Davis revived careers of Brown, Plunkett

October 8, 2011, 9:06 pm
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HOUSTON -- Those the knew him best and longest obviously had the most passionate feelings about Al Davis, who passed away Saturday morning in Oakland.Willie Brown and Jim Plunkett spoke about their feelings for the late Raiders owner at the team hotel. A distraught Tom Flores politely declined an interview.But a constant theme with Davis was his being a pioneer in the NFL for diversity."Coach never seen color," said first-year Raiders coach Hue Jackson "That was never important to him. It was, could you do the job? The Amy Trasks, the Hue Jacksons, the Art Shells the Tom Floreses. I mean, I could go on and on to the people he reached and touched in so many different ways to give them opportunities that everybody probably said that maybe they didn't deserve."But that's not how he ever looked at it. That's the Raider way and that's the way we do business and we will continue to do business that way."Davis hired the first Latino head coach in NFL history with Flores in 1979 and the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history with Shell in 1989. Trask is the first female CEO in the NFL.
Brown and Plunkett, meanwhile, found renewed life as players under Davis. And both are still employed by the Raiders."He's the one who really, he meant to me more than just about anybody else on this Earth," Brown said. "My father's been gone. The next man figure in my life was Al Davis. I just appreciate him giving all these players an opportunity. This started way back in the early 60's, giving black players, particularly, the opportunity to play in the National Football League."Because when he came in, the National Football League was not using black players, in terms of playing. So he went into the black schools. One of the first ones to go into the black schools and get black players to come play in the American Football League. He meant history and everything for me, because he set the pace and set the way for me in order to be a football player."Plunkett said the casual observer did not realize the impact Davis had on players off the field. It wasn't just about X's and O's to him."People don't look at that side of Mr. Davis," Plunkett said. But that's what he was about in the minds of so many. In fact, Plunkett said as recently as last week Davis could still predict what play was coming next based on formations."Believe me, he would call me late at night at home to see what I was thinking about a particular game," Plunkett said. "He was 247 football and nobody, I think, can appreciate that as much if you didn't know a person like that. He loved football."And he loved winning. Something Plunkett and Flores did with aplomb in winning a pair of Super Bowls, following the 1980 and 1983 seasons."He gave me the opportunity and then once you get the opportunity you have to take advantage of it; fortunately, I did," Plunkett said. "I'm just sorry in '82 and then in '85 when I got hurt not to possibly try for another Super Bowl. I didn't play as well as I think I could have and in certain situations I felt I let him down a little bit."But helping him win two more Super Bowls, it was good for him and the Raiders and was certainly good for me."Brown called Davis a "leader of leaders" who transcended sports."You talk about the great leaders of different eras and great leaders of many wars," Brown said, "and surely, in my opinion, Al Davis was up there (as) one of the greatest leaders that's ever been in this country."