Former NFL QB Dan Pastorini recalls battles with Al Davis
When I got traded from Houston [to Oakland in 1980], the headline the next day blared, "Pastorini can make passes at Farrah Fawcett in Hollywood."
No one really understood why I left. It was simple. I was miserable.
For nine years I tried to get those guys and that city a winner. When we got a winner, I tried to get to a Super Bowl. They never got there with me and I was tired of being told I was the problem. So if I was the problem, I wanted a change. Maybe they could get there without me. Going to the West Coast had nothing to do with chasing a career in Hollywood or Farrah. I thought I could go home again, plus my daughter Brahna was in California, so I could actually see her more often.
I became even more introspective and critical of myself as I faced the reality of leaving. I was banged up and beat up emotionally and physically. I packed up my apartment, hopped into my Porsche and turned on the radio as I headed west on Interstate-10. I turned on a sports talk show and heard everybody talking about the trade. One of the hosts declared, "Well, we finally got rid of Pastorini. I've got two things to say about Dante: Goodbye and good riddance."
I turned off the radio, stuck my right hand out of the sun roof, stepped on the gas, shot the finger into the air and said, "Screw you, Houston."
Farrah and I spent less time together after we lost to the Steelers [in Week 7], including at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. During the week, we went out just twice. We planned to spend a lot of time together at the Super Bowl, but she was divorcing Lee Majors and dating Ryan O'Neal.
Still, Farrah and I had become very close. Not many people knew how serious we were. My last night there, she came over for a Nooner and before she left, she jumped on top of me, gave me a big kiss and said, "I can't wait to see you tonight."
When I walked into the bathroom after she left, I saw that she wrote on the mirror in red lipstick, "I want to have your baby."
But Farrah didn't return my calls that night. I didn't hear from her the rest of the week, or the next. Or ever. One minute she wanted to have my baby, the next she was gone. My secretary, Marge Mangoulis, had her pegged from the start. Marge told me Farrah just wanted to screw around with me, but Ryan O'Neal was better for her career. Marge probably was right about that, too. Farrah had no conscience.
Not long after I got to Oakland, I got a call from Ira Ritter, the publisher of Playgirl Magazine. I guessed he saw me in the tabloids with Farrah. He asked if I would do a spread in Playgirl. One of my receivers with the Raiders, Bobby Chandler, dared me to do it and I figured, why not? Joe Namath did a spread in Cosmopolitan and Burt Reynolds did Playgirl, so I told Ira I would do it, but I didn't want frontal shots published. It was just one of those decisions that sounded good at the time and was a big seller on the newsstands. When it came out, I had hundreds of them sent to me by women to autograph. But I did it mostly just because of ego. I didn't want to be outdone by someone else. I caught hell in the locker-room and I don't think it sat well with Al Davis, but I was just reacting like I always did, being Hollywood because it felt right.
I heard all the stories about Al Davis. I knew some players loved him and others hated him. I heard that he and Kenny Stabler didn't speak for a year before the Raiders traded Snake [to Houston for me]. I heard that he played favorites and could be prone to mood swings and temper tantrums.
My kind of guy, I figured. But when I was learning the offense, getting to know the players and looking for a place to live I didn't see any of that.
Al was a prince to me. He showed me around the facility, introduced me to people in the organization and put me up at the Hyatt Regency until I could find a place. He called just about every day to ask if everything was OK or if I needed anything. I stayed at the Hyatt for three months. He got me a car to drive and paid for everything, including meals. He called and asked how I was picking up the offense, if I needed a realtor, if I'm getting around the city OK. I thought, This guy isn't anything like I thought he would be.
I finally asked Al if he could help me with something that had been weighing on my mind. I asked him the same thing I asked Bud Adams.
With their restaurant closed and entering their retirement years, mom and dad were struggling with money. I had been giving them $1,500 a month, but I didn't want that to put a strain on my finances. I told Al about my parents' predicament and asked if I could redo my contract, so I could get more money upfront and less deferred.
"How much would take care of what you're paying your parents?"
"Probably $15,000 or maybe $20,000," I told him.
"Let's do $50,000, to make sure."
