Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Raiders in the AFL

I've been reading a book called Pride & Poise: The Oakland Raiders of the American Football League by James McCullough. I was hoping for a few things out of this book. First, a real sense of the history of what went on in the Raiders organization from its inception in 1960 through Super Bowl II (the 1967 season was the Raiders' first Super Bowl appearance). I was also interested in details about players, coaches, management, how the organization developed the way they did.

What this book turns out to be though is a compilation of news articles from the era. There is no commentary by the author at all or so it seems that way. In fact I think it would inaccurate to call James McCullough an author and I don't think he would disagree. The way he describes himself, he seems like Joe Raiders fan. Just another guy in the stands wearing a jersey. He admits somehwere on his web site that he is not a writer and was just a guy interested in the Raiders history so he did a little digging.

The tip off is the book literally reads like newspapers from the 1960's with all the antiquated lingo intact. This is really obvious. I don't understand why the guy did not simply state this was his intention from the very start. You know, like actually write an introduction. What is even more awful is we don't know what newspapers the information comes from or when. Commentary just streams forth as one continuous fragmented tale. There are no footnotes or bibliography either. It would have been nice to know the sources of material James has compiled but hey, I guess that would be considered a luxury unfit for the blue collar Raider Nation.

Though, to his credit, without James doing the legwork and sifting through microfilm at local libraries, all of this information would still be buried. The Raiders organization has never made an effort to detail their history. It's just a few statements here and there but no real details of the games other than the big ones like Super Bowl II.

There was so much more going on of course than what the press caught wind of. Any time you are dealing with teams and leagues and games you are supposed to get stories. We get a lot of details in the book on who scored and how but no sense of what any of the players experienced. You have lesser known Raiders such as Wayne Hawkins and Cotton Davidson but no clue what their real contributions are aside from game commentary. The Raiders main skills players were RB Clem Daniels and WR Art Powell, two guys that really deserve a lot more visibility in Raiders lore, who battled through jim crow and really produced big on the field. You can be sure the Raiders would have lost a lot more without Clem and Art. As an interesting side note, Clem is still a respected public figure in the city of Oakland and owns a Raiders-themed bar that hardly anyone even knows about (it's called The End Zone located at 1466 High Street, Oakland, CA).

So, what the book amounts to is not coming close to the potential a project like this could have been - unfortunately.

This cartoon is from a game program of the black and gold Oakland Raiders taking on the LA Chargers. This would had to have been sometime from 1960 to 1962 since the Raiders changed to silver and black in 1963.

The book does delve a bit into the impact Al (or Allen as he was referred to in 1963) Davis had on the franchise. Al is given all the credit for turning things around for the moribund Oakland Raider franchise. He had worked his way up from various collegiate coaching jobs, much like anyone would do in the profession today. He started off at the bottom and ultimately got his shot in the pros with Los Angeles where he caught on as a receivers coach with the AFL Chargers before landing the head job with Oakland. In those days, pro football was nowhere near the big production it is today. It was a lot easier to get involved if you could handle the physicality of the sport and gained experience. Al loved the action and was an excellent coach. His big skill was in teaching the game. In fact, Al wrote articles for publication. Al the football scholar was quite an impressive young lad in the AFL era both as a coach and then rising in rank to AFL commissioner and then managing general partner of the Raiders as well all know.

Even though Al was not athletic he had a passion for the game that as the football nation would learn, was unrivaled by most.

However, for accuracy sake, let's deconstruct the myth of Al Davis being the guy who set the precedent for bringing along the black athlete in pro football. That was an AFL idea from the very start (1960) since the NFL was slow to accept the black athlete. Al was not part of AFL management in 1960 and he neither thought of the idea first (recruiting black athletes in an era of jim crow) nor implemented it first. He liked the idea obviously because he utilized it but he had nothing to do with it's inception. That's a fact.

Next, there is a myth that Al was somehow the originator of the idea for AFL teams to play NFL teams in a super bowl. In 1961 Barron Hilton, then owner of the LA Chargers, challenged the NFL to a championship game. That's where the idea came from. The NFL looked down on the AFL in a big way and could not be bothered with the proposal though. Anyway, the Chargers had not beaten AFL champs Houston in 1960 and were destined to lose again to them in the 1961 AFL championship.

The AFL was quite a cast of characters which ultimately gave the league some legs. It must have been a grueling experience to be part of the Raiders in their losing the first few years but things did turn around with Al's imprinting the pride and poise mantra on the franchise for the next 40 something years.

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