|Kirk Gibson playing for Michigan State|
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Al Davis, My One and Only Encounter with Him and his connections with the Dodgers
I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Al Davis. The death of Raiders owner brought back a distant memory to me. I was actually fortunate enough to meet him once, even if it was only five or six minutes. I really didn’t expect it to happen, but the pieces just seemed to fall into place. Here’s my story.
In 1985, I was working for an insurance company, doing workers compensation audits. It was a job I got through my brother and it was almost perfect, because able to schedule appointments between my 16 units of classes I was taking at Cal State L.A. The San Diego based insurance company would mail me my work, and I’d set up appointments on my own, throughout the southland.
I was thrilled to receive a packet for one of our policyholders, the Los Angeles Raiders. I checked my schedule and set up an appointment.
The Raiders offices were at a renovated elementary school in El Segundo that had been converted into their corporate offices along with practice fields and training facilities. The appointment was for early in the season. I believe it was sometime in September. When I arrived at my mid morning appointment, I found the place to be jumping. There was a receptionist in the hallway. I couldn’t really call it a reception area. It was literally a hallway that the kids used to walk through to get to their classes in years past.
The players were all over the place. Slapping hands, joking around. I really didn’t recognize anyone until Marcus Allen walked by as he approached and embraced one of his teammates. I was sitting there waiting for the comptroller to come down and show me to where the records were and Lyle Alzado passed by, and Tom Flores too.
Eventually the comptroller, Peggy arrived. She took me up into a film room and the table was set up with all the ledgers available for my perusal. She said that Mr. Davis might drop by, because he had some questions for me.
Now that, i didn't expect. I was in my early 20s and didn’t have a lot of knowledge in the workers compensation policy rules. I simply knew what I needed to look for in the ledgers and the thought of Davis dropping in on me and hammering me about workers comp rates and his premium, I found a bit intimidating. Davis at the time was knee deep in litigation against the NFL and he was known to be a tough negotiator and winner when it came to legal issues.
I looked around and saw reels and reels of film canisters, each one labeled with college football games and dates. USC-UCLA, LSU-Florida, Notre Dame-Michigan, you name the game, the film was there. It was as I was gazing at the film canisters that he walked in. The black jump suit and all. “What are you, 15 years old?” he said. “I’m 24 actually Mr. Davis,” I said, trying to sound as mature and manly as possible. “Well, that’s good. It’s good to look younger than what you are, that way, when you get to be my age you’ll pass for forty.” he said with a wry smile. “Did we give you the tour? Did they show you the facility? How about a media guide, did you get one? You are a ‘Raiduhs’ fan aren’t you?”
“You bet I am, Mr. Davis. Congratulations on the Super Bowl win,” I said.
He then turned to business, “I was going to ask you about that, he said. “There are super bowl bonuses added on to the players payroll, are those bonuses subject to premium calculations?” I knew the answer, “Yes, Mr. Davis, I’m sorry to say that they are.” I showed him the California Workers Comp manual and the reference to bonuses.
He frowned and then looked up and said, “Well, you can’t blame me for trying to save a little money, can you? Winning the Super Bowl was worth it.” Then he broke out in a laugh and told me to make sure that Peggy provide a tour for me before I left.
“So who are your favorite Raiders, son?” he asked. I told him that I had attended BYU, so I kind of liked Todd Christensen and even Marc Wilson, though I knew he wasn’t too popular amongst the fans. He smiled and said, “they’re fine players, but don’t tell them I told you so, they’ll ask for more money, and don’t let any players look at these books, this stuff is all very confidential.”
“Of course, sir,” I said. He then left. Now if Lyle Alzado had burst into the room, demanding to see the books, I’m not sure if I could have held him off, but that didn’t happen of course.
I completed my work, didn't ask for the tour, I just left and that evening summarized the audit and sent it in to the corporate offices. Two weeks later I received an envelope in the mail that had been sent to the insurance company offices, it was addressed to me. Surprised, I wondered why I was getting such a large envelope from corporate that was as light as a feather. I usually got big packets of work from them. To my surprise it contained two 8 X 10 autographed photos of Marc Wilson and Todd Christensen. “Evan, Life is kismet!” wrote Christensen. I went to the dictionary to look up what that meant...typical Christensen.
Al Davis, took the time to make sure that this kid auditor, who was a little bit of a fan, received a few mementos from the visit. I thought that was quite extraordinary, considering all the things Davis had on his plate and the fact that they were the defending World Champs. For that reason, despite all the lawsuits, treatment of Marcus Allen, numerous coaching changes and stubborn ways, I still have always thought Al Davis was a class act. He treated me with respect. A man that was somewhat a recluse, was very open and friendly to me.
Rest in peace Mr. Davis.
I was thinking back to when Kirk Gibson was a Dodger, there were rumors that he might high tail it to the NFL and become a Raider, and that Davis had reached out to him. All I could find on the topic was this:
A small blurb from the Chicago Tribune in 1987, a year before Gibson was a Dodger.
July 18, 1987
Detroit Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson, a onetime Michigan State wide receiver, told the Detroit News that he was contacted earlier this month about playing pro football for the Los Angeles Raiders. ``A guy came up to me and said he was (Raiders owner) Al Davis` right-hand man,`` Gibson said. `` `Want to play football?` he said. `Are you serious?` I said. Two days later, I saw they signed Bo Jackson.`` Gibson said he was was intrigued by the thought of playing football again, but added: ``No way, not for another year at least.`` His contract with the Tigers runs through 1988 and prohibits him from pursuing other sports.
More on Al Davis and Dodger Connections
From the Walter O’Malley website, (www.walteromalley.com) the following log is found under “This month in Walter O’Malley History”
June 1, 1966
American Football League (AFL) Commissioner Al Davis meets at Dodger Stadium with Walter O’Malley. Davis had been named AFL Commissioner two months earlier.
Mel Durslag of the Herald Examiner wrote about the meeting two years later saying that the purpose of it was Davis’ intent to expand the AFL to Los Angeles and have a team play their games at Dodger Stadium. In order to impress O’Malley, Davis rented a limo and chauffeur in an effort to leave a lasting impression of the AFL’s emergence as a power player in sports.
Al Davis is said to have always admired O’Malley for his vision and guts. Roger Abrams in his book Sports Justice said that Davis viewed Walter O’Malley as one of his role models. Davis, a fellow Brooklynite, probably had a lot to say in his sales pitch to Walter. I wish someone had taken notes of that meeting. Of course, nothing came of it, as the AFL merged with the NFL within a few years and it wasn’t until years later that Davis moved his Raiders to Los Angeles as O’Malley had done so many years before.
Interestingly, twenty-nine years after Al Davis and Walter O’Malley met in 1966 regarding an AFL expansion team playing at Dodger Stadium, rumors surfaced that his Raiders might play at Dodger Stadium when the Coliseum Commission was not working with him. It was probably posturing on Davis' part to get a better deal as we know eventually, the Raiders returned back to Oakland where they continue to play today.