- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Yeah, but look at the guys that were doing it," says Jack Lambert, the Steeler linebacker. "A bunch of guys who do nothing but spit in your face, who play the game aggressively—the way it's supposed to be played."
Well, that's part of it, but not all of it. First of all, there's a thing called Raider Football. It represents a style that has stayed remarkably consistent throughout Davis's 21 years. Plus, there's a concept. And it all begins with Davis himself.
Davis, who is now 55, grew up in the World War II era, and loved military history. He was fascinated by the frightening power of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of the Third Reich. He read about the German army's deep lightning thrusts through Poland, the great disruptive power, the size of the force, its speed. And then he saw its demise—the fragmented command, the defeat at the hands of a well-equipped and organized army backed by rich resources and fed by smooth supply lines.
Eighteen years later, in 1963, Davis had a command of his own, the Oakland Raiders. He was their coach and general manager, later to become part owner and managing general partner. Why, he asked of himself, couldn't military principles be applied to football? Why not an attack that is always looking to strike deeply and swiftly, a defense that is reckless and destructive and manned by big, punishing people? Size always has been a high priority item with Davis. To achieve this, he would need an organization with continuity, no fragmentation, everybody going in the same direction. And finally, the troops would be well paid. All these elements became the trademarks of Raider Football. When Davis thinks of trades and drafts, the question that has to be answered is: Can this guy play our style?
"It's not a complicated theory, really," says Mike Giddings, owner of Pro Scout, Inc., a private scouting combine for eight NFL clubs, but never the Raiders. "Find the best people, get 'em to play your style, pay them the most money, and wait for other teams to screw up. And as long as the league keeps handing him people like Mike Haynes, he'll be in business."
"Al Davis is unique in the modern era," says Cleveland coach Sam Rutigliano. "Look at all the hats he's worn—scout, coach, assistant coach, G.M., owner, even commissioner. Don't forget he was once commissioner of the old AFL. How many guys have gone to the owners meetings one week and walked the sidelines at a college practice the next? Maybe George Halas was like that in the old days, but this is a different era."
"The bottom line here is winning—not image or money," says Steve Ortmayer, L.A.'s special teams coach.
"He gives you a chance to win," says Chet Franklin, the defensive backfield coach. "I was with Kansas City for three years. [Coach] Paul Wiggin never was in a situation where he had a chance to win. They knew about auditing and p.r. and marketing in K.C., they ran a nice show. But Paul was in the football business and they weren't. The Raiders aren't much for marketing their team. Their p.r. department is a joke. They win. That's their p.r.," Giddings says. The bulk of their money goes to salaries, and the other areas get shortchanged. "They probably spend less on college scouting than any other organization in the NFL," one player personnel director says. "Their thing is trading. They're always in the bottom half of the league in the number of high draft choices on their roster, but they lead the league in trades."
On their '84 Super Bowl roster, the Raiders had nine veterans acquired in trades: Five were starters, a sixth the nickel back, another a Pro Bowl choice as punt and kick returner. The same roster listed six first-round draft choices and five No. 2's. Their second-round choices in the last decade—defensive end Howie Long and linebacker Matt Millen, to name two—have been better than their firsts.
The Raiders don't belong to a scouting combine. Computer grading has never been their style. They don't care about a guy's vertical jump or how many pull-ups he can do. They go on instinct.