The life of a true fan is full of ups and downs. It holds screams of happiness and pain, and contains the sense of doubt and confidence—not to mention a few emotions that don't even have words. And that is because true fans stick with their teams through all their triumphs and failures. It is like a marriage...with a lot smaller divorce rate.
That means that the majority of fans' allegiance is tied to little more than a name. There are few constants in the world of sports. Players change from season to season, coaches change in almost equal intervals, general managers are lucky to last five years, and inevitably ownership changes. That leaves fans rooting for new people with new ideals and philosophies. That leaves fans with zero connections, other than name, to the team they love. And for true fans it is love, right?
I fell in love with the Raiders before I can even remember. My allegiance and sense of connection is just there. I think back, and there is my bond to the Raiders. I don't know when it started, but I do know where it comes from.
I love the colors; I love the pirate; I love the mystique; I love the history of taking castoffs and making champions; I love the "you're either with us or against us" attitude; I love the spirit of individuality and personalized moral compass. I love: Just win, baby.
I am a fan of other teams in other sports, but it is nothing like the allegiance I feel to the Raiders. It is not rational, and I don't care. And It is all because of Al Davis.
He is the most prolonged and shaping constant in the world of sports. He is the rudder of this pirate ship. He provides the identity for the team that has become a part of my life. He is the force that keeps the Raiders the Raiders beyond just a name.
That certainly hasn't always led to the greatest product on the field, but that product has always been the Raiders. Even when this team was producing anything but greatness I have never had to doubt that commitment to excellence was raining down from the top.
I am not going to get into a checklist of good things vs bad—except to say that Al Davis has never cared who knew about his lawsuits or his spite. He keeps his reasons to himself. And he has never looked to cast any of his finer and more caring traits into the spotlight.
This has left a disjointed and largely negative public image for casual observers. He is not afraid to take heat for his decisions.
When it comes down to it he is not afraid of answering to anyone but himself. And to me that is the greatness of the Raiders. That is what I have taken away from this franchise, and from this man, into all walks of my life. It is the spirit and sense of self and inner-righteousness that keeps me striving for excellence while swimming through the bullshit.
So to the man that has given me the gift of the Raiders: Happy 82nd birthday, Al Davis!