Al Davis always reminded me of Ernest Hemingway's writings. Both men emulated the indomitable human spirit, and both brought a complex, yet singular idea of greatness into full view for the all world to see.
When I look back at what drew me to the Silver and Black, I often think about two characters in Hemingway's works — Pedro Romero in The Sun Also Rises and Manuel Garcia in the short story ‘The Undefeated.' In The Sun, the great bullfighter Romero gets into a fist fight with a jealous boxer, Robert Cohn, over a woman. Cohn punches him mercilessly, but he cannot beat Romero. He cannot put him away. He cannot overcome his greatness.
"It seems the bull-fighter fellow was sitting on the bed. He'd been knocked down about fifteen times, and he wanted to fight some more."
Cohn loses the test of wills. Romero snatches victory from defeat.
In ‘The Undefeated,' Garcia performs as one of the best bullfighters to ever live, but falters when it comes time to finish the fight and is trampled by the bull. He suffers many injuries before successfully killing the beast. Battered and badly wounded, he thinks only of rising to fight again. Al Davis brought that type of determination to the Raiders organization more than 50 years ago and made it a physical embodiment of pure unyielding will.
As a kid, I'd see Raiders games and knew that regardless of the points on the board or the situation, they could transcend and do the impossible. They could always find a way to win. There are the legendary games like the Holy Roller or the Ben Davidson spearing of Len Dawson in 1970 or the Heidi Game that prove that out. If you think about it, the crushing of the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII was inconceivable to anyone except Raider Nation.
For me, it was a 1988 contest on Monday Night Football in Denver that clearly defined what it meant to be a Raider.
The Broncos had dismantled the Raiders defense and blanked the offense 24-0 in the first half. I remember just before the break announcer Dan Dierdorf said on national television something like, "I wonder if the Raiders can stink up the second half as badly as they did first." As furious as I was, I also knew Denver was doomed that night. The Raiders stormed back, intercepting John Elway four times and winning 30-27 in overtime.
Al Davis understood greatness and his teams knew what it took to be great. He found that spark in people other organizations had given up on and allowed them to prove their true worth time and time again. That idea of greatness resonates with the Raider Faithful. We can all be great, just like Hemingway's busted up characters.
It's been nearly five years since Al Davis passed and Raider Nation has him to thank for a lifetime of inspiration that continues into the future.
Happy Birthday, Al.