As with most Steelers fans, I grew up hating the Oakland Raiders and their owner, Al Davis. With Davis' passing this past weekend, I can't help but find it ironic that I actually gained a measure of respect for him right before he died.
Back in August, I went to the local library and found a book written by Peter Richmond entitled: BADASSES: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, And John Madden's Oakland Raiders.
The book is a tribute to the Raiders of the 70's and their unique cast of characters and the years of struggles they went through chasing that elusive World Championship before finally defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
I don't remember every little detail about the book, but I do know that Davis personified being a Raider more than any player or coach who ever worked for him.
He was the classic outsider, seemingly always at odds with other owners, their teams on the field, and the commissioner's office.
If he felt his franchise was on the wrong end of an injustice, he never let it go. I remember seeing a special in the mid-90's about the Immaculate Reception play that his Raiders were the victims of. This was obviously over two-decades after the controversial play that occurred at Three Rivers Stadium on December 23rd, 1972, but even after the tremendous success that his teams had in the 70's and 80's, you could tell Davis was still pretty bitter when he discussed the play.
I heard a lot of stories about Davis being intimidating, vindictive and very hard to deal with if you weren't on his side. After reading the book, there is probably some level of truth to all of those character traits.
But I did come away impressed with how much he lived and breathed football and how dedicated he was to winning. Former Raider coach John Madden said about Davis: "If you cut him open, he's total football."
As much as he loved to "Just Win, Baby," Davis probably hated to lose even more.
The last decade of his life had to be pretty difficult for him as his Raiders were one of the worst teams in the NFL over that period, but he never got away from his core philosophies and remained true to who he was and what he wanted his organization to be.
No owner ever set the tone for his entire franchise and molded it in his image the way Al Davis did with his Oakland Raiders.
Whether you loved him or hated him, you must admit, there was nobody like him.
Al Davis, the baddest Raider who ever lived.