The Will To Let Go

Thirty-eight years ago today, the Oakland Raiders achieved their first Super Bowl victory, the first of what would be three championships in the span of eight years. In the years following their third Super Bowl win, in 1988, the Raiders would hire a young offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan, as their new head coach.

Almost immediately, the weather started getting rough for the Raiders organization as Shanahan and then owner Al Davis jockeyed for control of the team on the field; Davis was known for involving himself in all matters of the team, wanting his head coach to do what he thought was best for the team. The drama increased as the Raiders finished the season winning only 7 of 16 games while the personnel Shanahan hired got into heated arguments with Davis’s personnel. When Davis fired one of Shanahan’s guys, Shanahan retaliated by firing two of Davis’s guys, who Davis would rehire. The start of the next season saw the Raiders with a 1-3 record, giving Davis the excuse he needed to fire Shanahan.

Their disdain for each other would only be fanned in later years after the Denver Broncos – a “hated” rival of the Raiders – hired Shanahan as their head coach. Every season, before the Broncos played the Raiders, Shanahan would bring up a continued contract dispute he had with Davis in which he claimed Davis still owed him $250,000 from his short stint as the Raiders head coach. Davis consistently refuted Shanahan’s claim. But Shanahan would get the last laugh in his 14 seasons as Broncos head coach, winning 21 out of 28 games against the Raiders as well as propelling his team to two Super Bowl championships, whereas the Raiders won none. Al Davis would hold his grudge against Mike Shanahan, hating the man until the day he died.

Today, Al Davis’s son, Mark, is in charge of getting the Raiders back to their winning ways. Unfortunately for Mark, and Raiders fans, Al never taught him the ins and outs of running a football team. Mark was involved on the business side of things, but he stayed away from football operations. And so Mark has had to learn, from the ground up, how to build a winning franchise. So far, his efforts have only managed to earn back-to-back 4-12 seasons followed by a 3-13 season in which Mark’s first head coach, Dennis Allen, was fired.

But in the search for a new head coach, Mark is showing something his father never displayed: the ability to let go of the past.

Recently, Mark interviewed Mike Shanahan to possibly fill the vacant head coaching position. And he did this despite the fact that some people who were close to Al Davis, and some fans as well, view such an action as disrespectful to the late owner. But in defending his decision to interview Shanahan, Mark showed respect for his father, saying, “This is something I learned from my dad. You listen to everybody because you can learn from anybody.”

Mark isn’t holding onto grudges from the past. He isn’t allowing his father’s animosities to rule his decision-making. For the sake of crafting the Raiders into a winning team again, Mark is making new friends rather than retaining old enemies. He seems determined to not make the same mistakes of the previous generation, to not cling to feelings of being wronged.

Up until this point, I saw Mark Davis as someone who didn’t know how to handle a football franchise, someone who had not one clue about how to construct a winning team. I even supported the fans who were calling for Mark to sell the Raiders to someone who could get the job done.

But given these recent events of the consideration of a long-time enemy of the franchise for the vacant head coaching position, I’m starting to feel like Mark is getting it, maybe even better than his father got it. And after all of these years of losses and lows, I’m seeing the beginnings of the son possibly becoming greater than the father. I’m seeing Mark show to the Raider Nation that he’s willing to do whatever he has to do in order to get the Raiders back to the Super Bowl. For the first time since he took over ownership of the Raiders, I’m seeing Mark Davis, like his father before him, displaying a Commitment To Excellence.

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