NFL Nation: Darrin Nelson

Al Davis' greatest hits

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
6:45
PM ET
Let’s look at some of the biggest moves Al Davis -- who died at the age of 82 Saturday -- made since he joined the Raiders in 1963. We’ll go in chronological order:

Hiring John Madden: This set the program in motion. Davis and Madden were a great team. Both men had an eye for talent, an ability to handle renegade players, and a thirst for winning. The Raiders were an elite team in the 1970s and their Super Bowl XI victory over Minnesota in Jan. 1977 is probably the greatest moment in team history.

Acquiring Jim Plunkett: The quarterback was one of the poster boys for Davis’ factory of recycled talent. Plunkett enjoyed career resurgence in Oakland and his presence helped pave the wait for the Raiders’ second and third Super Bowl titles.

Drafting Marcus Allen: Davis selected the running back with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1982 draft. He quickly became a catalyst for the team and he was a key to the Raiders’ third Super Bowl title. He became a face of the franchise. It’s stunning that Minnesota took Stanford running back Darrin Nelson three picks ahead of Allen.

Moving back to Oakland: After a 13-year field trip to Los Angeles, the Raiders moved back to their Northern California home in 1995. This is where the Raiders belong and it was the right move by Davis to bring them back.

Hiring Jon Gruden: Davis hired the young offensive guru in 1998 and Gruden breathed life to the Raiders’ organization. They later added quarterback Rich Gannon and the three men helped lead the Raiders to prominence again. It all culminated in Davis’ final Super Bowl appearance in Jan. 2003, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Raiders. The team he traded Gruden to the Bucs in 2002. As much life Gruden’s hiring brought Oakland, his trade brought despair to the team for much of the last decade.

Hiring Hue Jackson: Davis’ last coaching hire (he had 11 coaches since 1978 when Madden retired) has the look of a good one. Times have been tough in Oakland for the past nine years, but Jackson is a talented, energized coach who is proud to be connected to Davis. Watch for Jackson to dedicate his time in Oakland to restoring the glory of Davis’ era. If Jackson is successful, it will be a tremendous final act by Davis.

I’m sure you have memories. Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in Green Bay Packers history was nearly scuttled by an unlikely source. Shortly after Vince Lombardi accepted the Packers' job as head coach/general manager in 1959, his wife was "distraught," according to historian David Maraniss.

Marie Lombardi approached New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, who owned Lombardi's contract as a Giants assistant coach. As Maraniss writes in "When Pride Still Mattered," Marie begged Mara to block her husband's move.

[+] EnlargeVince Lombardi
AP PhotoCoach Vince Lombardi (upper right) led the Packers to five championship wins in seven seasons.
Mara declined, knowing Vince was ready to be a head coach. Marie stood by her husband. And the rest, as they say, is Packers history.

Lombardi's arrival in Green Bay was your overwhelming choice as the Packers' Flash Point, and it received a higher percentage of votes (69 percent) than any individual event offered in last week's series of polls. Lombardi won his first NFL title in 1961 and collected four more before giving up the job in 1967, building an unmatched legend and painting the franchise in gold mystique for generations to come.

Some of you made impassioned arguments for Curly Lambeau's push to sell stock and make the franchise a non-profit organization in 1923, a short-term fundraising effort that embedded a structure still in operation today. "How can it not be Curly?" wrote mallow420. "If Curly doesn't save the Packers then there's no Packers to hire Lombardi."

Hadessniper allowed that "Lambeau making the Packers public is more important for the Packers, as without that there is simply no way Green Bay keeps a team." But, wrote hadessniper, "Lombardi is probably more important for the NFL as a whole. The NFL was gaining popularity, but Lombardi gave the game a legend. Without Lombardi the NFL wouldn't be what it is today."

Timarquardt was more direct: "Get back to me when someone else wins five championships in seven years. That's Lombardi's legacy and with all due credit to Curly, he did it when there was a bunch of good teams. Curly saved the franchise, obviously important, but without those Lombardi years the team never would have had the following through the dark years of the '70s and '80s to be successful."

What's fascinating to me is that Lambeau actually wanted Lombardi's job in 1959, a decade after an internal power struggle led to Lambeau's ouster. As Maraniss recounts, Lambeau flew to Green Bay during the interview process and launched a campaign to capture at least the general manager position that Lombardi ultimately filled. Dominic Olejniczak, president of the Packers board of directors, resisted the urge to hire him despite heavy public support.

