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 been tough."
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 everything.' "
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 story!'