Usually I pick on Bob Costas’ halftime commentaries for being inane or for their attempts to be overly witty, but in tonight’s case, Costas got it right. I’m hoping NBC puts it up on its website so I can embed it for you, but having the written word will suffice. Costas not only gives a fitting tribute to the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, but he also goes over his warts as well. Some of the tributes in today’s NFL pregame shows seem to have forgotten Davis’ poor track record over the last ten years as owner of the Raiders, bringing the franchise down to its own black hole.
But Costas covers them in his commentary, but also maintains a fine remembrance of the man. Here’s the transcript.
Over the last 24 hours, even those too young to recall the enormous accomplishments and aura of Al Davis’s Raiders of an earlier era have been made aware of Davis’s unique place in the game’s history: coach, GM, commissioner, owner, perpetual litigant and general pain in the assets to the league he constantly challenged and frequently sued — sometimes with good reason, sometimes out of a reflexive combativeness that seemed to know no bounds.
Al Davis was many things — not all of them admirable. That’s why he was so fascinating, and until recent years, so formidable. For a generation, his Raiders weren’t just committed to excellence, they consistently achieved it and in distinctive fashion as Davis created a sanctuary for misfits and miscreants and let them flourish in an us-versus-the-world atmosphere tinged with cloak-and-dagger paranoia. That approach created the Raider mystique, and then in later years, undermined it.
Al Davis was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from Syracuse yet somehow spoke with a vaguely southern drawl, part of what you might call an unusual personal style. He was a progressive, who broke ground with the hiring of Hispanic and African-American coaches, and a high-ranking female executive. But he was also petty, allowing personal vendettas to undercut, and then drive away significant figures like Marcus Allen and Mike Shanahan, while his once great franchise slipped into disarray.
He was compassionate and generous, and sought no public recognition for his many acts of kindness. If he liked you, he was also great company, but if you got on his bad side, for whatever reason, watch out.
He was simultaneously a visionary who influenced the game on and off the field, and a throwback, who hung on much too long, perhaps because as he himself acknowledged, he had no real life outside of his family and football.
Don Shula once said of his old adversary, “when you call Al Davis devious, he considers it a compliment.” For his part, Davis, who probably revered Machiavelli as much as Madden, often said he’d rather be feared than respected or loved. A true appreciation doesn’t ignore that fact, it recognizes it along with all the contradictions and complexities.
For better and for worse and everything in between, Al Davis was an American original. He deserves to be long remembered, not because he was a model, but because he mattered.
He was a rebel, a renegade, a Raider…and we will not see his like again.
That’s all. We’re done for tonight.