Ben Davidson dies at 72; Oakland Raider, fixture in beer commercials


Ben Davidson, an iconic face of the 1960s-era Oakland Raiders and later a popular fixture in Miller Lite TV commercials, has died. He was 72.

Davidson, who had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer, died Monday night, former Raiders coach John Madden reported on KCBS radio in San Francisco.

If the late Al Davis was the creator of the renegade Raiders, then Davidson could be considered one of the founding fathers, cutting a larger-than-life swath with his handlebar mustache and intimidating 6-foot-8 physical presence at defensive end.


His 11-year professional football career started in Green Bay with the Packers. After one season there and two with the Washington Redskins, it took flight when he moved to the AFL and the Raiders in 1964. He was an AFL All-Star three times and played in Super Bowl II with the Raiders.

The career path for Davidson was rarely predictable. Born June 14, 1940, in Los Angeles, he didn’t play the sport as a child growing up in Boyle Heights and would not give football a shot until his freshman year at East Los Angeles College.

“I think I just decided that I’d try it,” he told The Times in a 2010 interview at his home in San Diego. “I didn’t know the positions. I knew that center was probably in the middle, but I’d only been to one or two games.”

Davis had had his eye on Davidson going back to when Davis was an assistant coach with USC. Davidson went from East L.A. College to the University of Washington and won two Rose Bowls with the Huskies in 1960 and 1961. Davis and Davidson were finally able to join forces in Oakland, after Davidson arrived a year after Davis.

“We had fun,” Davidson said in the 2010 interview.

That was an understatement. Davidson’s sense of fun and renegade football persona made him a natural TV pitchman after his football career, most prominently in the Miller Lite commercials.

His first movie role came in 1970 in Robert Altman’s “MASH,” in which he brought a slice of Raider Nation to the 4077th, playing in an intersquad football game.


“I hate to say this for print,” Davidson said in the 2010 interview. “But I’m 70 years old and I’ve never had a real job.”

His most notable moment of controversy on the field was in 1970. That was when he took out Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson late in a game, diving into Dawson with his helmet when Dawson was down on the ground. Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor retaliated, bringing on a bench-clearing brawl.

Ultimately a 17-14 Chiefs’ lead turned into a 17-17 final and the Raiders would win the AFC West.

Many members of the Raiders organization learned of Davidson’s death when they were in Las Vegas for a gathering to honor Davis, who died in October and would have turned 83 on Wednesday.

Davidson is survived by his wife, Kathy, and their three daughters, Jan, Dana and Vicki.