No way to sugar-coat it. Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders' owner and former coach who died Saturday in Oakland at 82, was a rotten son of a bitch.
I know, I know...If you can't say something nice about the dead...yadda, yadda....But we're talking about Al Davis, alias Lucifer, alias Satan.
No question, Davis was a giant. He was the architect of the Raiders' success and a key figure in the merger of the old AFL with the NFL, propelling pro football past baseball to the top of America's sporting scene.. But then, this misguided dictator nearly destroyed the Raiders. This is the guy who held that franchise hostage for decades with his selfish, ultra-controlling, mega-meddling--hiring coaches who were nothing but his puppets, making idiotic personnel decisions based on his passion for archaic offense concepts. In the last 15 years, because of him, the Raiders have had only three winning seasons. For years they were the laughinh stock of the league. Last year and this season, the team has been on the rise. But if he were still around, no doubt he would have found a way to screw that up.
That "rotten son-of-a bitch" line is a direct quote from former Raiders' RB Marcus Allen, who had good reason to despise Davis. I remember hearing Allen curse Davis back in the 80s during a conversation at the bar of Le Dome, the famed West Hollywood restaurant, during a glitzy GQ magazine party. For sure Allen hasn't changed his opinion about Davis, who famously made his life miserable during Allen's long tenure with the Raiders. But, on Saturday, during a football halftime TV show he was hosting, Allen, mentioning only in passing that he had differences with Davis, spoke glowingly of his nemesis.
Allen isn't a great actor. Insincerity dripped from every word. You knew what he really wanted to say started with, "Glory Hallelujah!."
Over the years I've talked to many people who've dealt with Davis. The consensus? Rotten SOB.
I've had two personal encounters with Davis which have defined my opinion of him. The first was in San Francisco back in the 70s. I tagged along with a friend for an innocuous five-or-six-man business lunch, with Davis, of course, as the centerpiece. On the one hand he was charming and friendly. On the other, he sent out an eerie, unmistakable vibe with this clear message--I'm in charge and don't you forget it.
There was a defining moment. For a few seconds he lost his temper at someone, for what reason I forget. He lashed out, cracking his Mr. Nice Guy veneer, unleashing a venomous creature coiled up inside. It was startling, chilling. The man Davis chastised never said another word. Quickly, as if it were second nature, Davis reassembled Mr. Nice Guy and went on like nothing had happened. That was another message from Davis--don't ever get on my bad side.
My other encounter with him happened about five years later, in the Marina City Club, a luxury apartment-condo complex in Marina Del Rey, Calif. This time I was an observer. Walking past the gym, I witnessed what was obvously the tail-end of vicious tongue-lashing, for what it wasn't clear, Davis was giving a middle-aged Latino, who was apparently a lower-level service employee--possibly a member of the cleaning staff. No one else was around.
Seething, Davis said: "...You're nothing...nobody. Get out of my sight. You disgust me."
Head down, obviously humiliated, the man scurried past me. Smirking, Davis walked calmly away, as if nothing had happened.
What kind of man behaves like that, bullying and degrading an underling?
Only a rotten SOB.