Hard-Nosed Davis Knows How to Win at the Bargaining Table


Al Davis, the controversial boss of the Los Angeles Raiders, has proved again that he lives by the singular standard he sets for his players--"Just win, baby."

A bruiser at the bargaining table, the Raiders owner has agreed to a $660-million deal with the city of Oakland to return the team to the site of its past glories. The announced agreement was reached after Davis had skillfully driven up the price for the Raiders during talks with Los Angeles, Irwindale and Sacramento.

Throughout his pro football career, Davis has distinguished himself as a maverick and bare-knuckled brawler who won't shirk from a fight, even when it appears he is overmatched.

In the early 1980s, for example, when the National Football League tried to block the Raiders' move from Oakland to Los Angeles, Davis filed an unprecedented federal antitrust lawsuit against the league. He won.

The 60-year-old Brooklyn native rarely soft-peddles his thoughts. Commenting in the early 1980s on why he wanted to move from the Bay Area, Davis remarked: "The people I have to deal with in Oakland are a bunch of bastards."

With his gruff demeanor, pompadour hairstyle and fondness for black suits and custom-made white shirts, Davis stirs strong--and extreme--assessments from those he has encountered in his professional life.

Some have called him a genius, a compassionate man whose brains are matched only by his courage. But others have described him as a dictator, a master of manipulation, and a carpetbagger who will take his team wherever the money is best.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who before being named to the judiciary was one of the local leaders who helped bring the Raiders to Los Angeles, contends that Davis has been widely misunderstood.

Reinhardt said that in his dealings Davis was "totally honest, ethical and straightforward."

On the other hand, Los Angeles Coliseum Commission President Richard Riordan has described Davis as odd, unresponsive and difficult.

For his part, Davis once said he considered it a compliment to be called "devious." "They've said of every great leader of my time that he's devious--from Roosevelt and Churchill to Eisenhower, Kissinger and Mao," Davis said in a 1980 interview with The Times.

Davis is the only person in the history of professional football to have been an assistant coach, head coach, general manager, league commissioner and team owner. He joined the then-Oakland Raiders in 1963 as head coach and general manager. At 33, he was the youngest person holding those jobs in professional football.

He also made history in 1989 when he named Art Shell as football's first black head coach in the game's modern era.

After the team won its only championship in Los Angeles in 1984 against the Washington Redskins, Davis was asked whether he was expecting to have routed the opposition. His answer said much of the man.

"I don't think in terms of rout," he said. "I think in terms of domination."

Times staff writer Kenneth Reich contributed to this story.

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