She picks at an oversized chocolate-chip cookie and tosses some
crumbs to the ground, attracting a flock of pigeons that gather
near her black leather pumps. The toughest woman in football is
suddenly causing quite a stir at the Royal Ground Coffee House
and Art Gallery on an otherwise mellow afternoon in the luxuriant
Oakland hills. "I wonder if people here will get mad at me if I
do that?" Amy Trask asks, temporarily ceasing to throw the crumbs
that are causing a feeding frenzy under her table. Then the chief
executive of the Oakland Raiders drops another piece of cookie
and says, "Oh, well.... "
In her professional capacity as Al Davis's right-hand woman,
Trask makes no apologies for her rebellious and occasionally
off-putting behavior. At 41 she is regarded as the most powerful
woman in America's most macho pro sport, and the words and
actions that have propelled her to that position have been as
subtle as a Ray Lewis tackle. "The big thing is, she's fearless,"
says Davis, who worries that Trask will be plucked away by a big
corporation. "Early on I wondered, Will she be intimidated?
Because she was going to be a woman in a man's world. But she's
Virtually unknown to football fans, Trask is hardly the product
of some affirmative-action initiative. There's no way to know for
sure, but Davis, 73, strongly suggests that Trask is a heartbeat
away from taking over day-to-day operations of one of the sports
world's most conspicuous properties. While the man Davis is
grooming to replace him on the football side, senior assistant
Bruce Allen, is the son of a Hall of Fame coach (George) and is
generally well regarded in league circles, Trask, says one of her
many detractors, a top executive for a rival team, "is like a
younger, sharper, meaner version of Al--with a law degree."
Wrap your brain around that: The next Al Davis may well be a
5'3", 107-pound, pearl-wearing spitfire who wouldn't be caught
dead in a nylon warmup suit. Yet no one who has been in business
settings with Trask doubts that she could fill Davis's shoes.
Indeed, Trask has enough in common with her iconoclastic
mentor--including a long list of football people who revile
her--that the Raiders, who at 4-0 after their 49-31 win over the
Buffalo Bills on Sunday seem to be poised for another Super Bowl
push, are in no danger of going soft anytime soon.
"She's a flyweight with a heavyweight punch," says Montreal Expos
president Tony Tavares, who as the head of Spectator Management
Group negotiated with Trask on a planned renovation of the Los
Angeles Coliseum in the early 1990s. "Al could search his entire
lifetime and not find someone as trustworthy and loyal as Amy, or
someone who could represent him better than she does."
Who besides Trask would have dared to enliven a '97 league
meeting by trading barbs with Carmen Policy, the San Francisco
49ers president at the time, and then refusing to yield the floor
when ordered to do so by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue? Who
else would have hovered over 77-year-old league observer Art
McNally in a packed Foxboro Stadium press box at the pivotal
moment of last January's divisional playoff game between the
Raiders and the New England Patriots--the replay review of Pats
quarterback Tom Brady's apparent game-ending fumble--and screamed,
"You'd better call 911, because I'm going to have a f------ heart
attack if you overturn this f------ call!"?
Once again Davis, who hired the league's first Hispanic head
coach (Tom Flores) and the first African-American head coach (Art
Shell) of the modern era, has proven to be a boss who doesn't
discriminate--as well as an equal opportunity annoyer. It makes
sense that the litigious Davis would groom a successor who is as
well versed in causa proxima as she is in the Cover 2 defense.
But Trask, who first worked for the Raiders as a legal-department
intern while attending USC law school in 1983, is also gifted in
areas of business ranging from management to marketing. She has
reached out to Raiders' support base by enhancing the team's
Internet profile, adding e-commerce and foreign-language
components, and by expanding opportunities for fan interaction
with youth camps and related programs.
While Trask has no plans to get involved in player-personnel
decisions, she's more than a football novice. Says Trask's friend
Andrea Kremer of ESPN, "Does she need to break down a zone
defense to do her job? No. Could she? Damn right."
Ask Trask to list her career highlights, and she'll start with
the final game of the 1993 season, describing in detail the
dramatic catch by wideout Alexander Wright that tied the Denver
Broncos with no time remaining. With a playoff berth hanging in
the balance, the Raiders secured an overtime victory, and winning
seems to be the only way Trask measures success. "Nobody gets
that," Trask says. "People look at me and say, 'She's a
businesswoman who happens to be involved in football.' I say,
'No. That's why I'm in this business. The football is
Consider what happened the week after that dramatic '93 victory,
when the Raiders hosted a rematch with the Broncos in the first
round of the playoffs. At one point players from the two squads
fought near the home team's bench, and James Trapp, an injured
Raiders defensive back, entered the fray. "I'm up in the press
box," Trask recalls, "and the NFL observer comes over and asks,
'Which player in street clothes came off the sidelines?' Well,
I'm not giving state's evidence, so I say, 'I don't think that
was a player. I think it was a fan.' A minute later a reporter
runs up screaming, 'I know who did it! I know who did it!'--just
like a third-grade tattletale. I'm so mad that I kick my chair,
and it goes down two flights of stairs. I scream, 'Hey, are you
here to write a story, or are you here to be the story?' He
stares at me, shocked, and I say, 'Sit down and write your
"I knew I was making a scene, but I didn't care. Because part of
me knows that if the situation were reversed, if I were the one
on the sidelines in street clothes, I would've done the same
thing James Trapp did."
If there's any doubt whether Trask was born to be a lawyer--and,
for that matter, a Raider--consider this story from her childhood:
One afternoon young Amy and a classmate chased the dogcatcher's
van up Mandeville Canyon Road, in L.A.'s affluent Brentwood
district. When the van stopped, she proceeded to tell the man how
mean and insensitive he was for caging the canines.
