Falsest equivalency: Al Davis and Art Modell
I don’t mean to be a one-trick pony here with the Modell HOF thing. But -quick update- it’s becoming clear that the argument in favor of Art is centered on:
- Rozelle’s ‘right hand man,’ willing to speak at league meetings, liked by other owners;
- Other owners in the Hall moved their teams; if Al Davis is in, Art should be in.
The first bullet speaks to Art’s likability. We have no reason to doubt that he was a nice man; I liked him too. Round of applause for dating Suzanne Pleshette. But is adroit cronyism really a HOF credential? This is the Hall-of-Fame not the Hall-of-Affable-Bon-Vivants.
Television we dealt with in the big post. (I’m surprised that many hang in with Art on this. It was good to hear Peter King yesterday say that he looks at the TV contribution through a prism of ‘could someone else have been as effective?’)
But the third generated a reflexive Tourette’s spasm. whatthefuckareyoushittingme? Check this quote and see if you don’t have the same reaction:
” ‘… I asked [Modell] about his chances of ever reaching Canton. His response: “I know [Raiders owner] Al Davis is in and he moved the team twice. Doesn’t that say something to you?’
It’s hard to argue against Modell on this point. … The Hall can’t have one set of rules for Davis and another for Modell.” — Jamison Hensley, ESPN
No Mr. Hensley, it’s easy to argue Modell’s point. You just need some objectivity and curiosity.
Where to start with this false equivalency?
They were two Jewish kids from Brooklyn. That’s where it ends.
Football coach and GM
Start with Al Davis’ HOF bio.* He starts as a football player (hey Wittenberg!), then coach, and not just a coach but a coach smart enough to recognize a game-changing influence when he saw it. This is how he wound up with Sid Gillman (hey MiamiO!) and the Chargers. He saw the offense Gillman was making. Gillman’s vertical ideas from pre-1960 were enduring and are still the cornerstone of modern offenses today.**
Here is where I was going to set forth what a great judge of talent Davis was and that he only fell of the rails toward the end. But the facts don’t fit that narrative. From 1963 draft on.. it looks like a lot of suck to me. Biletnikoff in 65; Upshaw, 67; Stabler, Shell, Atkinson, Hubbard in 68 (ok that’s a good one); Tatum, Villapiano in 71; Branch, 72; Guy, 73; Casper, 74 … you get the idea. Quite a few empty years. A lot of first round whiffs.
So how’d he build these teams?
Turns out it really was the 1967-68 years. In 67, Davis traded for Buffalo backup Daryle Lamonica and separately Willie Brown and George Blanda. In 1986 in addition to the draft, he named 32 year old John Madden head coach. That’s a franchise changing couple years. That’s five HOF additions in two years. And Raiders were successful. From 65 to 91, there were only two seasons below .500. Three Super Bowl wins.
For some more comparative perspective, below are Davis’ HOFers, followed by Modell’s:
Marcus Allen (1982-1992)
Fred Biletnikoff (1965-1978)
George Blanda (1967-1975)
Willie Brown (1967-1978)
Dave Casper (1974-1980, 1984)
Al Davis (1963-1965)
Al Davis (1966-2011)
Mike Haynes (1983-1989)
Ted Hendricks (1975-1983)
Howie Long (1981-1993)
John Madden (1969-1978)
Jim Otto (1960-1974)
Art Shell (1968-1982)
Gene Upshaw (1967-1981)
Joe DeLamielleure (1980-1984) — really a Buffalo Bill;
Gene Hickerson (1958-1973) — really a Paul Brown pick;
Leroy Kelly (1964-1973)
Paul Warfield (1964-1969, 1976-1977) — traded, really a Miami Dolphin
Ozzie Newsome (1978-1990)
Working our way down Al Davis’ work in professional football, we’d be missing an important entry (and important differentiator from Art) if we forgot Davis’ one year as AFL Commissioner.
“Al Davis taking over as commissioner was the strongest thing the AFL ever did.” — Jerry Magee, San Diego Union-Tribune
Prior to 1966 the AFL and NFL had been competing to sign draft picks but honored a gents’ agreement to be hands off on the current players. That changed with Davis as commissioner. Under Davis the AFL not only targeted NFL players, but their quarterbacks:
… there were seven NFL quarterbacks who were prepared to sign with the AFL. Reportedly, they were Rudy Bukich of Chicago, Jim Ninowski of Cleveland, Sonny Jurgensen of Washington, Milt Plum of Detroit, Fran Tarkenton of Minnesota, Gabriel, who did sign, and—John Riley Brodie, the millionaire-to-be.
Mind you, this is not behavior that will get one appointed to the NFL Network Committee for three decades. But it did lead to an agreement for a combined draft and it did hasten the merger.
A column in the Baltimore Sun today stated that Art had was denied “… recognition due him for the role he played in merging the NFL and AFL …” Davis created the imperative to merge. Modell helped break a logjam by moving his team to what he thought would be a weaker division. Davis changed the landscape; Modell’s pocketed $3,000,000 in his ‘role’ (moving the Browns to the AFC) in the merger.
Considering that Art is up to be inducted under the ‘Contributor’ category and mindful of the original germ of this post: if Al Davis is in the HOF, than Art Modell should be … is there anything on Art’s side of the ledger that compares to this?
Let’s leave football behind for a bit.
I submit that Al Davis was a transcendent influence beyond the NFL;
a dominating presence of American culture for decades.
Before anyone knew what branding was, this guy created the most recognizable sports brand on earth. He changed the teams colors to Silver and Black and put the Raiders logo on the helmet.
And about that logo. Can anyone say that Davis’ touch on this logo from 1963 on was not genius?
Just win baby.
Commitment to Excellence.
You’re building an organization. You’re building team. Culture. DNA. Have there ever been an better set of defining principles and one’s that reflect exactly the goals of this particular leader? Davis’ force of personality is found in these statements. The concise goals in the two statements gained full buy-in from all the players who wore the Silver and Black. Those goals provided a sense of pride to their fans as well. It defined an attitude. It made Oakland a national team.
Returning to football, let’s address this:
Davis’ moves from Oakland to LA to Oakland.
I’m not here to say it was good or it was bad for Davis to move the Raiders. I’m here to point up the farce of using Davis’ moves as a justification for Art Modell’s HOF candidacy. And along those lines, let’s recall that Art:
.[yes, that’s a ironic quote brimming with log scale hypocrisy from one of the current HOF candidates.]
You don’t want to like Davis for suing the NFL? For supporting the USFL in court? For moving his team? Bizarre Marcus Allen black-balling? Not a nice guy? For staying too long? Sure fine whatever. You might not like the silk warmups, I think they’re a reflection of a man in full. And I know from an impeccable source that he was a pig with women.
But Al Davis was a pioneer and original thinker in the fields of coaching, talent acquisition, competition, branding, and culture.
And Art Modell was none of these things.
* excerpt from Davis’ HOF bio: Al Davis is the only person to have served pro football in such varied capacities as (1) a player personnel assistant, (2) an assistant coach, (3) a head coach, (4) a general manager, (5) a league commissioner and (6) the principal owner and chief executive officer of an NFL team.
** We’re working on a post that researches the ‘origin’ of the West Coast Offense. I started thinking Paul Brown to Bill Walsh (the Greg Cook/Virgil Carter offense). But then you find that Walsh worked under Coryell who was influenced by Gillman. So clearly… everything about today’s NFL offense was born where both Brown and Gillman who coaches and played … in … COLUMBUS, OHIO. (Don’t wait up for that post… might take awhile…)