Al Davis dies at 82; Oakland Raiders owner transformed team
Al Davis, the tough-minded owner of the Oakland Raiders who transformed a failing team into a three-time Super Bowl champion and one of the most successful franchises in professional football only to preside over its dramatic decline in recent years, died Saturday. He was 82.

On their website, the Raiders confirmed the death of Davis, whose "Just win, baby!" motto underscored his desire to emerge victorious in every battle, whether it was on the field or in the courtroom.

He had been ailing in recent years and did not travel to a Raiders game in Buffalo last month, only the second game he had missed since the team returned to Oakland in 1995.

Except for a brief triumphant run, the Raiders have struggled in the 15 years since returning to Oakland, with only three winning seasons during that span. Many observers pointed to Davis as the main reason, saying the game had passed him by.

He is perhaps best remembered as the sweat-suit-clad rebel with slicked-back hair and a secretive nature who successfully sued to relocate his team from Oakland to L.A. in 1982, then abruptly moved it back to Oakland 13 years later.

But decades earlier, he briefly served as commissioner of the American Football League and, employing shrewd tactics, helped force an NFL-AFL merger that set the stage for the richest and most influential league in the history of professional sports.

"His contributions and expertise were inspiring at every level — coach, general manager, owner and commissioner," said Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and a close friend. "There was no element of the game of professional football for which Al did not enjoy a thorough and complete level of knowledge and passion."

A profound football genius to some, a profane bully to others, Davis loomed large on the NFL landscape for decades and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. No one in professional football history wore so many hats — scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, owner and commissioner — or created as much controversy.

"I don't think there's anyone in the National Football League — with the possible exception of [former Chicago Bears owner and coach] George Halas — who's had as big an impact," said former Raider linebacker Matt Millen. "He influenced a ton of things, either overtly, by pushing for rules, or covertly, by twisting the rules."

Under Davis, the Raiders developed a reputation as football's last-chance saloon, a winning franchise built around rejuvenated players who were discarded by other teams that considered them too old, too unruly or otherwise undesirable. It was Davis who introduced the silver-and-black uniforms and pirate logo when — at age 33 — the Raiders hired him in 1963 as head coach and general manager. He also chose the team slogans "Pride and Poise" and later "Commitment to Excellence."

His impact on the team was immediate and dramatic. The Raiders went from a franchise that had lost 33 of its first 42 games to a 10-4 team that fell one game shy of an AFL division championship. Davis was named AFL coach of the year.

He used the vertical passing game pioneered by his mentor Sid Gillman, the innovative coach who designed the wide-open offensive scheme featuring deep passes to speedy receivers to stretch the field and test the limits of the defense. Davis subscribed to an ultra-aggressive style of defense that included "bump and run" coverage, in which defensive backs would deliver a hard block on receivers at the line of scrimmage before covering them on their downfield patterns.

That take-no-guff approach also typified his style away from the game. A reporter who, like Davis, had grown up in Brooklyn, N.Y., once asked him, "How do you adjust to the laid-back California lifestyle?"

"Adjust?" Davis said, as if sickened by the thought. "You don't adjust. You dominate."

He was born in Brockton, Mass., on July 4, 1929, to Rose Kirschenbaum Davis and Louis Davis, who made a small fortune in the garment industry.

Never known for his athletic ability, Davis later said he knew from an early age that he wanted to "build the finest organization in sports."

At Syracuse University, he earned a degree in English and developed a passion for literature and jazz and a fascination with military history. (For years, typed at the end of every Raider itinerary were the words: "We go to war!")

Sidestepping the family business, the 21-year-old Davis talked his way into a job as line coach in 1950 at Long Island's Adelphi College.

Two years later, Davis was drafted into the U.S. Army. For two years, he was head coach of a military football team at Ft. Belvoir, Va., that lost only two games during his tenure. Typically, his actions raised eyebrows. His methods for landing former college and pro players who had been drafted into the military nearly led to a congressional investigation.