Al Davis was born on July 4, 1929. Had he been so inclined during his prime, he could have persuaded a judge to invalidate his birth certificate and won punitive damages from the attending midwife.
Davis, who died Saturday, wasn't an only-in-America success story. He was an especially-in-America success story, with his abiding appreciation of hard work, wealth, confrontation and litigation. He loved victory, mystery and standing on the outside looking in.
He inspired awe, disdain, blind loyalty, blind rage, imitators, sycophants, friends and enemies. He was so much to so many for so long that he defies a complete and fitting eulogy.
He would have liked that.
''It's important for Al to be not defined, not known, not understood,'' Todd Christensen, a Raiders tight end from 1979-88, once said. ''He obfuscates reality to create his own reality.'' Obfuscates. Davis would have liked that, too.
Of course, obfuscation is a painstaking process. Davis wasn't always the complex anti-establishment icon we knew over the past 30 years. His story began simply enough -- as a young man with a dream.
Davis, according to the history books, was a reserve on the Erasmus High School basketball team in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended Syracuse, where he was cut from the varsity football team, played JV basketball, and waited tables. It's not difficult to imagine his distaste for the common man's unremarkable existence taking root during this time.
His pursuit of the uncommon life began following his graduation from Syracuse in 1950, when he was hired as line coach at Adelphi (N.Y.) College. It continued in the U.S. Army, where Davis earned an assignment as the head football coach at Ft. Belvoir, Va. Rumors that he attempted to relocate the team to Ft. Polk, La., for a more favorable lease cannot be confirmed; but it is true his team defeated defending NCAA champion Maryland in a squad game.
From there, Davis spent the 1954 season on the staff of the Baltimore Colts, worked as line coach and chief recruiter for The Citadel in 1955-56, and was line coach (and later defensive coordinator) at USC from 1957-59.
If Davis hadn't reached the big time, he could see it from the USC campus. Then, in 1960, the man met his moment.
The American Football League was born at the dawn of a tumultuous decade, and it was just what Davis was looking for -- a renegade outfit bent on sticking a finger in the eye of the established NFL.
Davis dug into his new job -- with the Los Angeles Chargers -- with gusto.
''Al thinks he's the smartest guy in football,'' said his boss, then-Chargers head coach Sid Gillman.
''He isn't. But he is going to be.'' After three years with the Chargers, the 35-year-old Davis was hired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, a team with a three-year record of 9-33. The Raiders went 23-16-3 in three seasons under Davis.
Other AFL owners recognized Davis' brilliance, and hired him as their commissioner in April, 1966. He aggressively raided the NFL, signing its star quarterbacks to future contracts. The leagues announced a merger in June. Davis was disappointed; he'd rather have conquered the NFL than compromised.
He returned to the Raiders as the team's managing general partner. What ensued were 20 of the most successful, thrilling, unique years ever enjoyed by any team, in any league, in any sport. The Raiders won three Super Bowls, 11 division championships and 71 percent of their regular-season games between 1966-85. The real story was how they went about it.
Davis' players were a loud, confident, swaggering lot. They were castoffs, misfits, ne'er-do-wells, long-hairs, no-hairs, push-the-envelope, cross-the-line, infamous, notorious and vainglorious one-of-a- kinds. From Blanda, to Matuszak, to Sistrunk, to Stabler, to Plunkett, they were players other teams didn't want or didn't like.
You couldn't keep your eyes off them.
Davis' crowning moment came in early 1981 when, already at legal loggerheads with the NFL over his desire to relocate the team to Los Angeles, the Raiders became the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. In the giddy locker room, Davis accepted the trophy from NFL commissioner, and personal rival, Pete Rozelle. Davis wore a leering smile. Rozelle looked sick to his stomach.
At this point Davis already was navigating his legend beyond the game. The Raiders won the Super Bowl after the 1976, '80 and '83 seasons. They won a combined 23 games in 1984-85. But by the mid- 1980s they were becoming more of a cultural statement than a football team. Davis was not content being the smartest guy in football.
He considered himself bulletproof in any arena. His belief was seemingly validated by a higher power when, in 1979, his wife Carole suffered a heart attack and was given little chance of recovery by doctors. Davis remained by her bedside for weeks. She recovered.
Shortly thereafter, he indeed moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles against the NFL's wishes, and trounced the league in court. The team attracted a base of socially disenfranchised fans, lured more by the renegade ideology than the football. For Davis, there was no turning back. He became obsessed with legal proceedings. The team began to suffer from neglect. He would later admit directing too much energy to off-field interests. The record bears him out.
In his second 20 years as Raiders boss, which ended with the 2005 season, the team was barely a .500 outfit, winning just four division titles and appearing in just one Super Bowl -- which they lost to Tampa Bay and former head coach Jon Gruden, 48-21.
Davis seemed inclined to take the road less travel merely for the contrarian thrill. He returned the team to Oakland, sparking a new round of lawsuits, not all of which turned out the way he hoped. His dictatorial style made for a self-defeating organizational premise. It seemed to be just as important to be not understood as it did to be successful.
''Al has a very Machiavellian attitude,'' Christensen said. ''He would rather be feared than loved, because love is transitory, while fear is consistent.''
Davis, in his rare public appearances and obligatory through-the-press-box-window sightings, took on the appearance of an icon from another age. When ABC announcer Dennis Miller had a hallway encounter with Davis during a Monday night game in Denver, he reported breathlessly back to his broadcasting boothmates:
''He looks like an Elvis who lived.''
Davis ruthlessly turned on former friends, players and coaches. He was fiercely loyal to others, performing great, heartwarming, unpublicized acts of philanthropy. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and chosen by eight of his former players to introduce them at their enshrinement.
He was anything but common.
''I'm praising myself,'' he once said, ''but I've done more than anyone else by all the things I've done.
"Yeah, I've lived my dream, but I thought I would live my dream. But you've got to go get it. You've got to fight for it, and you've got to dominate.''
Davis is survived by hundreds of former players, millions of loyal fans, and countless former rivals whose grudging respect he still holds. None of which would have held up in court if he hadn't wanted it to, back in the day.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.