On game days Al Davis still wants to coach.
"There's nothing like that glory and excitement. But there's nothing worse than the day-to-day detail," he says.
The writer wonders if it is a lot of trouble to water down the Oakland Coliseum's natural dirt.
Al Davis says, "We play at least nine out of 14 games a year on turf. Seven here and one each against Denver and San Diego on the road. And we win. So we must be good mudders, I don't know. A few years ago the Coliseum had a drainage problem. It's been fixed. With Cliff Branch, we'd really be smart to slow him down, wouldn't we?"
Davis does things differently. He ridicules the computer technique, scouting pools, publicizing individual players, believing the draft is a cure-all. His coach was young and anonymous, his director of player personnel, Ron Wolf, was a youthful journalist and now his quarterback, Ken Stabler, is left-handed. What does he have against pro football?
"Take Ron Wolf," he says. "I hired him when he was 21. He loves college football. He knows every player, every statistic. I needed a guy who would read everything and tell me everything. He gets to know the kids. Is he a leader? Can he play in cold weather? What does everybody say about him?"
Ron Wolf is a secondary genius. Of the 47 players on the Raiders' current roster, 34 are draft choices, and 24 of them have come in the past six years. Oakland doesn't get old.
"We like kids who come from winners," says Al Davis. " Kenny Stabler quarterbacked the best team Alabama ever had. You got to put Stabler up there with the best now. He's a leader. He doesn't throw interceptions. He's a winner. All his life."
So are the others.
"We like kids who've played on a national champion and on bowl teams. We know they've got pride and poise," says Davis. "We like a John Vella and a Clarence Davis from USC. A Bob Moore from Stanford. A Jack Tatum from Ohio State. We like a Dave Casper from Notre Dame and a Monte Johnson from Nebraska. We get the unknown, too; you got to be an idiot to look at Art Shell or Gene Upshaw or Otis Sistrunk and not know they're football players." (Sistrunk, with his shaven head, would catch anyone's eye. Alex Karras says he is from the University of Mars.)