On Friday at 10 p.m. ET, NFL Films will conclude what is hopefully just the first round of its "A Football Life" series with a look at Al Davis, a man who did as much for the game as anyone in pro football history.
The only individual in league annals to hold positions as assistant coach, head coach, general manager, team owner and league commissioner, Davis started his professional football career with Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman, and he moved on to become the American Football League Coach of the Year in 1963 when he turned around a formerly decrepit franchise called the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders would be Davis' primary devotion to the end of his life in 2011 — the only instance in which he took time away from the Raiders was when he was asked to become AFL commissioner in 1966. Davis' aggressive plan to steal the best NFL players forced the eventual merger and set the table for the NFL's current place as the governing body of the country's most popular sport.
And it's important to look back at Davis' singular genius from the beginning of his career on — from the 1960s through the early 2000s, the Raiders were nearly always competitive, and quite often transcendent. The oft-lampooned figure Davis became toward the end of his life (a status that was entirely self-created, it must be said) should not eclipse what Davis meant to the game of pro football.
The documentary features previously unseen NFL Films interviews with Davis, and new interviews with former Raiders players Matt Millen, Willie Brown and George Atkinson, former Raiders front office executive Michael Lombardi and Yahoo! Sports football writer Michael Silver reflecting on Davis' career and legacy. Additional interviews include archived footage of former Raiders head coaches John Madden, Tom Flores and Art Shell, and current Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan discussing the NFL icon.
One of the two men telling that tale in this installment of the "Football Life" series is NFL Films Senior Producer David Plaut, who's been with the company for 36 years. He co-produced the documentary with Ken Rogers, who also produced the two-part "Bill Belichick: A Football Life." He's also written or co-authored five books, including the amazing "The Games That Changed the Game" with Ron Jaworski and our weekly podcast buddy, Greg Cosell.
David was kind enough to spend about half an hour with us on Friday morning to discuss the documentary and Davis' legacy — how much he did for the game, his significant football genius, the contradictions that burned inside him, and what ultimately led to the game getting away from him before his passing. It's a fascinating point of view, so check it out!