he declares. (And indeed, Davis himself seems to spend a good deal of the piece pointing out that he, himself, is not dead.)

What do you think - is Curtis right?