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Visionary Al Davis dominated life, changed the NFL

FILE - In this Friday Aug. 22 1987 file phoLos Angeles Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis discusses agreement he

FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 22, 1987 file photo, Los Angeles Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis discusses the agreement he has signed with the city of Irwindale, Calif. during a news conference in El Segundo, Calif. Davis, the Hall of Fame owner of the Oakland Raiders known for his rebellious spirit, has died. The team announced his death at age 82 on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith, File)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 11:33AM

The Madden boys would play in the Oakland Raiders locker room after games while waiting for their father, John Madden, who was then the coach. It was during one of these moments that Mike Madden remembers managing general partner Al Davis asking him what he wanted for Christmas.

Mike wanted a motorcycle, which Davis vowed to buy for him until he learned Mike’s parents wouldn’t approve.

“Then we’ll get you a car,” Davis said. “You’ll be protected.”

Mike laughed. He was only 12. “I can’t drive a car,” he said.

Davis told him he would buy him a car, and he could practice driving for four years and dominate the road when he got his license. Then Davis proposed something even bigger.

“What if I bought you a 7-Eleven store? Could you run it? Could you hire people? Could you fire people?”

That was Al Davis, for you. He couldn’t understand people who didn’t dominate life.

The NFL lost a giant Saturday when Davis died at 82. I covered the Raiders for almost a decade and was often critical of how he ran his team, but there’s no question he was a visionary. He changed the game in countless ways. You couldn’t begin to tell the history of the NFL without mentioning the man in the black sweatsuit.

Davis could see the future. He knew free agency was coming, for example. It’s ironic that something he predicted would undermine one of the greatest franchises in pro sports.

Davis didn’t understand why everybody didn’t want to be the best. He even used that formula when it came to player acquisition, often signing veterans near the end of their careers. They were grateful for the chance to keep earning an NFL paycheck, worked hard, enjoyed solid seasons and helped lift the Raiders to three Super Bowl Championships.

When players started making bigger money, older players were less motivated and his formula was less effective. He sought players with great physical potential even if there were legitimate character concerns. Again, he just assumed everybody was wired the way he was, with an unwavering desire to be the best.

“You don’t adjust,” he once famously said. “You dominate.”

It was the Bears who ended the Raiders as they were so long defined. The Raiders were the defending Super Bowl Champions when they came to Soldier Field in 1984 only to be mauled by a Bears team that was still a season away from winning its Super Bowl in one of the most violent games in NFL history. The Raiders had been the NFL’s bullies for 20 years but got bullied that day. Bears defensive end Al Harris waved punter and emergency quarterback Ray Guy onto the field after Marc Wilson got hurt as if welcoming him to his worst nightmare.

The Raiders were never the same after that. They would go on to appear in another Super Bowl after the 2002 season, but they were no longer the toughest team on the block.

It was Davis that White Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf sought out for advice when he wanted to learn the intricacies and potential pitfalls of owning a sports franchise.

Davis will be remembered for helping force the AFL-NFL merger. People will credit him for his success with the Raiders and for helping the league become so immensely popular. People will recall how he didn’t care about color or gender, only winning. He’ll be remembered for his many eccentricities and his “Just Win, Baby” mantra.

He dictated the terms of his life. He dominated.

“I don’t get heart attacks,” he once said while trying to stifle a rumor. “I give them.”

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