The Flash Point mandate was less clear for the NFC North's other three teams. Let's sort through them in alphabetical order:

BEARS: A hero of 1985

About half of you voted for the arrival of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the architect of the 46 defense that led the Bears to a championship in 1985.

Buddy Ryan
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan's 46 defense formed the identity of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears team.
Lewie21982 was livid and wrote: "Who are these people voting?? Are you just idiot baby boomers, hippies, or the '80s mullet crowd??? I was born in the '80s and clearly know the decision of drafting Red Grange or instituting the T-Formation was the most significant thing the Bears have ever done. The Bears have nine championships and eight of them were before Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka, or the 46 defense ever came around!!"

I hear ya, Lewie21982. Red Grange made the Bears an early heavy hitter in pro football, and George Halas' schematic innovations led to the golden age in franchise history -- four world titles in seven years between 1940-46. But I understand where the baby boomers, hippies and mulleteers were going.

The 1985 Bears were the best team in franchise history and one of the most dominant of the NFL's post-merger era. With all due respect to Ditka and running back Walter Payton, Ryan's 46 defense was the biggest reason. It's impossible for a single moment to spawn something so impactful, and I heard a suggestion for ex-general manager Jim Finks acquiring many of that team's stars. But without Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense doesn't exist and the 1985 Bears as they were known never come to be.

LIONS: Forgetting yesteryear

The Detroit Lions' Flash Point vote got more action than any team in the division, garnering more than 53,000 votes. On that, we can agree.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Barry Sanders
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders had a Hall of Fame career but couldn't get the Lions a championship.
But did the decision to draft running back Barry Sanders have more impact than any other event in franchise history? About 60 percent of you thought so, although the comments reflected a wider disparity.

I'm not on board, and neither was j_sleik83. We agree that quarterback Bobby Layne brought the Lions what Sanders never did. J_sleik83: "Bobby Layne in combination with the Hall of Fame defensive backfield the Lions had during the entirety of the '50s IS their defining era. Barry Sanders didn't lead them to the promised land, Layne did."

I mean no disrespect to Sanders, who forged a Hall of Fame career on some otherwise undermanned teams. But with Layne behind center, the Lions won NFL titles in 1952 and 1953. He contributed to a third in 1957, and upon his subsequent departure, Layne placed a (possibly apocryphal) 50-year curse on the franchise. (For that reason, DWargs thought trading Layne away is the defining moment in franchise history: "Haven't gotten close to a championship since.")

Several of you pointed to the ownership of the Ford family as the primary reason for that dubious run. Regardless, I understand that Lions history is defined more by failure than success. But on an otherwise desultory landscape, the Lions once had a brilliant run. Bobby Layne was the single biggest reason why.

VIKINGS: Varied opinions

I did either an excellent or terrible job of choosing options for the Minnesota Vikings' Flash Point: All four possibilities received between 19 and 32 percent of the vote. Assembling the "Purple People Eaters" had the highest percentage, but its total was hardly a mandate among the 38,000 or so votes cast.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota coach Bud Grant
AP Photo/Jack ThornellBud Grant won 152 games as coach over 18 seasons.
Scanning the comments, it was clear that you agreed on only one thing: A Vikings Flash Point needed to reflect a long history of dysfunction.

Even looking beyond the obvious, Ymacdaddy offered this litany: "Herschel Walker, Metrodome [collapse], Gary Anderson, Dimitrius Underwood, too many in huddle, big-game chokers, etc. How about Darrin Nelson before Marcus Allen?"

The 1989 Walker trade, in which the Vikings ultimately gave up five players and six draft choices, received multiple mentions. So did Gary Anderson's shocking field goal miss in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. BuckeyeVikes80 is "still reeling from that 12 years later."

Dbatten1 noted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass to Drew "Push" Pearson in the 1975 playoffs. TampaPacMan's moment was the final play of the 2003 season, when the Vikings lost the NFC North title and a playoff berth by giving up an improbable touchdown to Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole. It was "the signature moment in a franchise history littered with failures!" wrote TampaPacMan.

If it were up to me, Bud Grant's arrival would rank as the most significant moment in Vikings history. Many of us would agree that Grant has made the single-biggest impact in this franchise's 50 years. But what do I know? I just work here.

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