He redid the contract in just a couple of days, adding $50,000 to my salary and deferring $50,000 less. Just like that, it was done.
When Bum traded me to the Raiders, sports writers all over the country said Al and I would be a match made in heaven. I had my rebellious side, spoke my mind and had a temper, but Al didn't care about any of that. All he cared about was winning. And I had that lightning bolt for a right arm, which fit in perfectly with the way Al liked his teams to stretch the field. My throws maybe didn't have the same zip they once had, but I still had a better arm than most quarterbacks in the league. Al wanted the vertical passing game and I was his guy. Cliff Branch could outrun a lot of coverages, so if I threw the ball out to him, he'd go get it. Perfect fit.
Jim Plunkett was my backup and I always felt the resentment from him; an uneasiness. For the first time since we were in high school, I was picked in front of him and it wasn't an easy pill for him to swallow.
Jim was a fragile guy. He went through a lot of s--- in New England, just like I did in Houston and Archie Manning did in New Orleans. I finally produced when I got a good team around me in Houston, but Plunkett never produced and had a big chip on his shoulder. He was just a sensitive guy.
Training camp went well for me. I was hungry to get back to the AFC Championship Game and lo and behold, one of the first faces I saw at camp was referee Jim Tunney, who didn't have the balls to make the right call in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game the year before. Jim visited us for an annual rules seminar.
The big change he talked about was the possibility of the league going to instant-replay to make correct calls. He said the league was talking about it and testing instant-replay during the preseason. I sat there, just disgusted looking at Tunney, as he talked about how replay might work, how it would be tested and eventually how it would be implemented.
Then he showed a video of a, "potential reviewable call." It was the throw I made to Mike Renfro against the Steelers [in the 1979 AFC Championship Game].
"Are you s---ting me?" I hollered.
I raised my hand and Tunney looked at me, bothered, but took my question.
"Was he inbounds, Jim?"
"No, he wasn't. He didn't have possession."
"Well you're the only one who thinks so, Jim."
He refused to ever admit he blew that call. Every other referee on the field that day saw replays, said Mike was in, and apologized. Some of them apologized to me personally. It was a catch. The league said it was a blown call. That was the entire reason Jim was up there talking about instant replay. But he was a cocky son of a b---- that refused to ever admit he was wrong.
We opened the [Raiders 1980] regular-season against Kansas City and absolutely swarmed them. I threw for 317 yards and a couple of touchdowns and could have thrown for 400. It was easy. It was pitch-and-catch, and I did feel like the Raiders and I were a match made in heaven. The next week at San Diego, I hit Branch for a long touchdown bomb and that's when I realized just how fast he was. I was trying to throw the ball away, but he put it into another gear and ran under it. By the end of the day, though, I threw a couple of picks, hyperextended my knee, missed a few plays and we lost in overtime. The next week we beat the Redskins, but I threw three picks. The home fans in Oakland were booing me. Walking off the field with Joe Theisman after the game, Joe told me, "Man, we played you in Houston and they booed you. Now they don't like you here, either?"
I just laughed and shook my head, but it was a rude awakening. I replaced the Messiah out there when I took over for Kenny Stabler. Nothing I did was right, even when we won. I limped through a pretty bad game at Buffalo on my hurt knee and then, at home against the Chiefs, Gino Mangiero crashed into the bottom of my knee as I released a pass. I broke my right tibia plateau. It snapped clean and went into my knee. I couldn't straighten my leg; the bones were just sort of locked together. As I lay there, grabbing my leg, trying not to scream, I heard fans booing me. When they carried me off the field, more fans were booing and it was louder. My father was in the stands, crying. I wasn't Kenny Stabler, which meant I had no chance replacing him.
Two days later, I had surgery at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. The surgeon straightened my leg and put it in a cast. I spent three days in the hospital and the doctor told me it would take six to eight weeks to heal. I got a few calls from teammates and Coach Tom Flores while I was in the hospital. Al called me once, but didn't say much, just, "Tough break."
