The Life and Legacy of Al Davis Part I: Early Days

Hikaru Kudo

“Just win baby,” “Commitment to Excellence,” and “Winning is Everything” are just a few quotes that come to mind when one thinks of Al Davis.

Davis not only pulled the Raiders out of the slump as the youngest head coach and general manager in pro football history when he came to Oakland in 1963 at age 33, but in 1966, as newly appointed AFL Commissioner, he led the charge into merging the two rival leagues as the new NFL.

Davis later returned to the Raiders as managing general partner and won three Super Bowls.

In this series, we’ll take a look back at Al Davis’s life and legacy, a boy from Brooklyn who turned into a Hall-of-Famer and developed the Raiders organization from the ground up.

Al’s Early Days

Born on July 4. 1929, Davis grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Erasmus Hall High School, the largest public school. Al grew up as an average Joe. He wasn’t the smartest kid in school, nor the most athletic kid in school. He was a guy driven by personality.

When he went to Syracuse University to study English, Davis tried out for the baseball and basketball teams. He failed miserably.

So, he turned to football, where the beginnings of the mastermind start to take shape.

While he never played a game for the Orange, he attended practice to learn schemes, plays, positioning, audibles, pretty-much anything, and everything to do with football.

Davis did this so often that then-head coach Ben Schwartzwalder booted him out of practice, convinced that Davis was spying their preparation for other teams.

Schwartzwalder may have been able to kick Davis out of practice, but the seeds were already planted.

From then on, Davis became obsessed with strategy.

So much so that after graduating in 1950, he started his football coaching career as a line coach at Adelphi College. According to Mark Ribowsky’s 1991 biography Slick, he did this by identifying himself as Syracuse football star George Davis.

Yes, his coaching career started with a lie.

Two years later, Davis was conscripted by the Army to serve in the Korean War.

He’d get lucky and avoid heading to the war only because he agreed to be the head coach for the football team.

Little did he know that he would be two years away from making his NFL debut.

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