Al Davis made a lot of strange, questionable moves late in his ownership tenure, but in his hay day he built three Super Bowl champion teams in Oakland.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Al Davis, the renegade owner of the Oakland Raiders who bucked NFL authority while exhorting his silver-and-black team to "Just win, baby!," died Saturday. He was 82.
The Hall of Famer, whose franchise won three Super Bowls in the 70s, died at his home in Oakland, the team said. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Davis was one of the most important figures in NFL history -- a rebel with a subpoena. That was most evident during the 1980s when he went to court -- and won -- for the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. Even after he moved the Raiders back to the Bay Area in 1995, he sued for $1.2 billion to establish that he still owned the rights to the L.A. market.
Before that, though, he was a pivotal figure in hastening the merger between the AFL -- where he served as commissioner -- and the more established NFL. Davis was not initially in favor of a merger, but his aggressive pursuit of NFL players for his fledgling league and team helped bring about the eventual 1970 combination of the two leagues into what is now the most popular sport in the country.
"Al Davis's passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level. The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke. He is a true legend of the game whose impact and legacy will forever be part of the NFL."
But Davis was hardly an NFL company man.
Not in the way he dressed -- usually satin running suits, one white, one black, and the occasional black suit, black shirt and silver tie. Not in the way he wore his hair -- slicked back with a '50s duck-tail. Not in the way he talked -- Brooklynese with Southern inflection. Not in the way he did business -- on his own terms, always on his own terms.
Elected in 1992 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Davis was a trailblazer. He hired the first black head coach of the modern era -- Art Shell in 1988. He hired the first Latino coach, Tom Flores; and the first woman CEO, Amy Trask. And he was infallibly loyal to his players and officials: to be a Raider was to be a Raider for life.
Coach Hue Jackson told the team of Davis' death at a meeting in Houston on Saturday morning. Fans dressed in Raiders jerseys, meanwhile, quickly made their way to team headquarters in Alameda, where a black flag with the team logo flew at half-staff and a makeshift memorial formed at the base of the flag pole.
Davis was charming, cantankerous and compassionate -- a man who when his wife suffered a serious heart attack in the 1970s moved into her hospital room. But he was best known as a rebel, a man who established a team whose silver-and-black colors and pirate logo symbolized his attitude toward authority, both on the field and off.
"Personally, I was fond of him," Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said. "He battled with the NFL, and a lot of us wished that had not been where things went, but under all that was a person I respected. It saddens me to hear that he is gone."
As Davis aged, his teams declined.
The Raiders got to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, losing to Tampa Bay. But for a long period after that, they had the worst record in the NFL, at one point with five coaches in six years.
His health head been fading for awhile.
He did not appear at a single training camp practice this summer and missed a game in Buffalo last month, believed to be only the third game he missed in 49 seasons with the franchise. Davis did attend Oakland's home game last week against New England.
A few years ago, he said: "I can control most things, but I don't seem to be able to control death."