When I got back to Oakland, I went to the practice facility to see the trainers and my teammates. I walked into the locker-room on crutches just as practice had started. When I turned the corner from the training room into the locker-room, I saw Al across the locker-room, about 50 feet away from me.
"Mr. Davis, how ya doing?"
He didn't say a word. He just glanced up at me and kept walking toward me, down the center of the locker-room, turning his head side-to-side, looking into every locker. He did this all the time and I never was quite sure why. He was either making sure no one was late to practice, or just snooping into every player's locker. But it was as if I wasn't even in the room. He just totally ignored me. As I stood there, he kept walking toward me, not acknowledging that I even was there.
He walked to within 10 feet of me and I said loudly, "Hey, Al! How ya doing?"
He stopped, looked at me and just kind of exhaled and shook his head with a look of complete disgust on his face. It was as if I was some kind of piece of meat that wasn't any use to him anymore. I was waste.
He walked right past me, so close that he almost brushed one of my crutches and didn't say a word. My mind started racing, thinking all kinds of things. Is he trying to send me some kind of message? Is this some kind of game?
As he walked past I shouted, "Hey, m-----f-----, what's your problem?"
He stopped, turned around and looked at me like I was a piece of trash. He looked at me like I wasn't even worth the dirt on the bottom of his shoes. I walked out to practice with my head scrambled. What kind of game was Al playing? I realized this was just the kind of man he was. He's petty. He throws trash away. To him, I wasn't a man or a human being. I was trash because I broke my tibia. I thought to myself, if that's the game he wanted to play, by God, let's dance you son of a b----.
I started busting my a-- trying to get my leg back in shape. I drank two gallons of milk a day. I massaged my leg, took calcium pills, vitamin C. I sat at night watching TV, flexing my leg inside my cast, trying to keep the muscles active. Four weeks later, before we played the Dolphins at home, the team doctor said he wanted to examine my leg. They cut off the cast and took an X-ray.
When the doctor looked at the X-ray, he looked at me, then looked at the technician and told him, "Now go take a picture of his right leg."
"That is his right leg."
"No, it's not. Take it again," Doc told him.
The doctor stood there as the technician took another X-ray and when he looked at it again, he said, "I'll be damned. You're healed. The bone looks great."
He told me to start some light workouts and stay away from impact stuff. I started working out almost all day, every day. Two weeks later, I was running three miles a day, cutting in both directions on my leg, dropping back, making throws. I went to Al and asked if I could be activated and get back with the team. He told me to talk with Tom Flores. I went to Tom's office and he told me to check with Al.
"Wait a minute, Tom. What's going on here?"
"Well, it's not my call, Dan," he told me.
I went back to Al and asked him why I couldn't be activated and he said, "We just can't do it right now."
We were winning. Plunkett wasn't playing great, but we were winning and since everyone knew Plunkett was a pretty fragile guy, Al didn't want Plunkett looking over his shoulder. I told Tom, "I didn't ask for my starting job. I didn't ask for anything but to get back with the team and start practicing and get ready in case something happened to Plunkett and you need me."
Al never said a damn word about our little locker-room exchange. He never had to. I was s--- to him because somebody else was winning and I didn't put up with his bulls---. I just threw up my hands. I totally retreated from the team and started drinking more, harder, and more often. We went to Philadelphia three weeks later and just like every week, I went through the same drill. I asked Tom to activate me. He said no. It was as if I was dead to all of them. I was on an island.
Ted Hendricks brought a bottle of whiskey on the plane to Philly and I drank almost the whole bottle by myself. I was drunk and pissed off. As we got off the plane, somehow I wound up standing right behind Al. He turned around and I stared him right in the face. I put up both my fists like an old bare-knuckle fighter, did a little Muhammad Ali-shuffle dance and told him, "Hey, m-----f-----, activate me."
That didn't set too well. Al got in my face and guys had to grab me and pull me away from Al. He started cussing me out and called me a worthless drunk. I retreated even further after that. I was a lost soul. I had never been in that position before in my life. I never could control much in my life, but I always could prove myself on the field and suddenly I wasn't even allowed to step foot on the field. I wasn't a part of the team. I didn't feel a part of anything. I just drowned myself in whiskey. I regretted my decision with Bum Phillips. I wondered if Bum really wanted to keep me at all, or had I not said anything, would Bum have made the decision to trade me anyway? I drank most all day and went out every night. It was an embarrassment. I knew I was wrong. There was no justification for the drinking I did. But I knew what I was feeling and I was miserable. I felt as if I was losing my life.
