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BILL DWYRE

Make no bones about it, Al Davis has lost it

October 04, 2008|BILL DWYRE

These are sad days for Raider Nation. All those skull-and-bones tattoos seem for naught.

Their leader, Al Davis, has lost it. As the late radio mega-star Jim Healy used to say, he's gone the Leonard Tose route.

His news-conference performance this week, in the firing of young coach Lane Kiffin, broke new ground in the category of bizarre. The only thing missing was somebody dragging a blindfolded Kiffin into the room, putting him on a plank and making him walk it.

Davis sat at a table and read a letter he had written to Kiffin. The same letter was projected 15 feet high on a screen behind Davis. The message was that Kiffin was a "flat-out" liar and was being fired "for cause." The "for cause" part meant that Davis didn't want to pay Kiffin what's left on his contract. Lawyers throughout the Bay Area were choking on their own drool.

Davis is 79. For obvious reasons, this column will never be critical of somebody just because he is old.

It is also difficult, quite frankly, to be critical of Davis at all, even though he took a couple of nice things out of our area in the last several decades. One was a pro football franchise, the other a good portion of the cash flow of Irwindale.

Still, to some of us, he is a hero in one very important category. He has consistently stood up to the single most arrogant entity on the planet today. That would be the National Football League.

Sam Farmer, The Times' pro football writer, tells a great story about how Davis feels about the NFL, to this day. Farmer was talking with NFL executive Roger Goodell, now commissioner, in a hotel lobby at an NFL meeting and Davis walked by.

"He just kept walking," Farmer said, "but as he went by, he said, 'Sam, they keep on lying to you and you keep on writing it.' He got us both in one shot."

Davis is clearly in ill health and was wrapped in some sort of strange sweater and a Raiders jacket at his news conference. But the fight was still in his eyes and you can almost imagine that one more Super Bowl would act like a fountain of youth.

But from the looks of things, neither is right around the corner. Example: The overwhelming reaction from those asked to comment about Kiffin's replacement, assistant coach Tom Cable, was use of the same phrase: "That poor guy."

Cable may never shake it. He will go to his next job, probably sometime in late December, and be introduced as "That Poor Guy Tom Cable." At this very moment, Bay Area nuns are saying rosaries for him.

The sad thing for Raider Nation is that success wasn't that long ago. The image of Davis, marching proudly to his box in San Diego just before the 2003 Super Bowl against Tampa Bay, is vivid. But so is the job that Davis' former coach, the Buccaneers' Jon Gruden, did on the Raiders that day. Final score: 48-21, Tampa Bay.

Davis hasn't just been an influential Raider, or a Raiders driving force, or the architect of the Raiders. He has been all of that and more. He is the Raiders. Period.

The Raiders reflect his image, style, approach, attitude. Everything. He is a Raider like Tom Lasorda is a Dodger. There is no other team, no other way, no other life.

And so, when you see it coming apart so badly, so publicly, and so embarrassingly, there has to be a tinge of compassion, no matter what went before.

You want to shake him, tell him it is over. But tell him that he doesn't have to stop being a Raider, just stop being the only Raider.

There is a time, and a way, to step aside without stepping out. There is a time, and an age, when you need to check your ego at the door, find a way and a place to stay connected and let the bright young people you have run things.

Let somebody else spend hours in the film room, analyzing the trap blocking. Let somebody else make a trade and don't second-guess it, even if you hate it. Ride around in that golf cart at practice, with a couple of visiting old Raiders, and just watch. Don't say a thing unless somebody asks.

Titles don't matter. You are Al Davis. You are in the Hall of Fame. You have nothing left to prove.

A title? Who cares, but if one is absolutely necessary, how about this?

Czar Emeritus.

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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