SI Vault
Jill Lieber
October 23, 1989
Art Shell of the Raiders is not just the NFL's first blank head couch in 64 years. He's silver and black through and through
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October 23, 1989

Dreams Do Come True

Art Shell of the Raiders is not just the NFL's first blank head couch in 64 years. He's silver and black through and through

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Davis canned Nicolau. Shanahan then reportedly tried to fire running-backs coach Joe Scannella and quarterbacks coach Tom Walsh, but Davis told them to go back to work. Heading into this season, Davis couldn't hide his un-happiness. Although he offered advice on strategy, Shanahan refused to listen. When the Raiders went 1-3, Davis decided to make a move. After a 24-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 1, Davis phoned Shell's house. It was 12:30 a.m. when Janice picked up the receiver. "Who is it?" Art asked groggily.

"I don't know," said Janice, handing the phone to her husband. When he recognized Davis's voice, Shell took the call in his downstairs office.

"Art was gone a long time," recalls Janice. "When he returned to the bedroom, he said, 'Al's thinking about naming me head coach.' I said, 'Oh,' and went back to sleep."

Shell decided sleeping would be a waste of time, so he got dressed and returned to his office to ponder the future. "I wanted to be prepared if I got it," says Shell. "I made notes about how I would organize the week, how I would deal with the press, and how I would approach the team."

Shortly before noon on Oct. 3, Davis told Shell that the job was his. During a press conference that afternoon, Davis stressed that he wasn't hiring Shell because he was black but because he was silver and black. Led by this symbol of its past greatness, Davis proclaimed, the team would return to "Raider football." Since the hiring, the Raiders, who beat the New York Jets 14-7 in Shell's debut on Oct. 9 and the Kansas City Chiefs 20-14 on Sunday, have been one big happy family, as in the good old days.

"Once a Raider, always a Raider," says former Raider defensive end Otis Sistrunk. "We were close. Whenever I meet a Raider today, I don't just say hello and give a handshake. I hug and kiss him."

Says Alzado, "Being a Raider means that you perform on the field and win for Al. You give everything from the deepest part of your soul. You give your best shot. Al treats players like human beings, and he'll be a part of your life forever. Art Shell is an extension of that; he's the same kind of man."

Shell has spent a great deal of time in his new position reconstructing the players' psyches. "They need to think positively and relax," he says. "I need to bring the closeness back." His biggest challenge is training them to feel like the Raiders of yesteryear, the NFL's nastiest, most feared bunch. Every day he recounts tales of Raider toughness.

"We're going back into the Twilight Zone again," Shell told his players last Friday. "I've got a story about a great Raider player named Dan Birdwell. When I was a rookie, Bird-well sat down next to my locker and said, 'Arthur, you have to play this game like somebody just hit your mother with a two-by-four.' "

Learning to be tough and to persevere has been a theme throughout Shell's life. The eldest of five children, he grew up in the Daniel Jenkins Project in Charleston, S.C. His father, Arthur ST., worked at a paper mill. The family's tiny redbrick dwelling was on Pickens Street between fertilizer and sulfur plants. "There were foul odors all the time," says Theron (Peanut) Seward, a childhood friend of Shell's. "The air was at its worst during the evenings."

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