While White is highly regarded by even Davis's most strident critics, he was unable to motivate the Raiders during the six-game skid, which began with the loss to the Cowboys and continued the following Monday night with a 12-6 defeat by the San Diego Chargers. "That game was a prime example of people giving up," Williams says. "[Some guys] had that look in their eyes."
The look must have shown up on film, because two weeks later the Pittsburgh Steelers based their offensive game plan on the premise that the Raiders, because of poor conditioning and a lack of mental toughness, would fade as the game wore on. Pittsburgh coaches instructed their offense to run plays faster early in the game to tire out the Raiders. The strategy worked. The Steelers won 29-10. "They didn't even put up a fight," says one Pittsburgh player.
The next week, despite Hostetler's valiant attempt to play with a torn rotator cuff in his left (nonthrowing) shoulder, the Raiders were blown out in Seattle 44-10. To Seahawks linebacker Winston Moss, who played for the Raiders from 1991 to '94, the action on the visitors' sideline was all too familiar. "There were guys fighting, tirades from coaches to players and coaches to coaches," Moss says. "You could tell they were tired, just going through the motions."
According to Skrepenak, "Things got more and more lenient" in Oakland as the year wound down. Five minutes before the start of one late-season home game, he says, a player took a cellular phone call in the locker room as the other Raiders were gathering for a pregame speech.
Davis has done many good deeds in his life. He has, for instance, offered financial assistance to former and current players, ailing former coaches and even journalists. And he has kept those gestures quiet. He was also the first NFL owner to hire a Hispanic and a black as head coach. But Davis's abuses of power have become increasingly visible. For example, after practice it is customary for him to enter the equipment room, drop a towel on the floor and wait for an employee to clean his shoes. "I saw him make someone wipe his shoes in front of 75 people," says Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who coached the Raiders in 1988 and was fired four games into the '89 season.
"If you don't do what he says to do, when he says to do it, you're on the s—list," Steve Smith says. Tight end Jamie Williams, who spent 1994, the last of his 12 NFL seasons, with the Raiders, likens Davis to an "evil emperor. There's no one to challenge him because he's surrounded by yes-men."
The list of those vanquished by Davis is extensive. In recent years his treatment of two employees in particular—popular trainer George Anderson and future Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen—damaged team morale. Anderson, who had been with the Raiders since 1960, three years before Davis arrived as coach and general manager, says he was forced to retire in 1994 for refusing to do a television interview condemning a book written by former team physician Robert Huizenga. In the book Huizenga said Davis and the coaching staff pressured team doctors to clear injured players to return to action too soon. Five years earlier Huizenga had successfully treated Anderson's wife of 42 years for Hodgkin's disease. "The word loyalty is bandied about much too casually in the Raiders' organization," Anderson says. "For Al Davis, loyalty means, 'You be loyal to me. I'll think about being loyal to you.' "
Sources who were part of the team say that in the late 1980s and early '90s Davis ordered Raiders coaches to limit Allen's playing time, often in favor of far less effective runners. Steve Smith and others say that Davis sometimes ordered that quarterbacks not throw the ball to Allen. "The other players had heard so much about this 'family' thing, but then we saw what happened to Marcus," says Ronnie Lott, who played safety for the Raiders in 1991 and '92. "All of a sudden, the guy who was Mr. Raider wasn't part of the family. We wondered, How can you not play your best player?"
Says Allen, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent in 1993, "I always felt we had the best personnel in football, but the best personnel wasn't always on the field. We had to win a certain way or no way. Sometimes we sacrificed winning for a philosophy—or one man's philosophy."
Davis gave up on linebacker Matt Millen, who won Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins after his 1989 release, and on receiver James Lofton, who was also waived in 1989 and went on to start in three Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills. And the blame for the Raiders' well documented quarterback problems can be placed largely on Davis, who traded for Jay Schroeder in '88 and stuck with him for five seasons, even after Schroeder was outplayed by Steve Beuerlein in '89. "Al wanted Jay to be the starter because Jay was the guy he brought in, and he felt Jay was more a Raider-style quarterback," says Beuerlein, whom Davis traded to Dallas in 1991 and who now plays for Carolina.