In the steamy Oakland locker room a moment before he was to receive the NFL championship trophy, Raider Managing General Partner Al Davis turned to a round little man at his side, handed him a small black leather case and said, "Hold my glasses." Then he embraced the little guy and whispered, "We did it, Butch." "He calls me Butch about twice a year," said Al LoCasale proudly.
To those who hold both Als in some disregard—and their number is legion—the locker-room scene was chillingly symbolic, because in LoCasale, who's officially listed as executive assistant, they see a sinister henchman, capable of performing any task, no matter how menial, for an even more sinister boss. "LoCasale is Davis' Haldeman," says a former Raider employee. "It's a brilliantly conceived operation: Davis sits in his office thinking dark thoughts and LoCasale controls everything, keeping out all the negatives."
Others view LoCasale as much more than a mere subordinate. Indeed, whatever fault LoCasale's detractors find with his role, his loyalty to Davis, his diligence, his keen intelligence and his immense authority within the Raider organization are unquestioned. His powers are such that, like his boss, he has become a controversial, even notorious figure. As Davis, who's locked in litigation over the proposed Raider move to Los Angeles, has retreated increasingly behind a no-comment screen, LoCasale has reluctantly emerged as the Raider spokesman. It was LoCasale, for example, who braved the wrath of Oakland fans last spring when he appeared before a convocation of booster clubs to state Davis' position on the proposed defection.
"It got to be very emotional," LoCasale recalls. "I could feel the fans' frustration. I told them I was frustrated, too, because we were being forced by others to move. I got a standing ovation, and I left in tears."
February 2, 1981
The 47-year-old LoCasale is, by his own admission, emotional. He prowls the press box at home games, barking instructions by walkie-talkie to hapless underlings on the field. Late in games he takes to the sidelines himself, urging his truncated body up and down the field in pursuit of the action. LoCasale's brand of loyalty seldom tolerates criticism, and he has been known to upbraid offending journalists personally. He can be equally abrupt with Raider employees. "Al Davis wants it that way," a former associate says. "He hired himself a fall guy, somebody to yell at secretaries and office workers. LoCasale is a Napoleon." Says another erstwhile Raider employee, "He's a little man in a big man's sport. You don't have to be a shrink to see where he derives his bigness."
"My job is to see that things get done," says LoCasale, defending himself succinctly. He's responsible, in one way or another, for virtually every administrative function, from travel arrangements to marking the sidelines to supervising the Raiderette dancing girls. He's Davis' liaison with the league hierarchy, the pro football equivalent of being Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. In essence, LoCasale frees Davis to brood over zone defenses and scheme against Pete Rozelle.
"I enjoy working with Al," says LoCasale. "And with is the key word here. I work with him, not for him. Al can be Socratic. He will get answers through questions. He doesn't say, 'This is what I want done.' I've been called a henchman. People in our organization realize that we sit and argue things out. The criticism I get comes with the job. Some people think that by getting on me, they're getting to Al. They're ah little people."
LoCasale, who's about 5'4", is himself a little person, at least vertically. He was, therefore, not much of a football player in his youth, but he was a football fanatic who began coaching sandlot teams in Philadelphia when he was still in his teens. And as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, he helped coach the Olney High School varsity squad he couldn't quite make. In fact, he first met Davis at a coaching clinic in Atlantic City in 1952, when LoCasale was 18 and Davis was 22 and coaching a small-college team. They so impressed each other that they adjourned for the evening to watch films and scribble X's and O's. LoCasale first worked with Davis at USC in 1959. Together they moved to the Chargers in 1960. Except for a 6½-year stint in the '60s, LoCasale has been with Davis ever since.
"I hate to use the word 'love,' " LoCasale says, "but there is a form of affection between us. We have common goals. I had a son born two years ago, and I was in the delivery room. There's nothing akin to that, but when we won the AFC championship in San Diego on Jan. 11, I felt that we, too, had nurtured and brought something to life."
In the locker room Sunday, LoCasale looked like a proud new father. He embraced players, spoke kindly to newsmen, posed for photographs and briefly clasped the championship trophy. "This is the most satisfying and rewarding win of all, after all the adversity and controversy," he said in exultation. And, in due time, Davis retrieved his spectacles.