Tom called me into his office and asked what the hell I could have been thinking challenging Al like I did in front of the entire team.
"I'm sorry, Tom. I lost my head, but I'm pissed off that I can't play. Yeah, I had too much to drink and I broke training. What are you going to do, deactivate me?"
"Just take it easy, Dan, we're winning right now. You know how it is with the boss," Tom told me.
I said, "Ask anyone that's ever played with me. I'm all about the team, Tom. I'm not asking for my job back. I want to help. I want some reps. I want some practice. I'm sitting around with my thumb up my a-- and you're going with a rookie quarterback backing up Plunkett?"
Tom was an OK guy, but I didn't appreciate that he didn't go to bat for me. He knew I should have been activated. Marc Wilson had never taken a snap in the NFL and that's the guy they wanted backing up Plunkett? I was healthy. I was making every throw. Someone finally challenged Al on the little horses -- games he liked to play and I got ostracized for it. I was blacklisted. Other players started noticing it. They knew Al was all about beating the other guy and right now I was that other guy. He wanted to beat me down. Al started spreading all kinds of rumors about me around the league, too -- that I had drug problems, that I was damaged. The incident on the plane was my death certificate as far as Al Davis was concerned and I never was allowed to go on another road-trip until we got to the Super Bowl.
We made the playoffs as a wild-card team. Our first game was against the Oilers at the Coliseum and that only made me feel more detached. My entire life I had been a part of a team and I never was more proud than to put on that Oilers uniform with those guys. I screwed up leaving Houston and I screwed up in Oakland. By the time the Oilers got to Oakland, I had been drinking hard, going out every night. The night before the game, I went to the Hyatt Regency where the Oilers were staying. I still wasn't activated. Snake came up to me and asked how I was handling Al Davis. I told him, "Your boy's an a--hole."
He just grinned. The Oilers were cordial, but they had a game to play. The night before the game, I met Bum and Carl for drinks. Naturally, I'd already had more than a couple of drinks earlier. As I walked out of the lobby bar, I ran into Dale Robertson, the writer with whom I tussled before the Steelers AFC title game the year before. And I just lashed out. I screamed at him and grabbed him. Another writer from Houston, John McClain, grabbed one arm trying to pull Dale away and I grabbed the other. Dale was getting stretched, screaming, "Goddammit, this is a new leather jacket!"
I chased Dale into the parking lot.
"You're the reason I got run out of town, you jack---."
I never caught him and I thought, that's real impressive, Dante.
I was seething. I sped off, drunk, and had a wreck on the way home. I ran into a tree, banging my nose against the steering wheel and peeling back a chunk of skin that needed 41 stitches. I sat there with blood all over my face, feeling like an a-- and all alone. An ambulance took me to the hospital and the police easily could have charged me with DWI, but they didn't.
When we got to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, I was at a bar with a writer for the
I turned toward him and said, "Out of control and dangerous."
The headline in the story the writer did about me said, "Drinking Dan Is Raiders' Sad, Bad Boy."
We beat the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. After all those years working toward it, dreaming about it, cherishing the thought of winning a Super Bowl, I stood on the sideline in New Orleans the entire game half-drunk, wishing I was anywhere but there. I wasn't a part of it. I probably should have been a bigger man than Al Davis. I shouldn't have resorted to the bottle, but it was all I had. I didn't draw a sober breath the whole week I was in New Orleans. I was so alone, not even the guys in the locker-room wanted to be seen talking with me, because Al might find out about it. After the game, I walked up to Plunkett and shook his hand.
"Jimmy I just want to tell you, I'm happy for you. I got injured and you did a great job. I'm glad one of us won the Super Bowl. Congratulations."
He was very short and quick with me, "OK, thanks."
When I got my Super Bowl ring, I gave it away to a charity auction.