Trask says she struggled with "behavioral problems" in grade and
middle school: "Basically, I just spoke my mind." She morphed
into a model student at Palisades High, which was a great relief
to her mother, a lifelong educator, and her father, an engineer
who at 77 remains a consultant in the aerospace and defense
industries. Amy, the youngest of three children, graduated from
Cal in '82 and enrolled in law school at USC that fall. She
considered it her great fortune that the Raiders, with whom she
had "fallen in love" during her time in the East Bay, made their
move to the L.A. Coliseum at precisely the same time, triggering
years of litigation against the NFL.
In law school she was "the ultimate guy chick--a warm, bubbly,
friendly woman you could go to the game with," says agent Jerome
Stanley, who befriended Amy and her future husband, fellow
student Rob Trask, while attending USC.
Remember the scene in There's Something About Mary when Cameron
Diaz asks Ben Stiller at the end of their date, "Hey, you want to
go upstairs and watch SportsCenter?" The fictional Mary has
nothing on Trask. On the day she and Rob wed in December '85 the
bride delayed the start of the ceremony because the Raiders' game
against the Broncos had gone into overtime. Not that the groom
was complaining: "Hey," says Rob, "the guys and I were watching
the finish in my room, too." (The outcome: Raiders win; let the
In 1987, after two years at an L.A. law firm, Trask got a call
from Raiders legal counsel Jeff Birren, who offered her a job in
the team's legal department. She accepted on the spot, then made
a quick impression on Davis with the tenacity she displayed
during the team's perpetual legal battles as well as her
eagerness to learn about all aspects of the organization. By 1992
Davis was sending her to league meetings, where she often was the
only woman in the room. At Trask's first meeting one owner began
his response to one of her comments by addressing her as
"The fact that she is attractive and was young when she came in
lent itself to people underestimating her resolve," says Dallas
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "But she can certainly hold her own in
any conversation about running a football team."
There was no denying Trask's intelligence--"Everybody has
insecurities," she says, "but one thing I've never been insecure
about is my brain"--and her audacity stood out even more. Trask's
defining moment came at that '97 league meeting in which she
tangled with two of the league's biggest power brokers. After
Policy attacked the Raiders, she rebutted his comments, and
Policy fired back. Tagliabue then tried to end the sniping, but
Trask wouldn't yield. Four times he told her the subject was
closed, and four times she demanded to speak. Finally Tagliabue,
who declined to be interviewed for this story, snapped, "Make it
brief." Says Birren, who was in the room, "Wild horses couldn't
have kept her from speaking."
That observation is one to which Trask can relate. She has been
riding horses since she was 10, performing in jumping
competitions until about seven years ago. She still rides her
thoroughbred, Championship Game, on a recreational basis. "You
achieve an almost telepathic communication with the animal,"
Trask says, "like you don't know where the horse ends and you
That's nearly the same phrase used by a former NFL executive, who
says of Trask, "You just don't know where she stops and Al
begins. My impression of her is that her veins run ice-cold
water." Like Davis, Trask is viewed by many of her peers as a
contentious, destructive force--a "Princess of Darkness," as the
same ex-league official jokes. Indeed, two sources interviewed
for this story suggested that Trask "drank the Kool-Aid" in
assessing her almost cultlike loyalty to Davis. "She really used
to be a nice chick; it's amazing," Stanley says. "She's not mean
to me, but I know a lot of people in league circles who think
she's heavy-handed. It's like she's been Raider-ized, turned into
a Raider assassin."
Trask argues that she's anything but a yes-woman, and both she
and Davis insist they have had plenty of heated disagreements.
But she also does nothing to discourage the comparison. "I can be
very, very tough," she says, "and what's wrong with being tough?
If tough were used to describe a man in my position, I don't
think it would be perceived as a negative."
Critics take Trask to task for harping on legal technicalities
pertinent only to the Raiders' interests and for repeatedly
calling Tagliabue's integrity into question. "I think people
respect her intellect and talent, but she uses it in such a
negative, unproductive way that no one respects her as a
businessperson," says another team's second-highest ranking
executive. "It's always about ripping you down, and because of
that she's despised."
These days at owners' meetings Trask has at least a little
company in the ladies' rest room, where, she says, "There's never
a line." Cincinnati Bengals executive vice president Katie
Blackburn, owner Mike Brown's daughter, has become increasingly
influential, and two other owners' daughters, Charlotte Anderson
(Cowboys) and Linda Bogdan (Bills), hold VP titles. San Diego
Chargers VP Jeanne Bonk, the team's chief financial officer, also
regularly attends league meetings. (The NFL has two female
owners, the 49ers' Denise DeBartolo York and the St. Louis Rams'
Georgia Frontiere, each of whom has delegated day-to-day
authority to men.)
On another beautiful day in the Oakland hills, on a bench outside
another upscale coffee house, Trask fiddles with an earring and
takes the last sip of a double latte. Men with Raiders caps walk
past as she praises her boss's imprint on football, lashes out at
the tuck rule that may have cost her team a playoff victory over
the Patriots and declares, "I believe that the Raiders are
treated differently than other teams in many respects. Al Davis
has opened the doors of the NFL to Hispanics, African-Americans
and to women, and I don't think that sits well with everybody."
To the untrained ear it all starts to sound suspiciously like
what a Tass report in the '70s might have said about Soviet
foreign policy. "Hey," Trask says, "it's not propaganda if you
Pigeons scatter as the Princess rises, walking briskly and
grinning from ear to ear.
younger, sharper, meaner version of Al--with a law degree."
trustworthy and loyal as Amy," says the Expos' Tony Tavares.