Two things were evident on an evening of sweet nostalgia: That Al Davis wasn’t in the room, and that John Madden was.
“You can’t write the history of sports in the Bay Area without the name Al Davis,” Madden said. “Al Davis belongs here. He’s a Hall of Famer.”
So is Madden. He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. Monday night at the St. Francis Hotel, in the annual feel-good ceremonies, Davis, previously inducted at Canton, joined Madden in BASHOF.
Also entering BASHOF this time were Steve Negoesco, the legendary soccer coach at University of San Francisco; Brian Boitano, the Olympic gold medalist figure skater from Sunnyvale; Bert “Campy” Campaneris, the shortstop on those A’s World Series Championship teams of 72-73-74; and R.C. Owens, the 49ers soaring receiver.
Davis was not in attendance, unfortunate for an audience whose support of the BASHOF funds youth sports programs. Unfortunate because no one can mesmerize, persuade and politic like Al Davis.
In his stead, as presenter to and accepter for Davis, the man who made the Raiders, was Madden. “I’m big enough for both places,” he joked.
As he talked of Davis, who was missed, we were reminded of the Monday and Sunday night football John Madden, who having retired before the ’09 season, has been missing. Boom!
Madden is a Davis guy, hired by Davis as a Raiders assistant in 1967 and then elevated to head coach, at age 32, by Davis in 1969. He understands Davis’ obsession: victory. Yet there were no falsehoods in the Madden presentation.
“If you want a fight,” said Madden, “then Al Davis is the perfect guy. Al Davis is not all things to all people, but he is a lot of things to a lot of people.”
These days Davis may be anathema to Raider Nation, the team having tumbled into disarray. But as Simon and Garfunkel sang, the fighter still remains.
At 80-year-old, Davis’ battles include one against the neuropathy which has afflicted his legs and probably kept him from the BASHOF festivities.
Davis was outside a BASHOF — which has greats such as Joe DiMaggio, Bill Russell, Rick Barry, Donna de Varona, Willie Shoemaker and Jim Otto — because of a restriction on administrators and owners. Once that was lifted, longtime 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was voted in. Now Al Davis is also in.
“They think he was a hard guy to work for, but he was the easiest guy,” said Madden of Davis. “You have to answer to someone, and I answered to a football man. It was like a “Don’t go to Jail” pass. Everything that went wrong they blamed Al Davis, not me.”
Plenty of blame, and as the others entering BASHOF, plenty of credit.
“Al has always been for the underdogs,” said Madden, who considered himself in that group the day he was chosen as the Raiders coach. “When the old AFL wanted to go after the NFL, they made Al commissioner.”
Davis’ wife, Carol, was present. She heard Madden call her a superwoman. She heard Madden say, “Al Davis’ whole life has been devoted to football.”
And then, via video, she, and we, heard Davis say, “Just win, baby.”
This night, he just won.