Davis' legacy immeasurable


Davis' legacy immeasurable

Al Davis death is one of those, Oh, moments, because there is really nowhere else to go with the information. Its just an enormous is.

Davis role in the history of the National Football League and indeed all of American sports is seminal. It can and must be said that without him, the culture and landscape of football, franchise moves, league mergers and the general nature of sporting icons would be dramatically different.

In short, the depth and breadth of his importance is barely calculable.

But he was also bigger than even that, because he was also punished for becoming unfashionable in a style-over-substance world. That, too, is a lesson of his life. Even the magnificent fall, and only those who die too early get to claim the best reputations.

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He made friends and enemies in huge and equal measure. He could charm and shame, cajole and bully, show loyalty and disdain in equal measure, and in close juxtaposition to each other. He stood for diversity and color-blindness in the most important of ways by hiring it without concern for anything but its ability to succeed on his behalf. He was hero and villain and all points inbetween.

To say he was bigger than life is to cheat his legacy. He was bigger than bigger than life. Even in his declining years, when he rarely made pubic appearances, when he did, he had things to do and say that made him riveting. He might be offended at the free wisdom he could impart because he didnt like to give away a lot, but you could go to school on Al Davis.

But how exactly do we do that, now that he is gone? Who and what was he is easy, because he is one of the most talked-about figures in American sport. Even in this massively trivial age of 247 we-gotta-talk-about-something-after-the-commercial-break news, his name evoked imagery and feeling, so there wont be a lot new to say about him.

But even in passage, he will leave a large wake behind him. More than any other ownership figure, even George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones, he was the face of his franchise, the first place you go mentally when you see the logo.

Nothing got done except through him, and the matter of succession raises questions not only of whom (he is survived by his wife Carolee and his son Mark, but he also has investors and silent partners to be considered) but how, and even where. With Los Angeles opening its arms to the NFL for the first time in 16 years, its penultimate tenant could surely cast his eyes southward with a few strokes of a pen.

The last time the Raiders left, it was a wrenching experience because it was Davis, the man who had made Oakland a sports town, who had done it, tearing a fabric right down the middle that even now shows the evidence of a bad sewing job. If they were to leave again, there would be only numbness, as though the natural force of his grip was the only thing holding the team here.

And even in the last few months, as his health declined, he materially affected not only himself but others in his world. He hated the new collective bargaining agreement, and he never truly warmed to the notion of a two-team stadium with the 49ers as partners. When he moved, the ripples moved others. In his absence, the possibility of some stagnancy is considerable because, after all, Al was the Raiders and the Raiders were Al.

Giants leave us, and Davis was that. His time astride his world was long (48 years in the NFL alone) and often contentious. He was, as are all men unafraid of turmoil, someone who made peoples conversations diminish in volume and tone. His legacy, which seems obvious to cite, is not yet fully written.

The family he leaves behind now deals with its hub removed. A sports organization that never functioned without him now figures out how to do so on Day 1. A city that was made more vibrant by his appearance now faces the possibility that one more of its identifying characteristics may be on the wing again.

And for all the sober-faced encomiums to him on the occasion of his death delivered by people who disliked and perhaps even hated him in life, this much remains the fact.

Al Davis was that giant. His size and stature in American sport will not be seen again. Even the biggest owners in sport now did not turn two leagues into one, or revolutionize franchise location rights, or turn city governments into jelly-legged saps at the mere mention of his name. He beat Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue had nothing on him, and Roger Goodell was a mere child.

And if he stayed too long to remain cool, that is on those who think that such things matter. Al Davis defined an epoch, and anything at which he was not the first, he was the most grandiose practitioner.

Al Davis Mattered, with a capital M. In his absence, he matters still, even dead. Let the users of the new definitions of fame and buzz and cool and needle-moving grapple with the size of that for awhile.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.