I busted my a-- before training camp in 1981, even though I knew Al never would play me again and would do everything he could to trade me. He hated me and I hated him, it was obvious to everyone in the organization. I knew I would get my chance in camp because there wasn't much of a choice but for Al to play me in the preseason. He couldn't play only Plunkett or Wilson the entire preseason. And I still was on the roster, so I knew even if it was just the preseason, I could show my coaches and teammates -- and other teams -- just how full of s--- Al was the year before.
Two months before training camp opened, I rode in a charity bike-a-thon for City Of Hope in Newport Beach. It was just a fundraiser like so many golf tournaments, tennis tournaments and other events I always enjoyed. They put me on a racing bike and I clipped my feet in. It was an easy ride, but early in the ride as I turned with other cyclists, my front wheel got caught up with someone's bike and I flipped and crashed. I vaulted over the handlebars and landed on my throwing shoulder. It was a third-degree separation and fracture of my collarbone. Once again, I went to Cedars Sinai for surgery and they removed a piece of my right collarbone. While I was recovering at the hospital, I thought, what the hell else can happen? Now I had the shoulder to deal with on top of my ribs and nerve damage. The Raiders placed me on the physically unable to perform list when training camp began, but I busted my a-- every day on the field, in the training room, working out. All I wanted and needed for my parents, my daughter and my future, was to pass the physical. Al tried everything to embarrass me.
Two weeks into camp, without any notice or time to stretch and loosen up, Al walked up to me and said, "You're throwing today."
I quickly loosened my shoulder and arm as best I could and began throwing routes to Bobby Chandler. I threw darts. With Al and all the coaches watching, I threw tight spirals and they were getting there quick. I threw ins, outs, curls, come-backs, deep-outs. My arm was killing me, like it was on fire from my fingertips, all the way up my arm and down my ribs, but you never would have known it. I almost bit my tongue, trying to hide the pain. The blank expression on Al's face never changed as I made every throw. He just watched with his arms crossed, then turned to Tom and said, "OK, activate him." And he walked away
I did it. I guaranteed the next three years of my contract. Al was pissed-off and still isolated me from the team, but I didn't give a s---. I went through the rest of the camp still mostly alone, since everybody knew Al was blackballing me. He didn't play me in the first preseason game, or the second, or the third. He waited until the final preseason game to play me, when we played New England. We were down 21-3 when Plunkett came out. As soon as I got into the game, I started picking them apart. I had a hell of a game. I brought us all the way back, threw a couple of touchdowns and gave us a lead, before they took the lead back. I got into the huddle with a big smile on my face on our last drive and said, "Let's go, boys, let's win this thing."
Gene Upshaw looked at me and said, "Look at the kid, trying to win a preseason game."
"Hey, I feel like a kid, Gene. It's been a long time. It's fun to be back."
He told me, "Nice to have you back, man."
I drove us deep into their territory and hit Cliff Branch right in the chest on a crossing route, but the ball popped up and Steve Nelson intercepted the ball. I got to the locker-room still feeling pretty good about how I played. Raymond Chester came up to me and said, "You looked good. You haven't missed a beat."
It didn't matter that I was blacklisted, a lot of guys came up and congratulated me. The next day I was stretching on the practice field, when Al Davis came up to me, pointed at me and said, "You're cut."
I was stunned. He waited until the last possible moment, when most NFL rosters already were set, and then he cut me.
"What? Are you s---ting me?"
"Nope. You're cut. Get out of here."
I told him, "Well, I'll get you the address where you can send my checks."
"F--- you," he said. "I'm not paying you, Pastorini."
He waved his hand as if shooing me like a dog, turned and walked away.
As he walked away, I shouted, "We'll see about that, a--hole."
I called my agent Tommy Vance and we decided to sue the Raiders and Davis for breach of contract. It was clear what his plan was all along. He kept me around as long as he could. I was one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in football and he was spreading rumors about me. Nobody was going to touch me. He hated my guts because I didn't cower to his a-- or kiss his ring. Money had nothing to do with it. The thing that pissed him off the most was he wanted to beat me in a personal war.