LOS ANGELES, March 27, 2017 — The prodigal son has done what even the legendary father could not accomplish. Oakland (for now) Raiders owner Mark Davis landed the Holy Grail of luxury for his team, one that maverick dad Al Davis never could acquire. Mark Davis will be moving the Raiders to Las Vegas into a stadium worth nearly two billion dollars.
While the son has a long way to go before eclipsing his father on the football field, as a businessman Mark Davis has already surpassed his dad’s legacy. By securing affirmative votes from 31 of the 32 NFL owners, the Silver and Black are headed to Sin City sometime in 2019 or 2020.
The story of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas is bigger than a tale of two cities. It is a tale of two men, a father who treated his son with tough love and many others with tough contempt. Al Davis was football. To his many uninformed detractors, he was a menace who bungled the Raiders into over a decade of losing seasons.
His supporters point to three Super Bowl trophies and one other intangible Davis never gets enough credit for. Davis passed on his football knowledge to a new generation of successful men.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insists that Al Davis was the one who got Jones through his miserable 1-15 inaugural season in 1989. When the Cowboys began a new dynasty in 1992, Jones praised Davis. Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells mentioned Davis in his Hall of Fame speech.
Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or five about winning Super Bowls, also acknowledges the elder Davis as a key factor in his football development.
From a branding standpoint, Davis was brilliant. When the Chargers announced their move to Los Angeles, the entire world outside of San Diego shrugged. The Chargers are a local brand. The Raiders are a national one. The Raider Nation can be found everywhere.
Little children do not dress up as lightning bolts. They put on pirate costumes and dream of living the life of a pirate. Al Davis made the Silver and Black swashbuckling character in his own image. Raiders are not villains. They are anti-heroes, a key marketing distinction. With help from John Facenda’s “The Autumn Wind,” the Raiders were a proud marketing machine of anti-hero worship. Naturally, John Madden and his 1970s renegades backing it up on the football field helped matters a great deal.
For all of Al Davis’s Hall of Fame accomplishments, there was one quality Al Davis never possessed that his son does. Al Davis was a warrior, never a peacemaker. On the football field, in meetings, and in the courtroom, Al Davis believed in the bomb. Go big or go home.
Al Davis was never a diplomat, and that was his undoing on two occasions.
Al Davis the warrior got the upstart American Football League to wage a successful guerrilla war against the established National Football League. This led to the AFL forcing the NFL into the 1970 merger that created the modern NFL. Yet Davis’s combative personality prevented the former AFL Commissioner of achieving his dream of being NFL Commissioner.
Pete Rozelle got that job, and Al Davis responded by waging war against the NFL for most of his ownership tenure.
Al Davis publicly lamented that military generals fight successful wars, and then the politicians and diplomats are brought in to make and keep the peace. Al Davis never figured out that sports are not politics.
In politics and world affairs, diplomacy is mostly useless. Most people cannot name a single positive accomplishment of the State Department, the United Nations, or any other entity charged with keeping world peace. After the diplomats fail, the military men go to war and the best military wins. Then if the military is lucky, the peacemaking diplomats do not foul everything up and reverse the military gains.
In professional sports, diplomacy actually works. Warm and fuzzy relationships get things done. Getting an NFL stadium is not about city councils, zoning boards or other bureaucrats. They are peripheral. The only people who matter are the 32 NFL owners. Al Davis spent his life antagonizing many of them to avenge past slights, real or imaginary. This led to him being compared to Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean dictator isolated from everyone else.
Mark Davis wants to get along with everyone. Al Davis argued with the NFL over money. Mark Davis wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a check and decided to be friends. When the league deliberately sabotaged the joint plan between the Raiders and Chargers to share a Carson stadium, Mark Davis did not seek revenge.
His father would have launched the next round of General Sherman’s march to the sea. Mark Davis did not burn a single bridge. He played the role of the loyal company man.
By being likable, the other owners saw a reasonable man they could do business with. More importantly, they saw a man they wanted to help. He was their friend and business partner.
Mark Davis himself will tell you that he will never know as much about football as his late father did. Very few people ever will. Yet Mark Davis saw his father move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland without getting the modern stadium that other owners were able to secure.
Mark Davis got that stadium. The nice guy will have the two-billion dollar Las Vegas palace. The father fought for it, but the son peacefully got it done.
Al Davis may not have liked his son’s kinder, gentler approach, but the results are what always carried the day. When Mark Davis steps on to a Las Vegas NFL stadium for the first time, he will look up and hear the words of his dad – “Just win, baby!” To which Mark Davis will smile and quietly say, “I did, dad. I did.”
Only that smile will then turn to a scowl as Al Davis has the proverbial last word. “Now go win a Super Bowl!”