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Davis’s influence felt locally

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / October 9, 2011

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The irony was inescapable, and painful, for Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Last Sunday, Kraft visited Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in his box at Coliseum before the Patriots and Raiders faced off.

Davis, who always had an affinity for Myra Kraft because of their shared New England roots, told Kraft that the Raiders would be observing a moment of silence for his late wife.

A moment of silence for a fellow owner’s wife? That might have been an NFL first.

Al Davis: an innovator until the end.

Davis, one of the most influential figures in the history of professional football and a member of the Hall of Fame, died yesterday at his home in Oakland, Calif. He was 82.

The Patriots will hold a moment of silence for Davis before today’s game against the Jets.

“How ironic is it that a week later, I’ll be doing for him what he did for my wife?’’ Kraft said last night after Yom Kippur fast. “That’s some sort of unique karma.’’

Davis was born in Brockton on July 4, 1929, although that is in dispute.

According to previous reports in the Globe, the Brockton City Clerk’s office has a record of Al Davis’s birth in 1929, but it implies that Davis was born in New York City.

But Davis’s parents, Louis and Rose Davis, were living at 363 Spring Street at the time - just as they were when Davis’s older brother was born four years earlier - so perhaps Davis’s mother was visiting New York when she had him.

Even though Davis is most connected with his Brooklyn roots, where the family moved when he was 5, Davis did consider himself a New Englander.

“When he was with me, he was a New Englander. He really was,’’ Kraft said. “Especially in the early years. When we were together, we talked about it.’’

They also talked a lot about football, and Davis had plenty to share.

In many ways, he was the NFL’s version of Red Auerbach: Both made their names as coaches, and then enjoyed success as executives. The Raiders won four league titles, including three Super Bowls.

During a 51-year career, Davis scouted and was an assistant coach for the San Diego Chargers and Raiders, before becoming head coach and general manager of the Raiders.

He was also commissioner of the American Football League in 1966. Davis’s daring personnel moves and maverick attitude was one of the driving forces to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Even as an NFL owner, Davis was involved in multiple lawsuits aimed at the league and then-commissioner Pete Rozelle, mostly dealing with his moving the team to Los Angeles in 1982, and back to Oakland in 1995.

It was like Davis was the older son who always pushed back against his parents because he thought he was smarter.

Davis, who also feuded with the Sullivan family when they owned the Patriots, often was.

“Of all the people, and I’m going back all the way into the 1940s when I was a kid, he was probably within the top five most brilliant people I ever met in the game,’’ said Upton Bell, the son of former NFL commissioner Bert Bell and himself a league executive in the 1960s and the ’70s. “He was so far ahead of everybody of his time.’’

Late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, a Raiders assistant in the mid-1960s and close friend of Davis, once said Davis would have been one of the great coaches had he decided to do that.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick interviewed to be Davis’s head coach in 1998, but knew it was a fruitless endeavor because the Raiders still run Davis’s defense.

“He’s really a defensive coordinator and has been,’’ Belichick said last week.

In a statement yesterday, Belichick reflected on what Davis meant to the game.

“His winning, his football knowledge, his passion for his team and contributions to the league made him one of the all-time greats,’’ Belichick said.

As team owner, Davis was a pioneer in placing minorities in positions of power.

Davis hired the first African-American head coach (Art Shell), Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores), and female executive (Amy Trask).

His mind is what made Kraft seek out Davis in his early years as Patriots owner.

“One of the first people to come up and greet me and accept me as an owner was Al Davis,’’ said Kraft, who often had dinner with Davis and his wife, Carol, when in the Oakland area.

“At the beginning, he was really helpful in a football sense. I needed to talk to someone. In any business I’m in, I try to find the people that I think are the smartest or know more than I know, and ask their advice on things. And surely he was someone who had a background that was quite experienced. You had to be on your toes all the time when you’re talking to him, but it was always very educational.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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