By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Friday, July 3rd, 2009 at 9:02 am in Oakland Raiders.
A transcript of a small portion of a two-hour interview aired on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Thursday night with Al Davis, conducted by Raiders play-by-play announcer and “Chronicle Live” host Greg Papa:
Papa: Let me be one of the first to wish you Happy Birthday.
Davis: Well, it will be happy when we win. But it’s a milestone, obviously, 80, and usually at this time of the year, every fifth, from 75, 80, I’ve held a nice party in Las Vegas but I felt this year, predicated on the economy, that we would just whittle it down to a few friends for dinner, and hold off because we didn’t want to flaunt when everyone else is having trouble financially and I thought it was best to do it that way. But in any event, thank you very much.
Papa: My wife and I were thrilled to be at your 75th, and it was a tremendous function and you showed a lot of generosity to us and to those closest to you. Let’s start at the beginning, we’re going to tell the story of one of the most fascinating lives not only in the history of professional football but all of American sport, July 4, 1929, Brockton, Mass., the home of Rocky Mariciano, the great champion, and you, sir. How old were you when you moved from Brockton, to Brooklyn?
Davis: We came to Brooklyn, New York, when, when I was 5 years old, and my dad was a manufacturer. He was an entrepreneur, he manufactured raincoats, and he was in real estate, and he was moving the raincoat business, in those days, to the south, because of the course of labor, and things like that. Some of the factories stopped in Baltimore, some stopped in North Carolina. But, my mother felt that we ought to stop a little further north, so we chose Brooklyn, New York. The memories are great, I lived there until I was about 16. My dad had a home in Long Beach, Long Island, and we were moving from Brooklyn to Long Beach, to Brooklyn, to Long Beach, but by the time I was ready to go to college, which I was about 17 years old. I had already committed to move to Long Beach, and so I went on to college.
Papa: Tell me about Brooklyn in those days. You mentioned some of the names to me, the great Don McMahon, who later pitched in the major leagues, with the Atlanta Braves, was a childhood friend of yours, and the Torre family, I think you were closer to Frank than Joe, and some of the people, before you got to Erasmus Hall, even that you knew growing up in Brooklyn.
Davis: Well, let me make a point to you. Brooklyn was a very diverse place. We had all the ethnic groups that you could possibly think of. It was great street learning. And right next to my house, there was a park called Lincoln Terrace Park. And it was a tough park. It really was. Whoever played in that park, you had to be a survivor. I can only tell you the story, and I did the eulogy of Sugar Ray Robinson, when he died, in Los Angeles, and one of the other eulogists, one of the other persons who spoke, was Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson and Don King were there. And we talking. And I told Mike, who was about 20 years younger than I am, `Mike, I played in Lincoln Terrace Park, and I tell you what, it was tough.’ And he said, `What do you mean you played in Lincoln Terrace?’ And I said, `I used to play there, every day and night, unless I went to practice . . . ‘
Papa: Baseball, basketball, football?
Davis: Baseball, basketball and football, and I said, `I owned that park, Mike.’ And he turned to Don King and said, `This guy is an S-O-B, he’s a tough S-O-B.’ If he can come out alive out of that park, he must be a tough S-O-B. I remember it so vividly, my public school, my junior high school was called Winthrop Junior High School. We had to march when we were in school to our classes. We had to wear a white shirt and a red tie. And anyone who went to Winthrop will remember that. And then, we were being recruited to go to high schools, and I went to Erasmus Hall High School, with the idea of playing basketball. That was the dream, to play for Al Badain, at Erasmus Hall High School. And the memories are great, I made a lot of friends. Yes, as you mentioned, a guy, McMahon, wa son the baseball team, I wish he were alive today. We used to laugh like all heck. The Torre brothers were big, they played for Madison, and Joe, I think, played for Brooklyn Prep. And there are so many great ones who went to Erasmus. Let me start with Bob Tisch, who owned the Giants. Jerry Reinsdorf, who owned the White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. Sam Rutigliano, who coached the Cleveland Browns. Sid Luckman, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Barbra Streisand, you have to fill Barbara in because she probably is the No. 1 celebrity from that school. And Lanie Kazan, we just had a litany of great performers, great people.
Papa: You mentioned you played for the great Al Badain, on the basketball team, and you played all the sports, but football, was the one, and you stated when you were 18, you felt you had a deep understanding of the game of football. Why do you feel that you saw football better than the other sports.
Davis: Well, I really don’t know that I saw it better. It interested me more. When I was 18, I was already in college. I went to college when I was 17 years old. At Erasmus, we ran a single wing. At Syracuse we ran a single wing and then Ben Schwartzwalder came and we ran a single wing, unbalanced line, and I just understand that there was more to it than running the football. There was a passing game. And I saw it, and I believed it, and a lot of people, I can remember Luke LaPorte, was one of our teammates, we were taking a class in football in the summer, and Luke came over to me after the class and looked at some passes that I had put up on the blackboard for coach Schwartzwalder’s assistant coaches, who were coaching the class to see, and he said, `Can you run that in high school?’ And I said, `High school? You can run this in pro football.’
Note: The rest of the interview is expected to be shown in the coming weeks. The first portion was aired in advance of Davis’ 80th birthday on the Fourth of July.