Art Powell, an independent free-thinker who played four spectacular seasons as a wide receiver for the Raiders from 1963-66, has died at age 78.
“The Raider family is sad to learn of the passing of Art Powell,” the club said in a statement. “His strong convictions and athletic prowess helped shape the pro football landscape of the 1960s. Our hearts and prayers and most sincere condolences are with his family at this time.”
The Raiders released no information regarding cause of death, but the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Powell died Monday night and had been dealing with heart problems and other health issues.
Powell, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound specimen that owner Al Davis once called “the T.O. of his time” in reference to Terrell Owens, had 254 receptions for 4,491 yards and 50 touchdowns in his four seasons with the Raiders.
For his career, Powell had 479 receptions for 8,046 yards and 81 touchdowns.
Powell began his career in 1959 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was released after refusing to participate in a preseason game in Norfolk, Va., because African-Amercan players were not allowed to stay in the same hotel as white players.
He surfaced with the New York Titans of the American Football League, and signed with the Raiders after Davis paid a personal visit. The Raiders had been on of the AFL’s worst teams, and Powell had no intention of coming to Oakland until he talked to Davis, who had taken over as coach and general manager.
“My wife and I took Al to dinner. We went back to our apartment, and he told me how he was going to give me a chance to stretch out and show what kind of receiver I could really be,” Powell said in a 2006 story in the Oakland Tribune. “Being the salesman that he is, when he left, he had a signed contract with my name on it.”
With the Raiders, Powell and other African-American players balked at the idea of playing in a preseason game in Ladd Stadium Mobile, Ala., because black fans weren’t allowed to sit with whites and players were to be split up into two hotels.
Powell, Clem Daniels, Bo Roberson and Fred Williamson met with Davis to express their concern, and Davis had the game switched to Frank Youell Field in Oakland.
“Al never put on another game in the south during my time with the Raiders,” Powell said.
The Raiders traded Powell to the Buffalo Bills in 1967 at Powell’s request. Powell, wanted to pursue a business opportunity in the area.
Powell played in college at San Jose State with Bill Walsh as graduate assistant coach and Walsh was later an offensive coach for the Raiders when Powell was on the team.
“Art was his own man and fiercely independent,” Walsh said in 2006. “He was not afraid to voice his own opinions and take a stand.
Davis traded Powell and quarterback Tom Flores to Buffalo in exchange for quarterback Daryle Lamonica, who threw 34 touchdown passes as the Raiders went 13-1 and won the AFC championship.
Powell’s career faded in Buffalo following a knee injury and in 2006 he said he wondered how things had gone had he never requested a trade from the Raiders.
“Not every decision you make goes well,” Powell said. “I regret it more than Mr. Davis does. There is no doubt playing with the Raiders would have been the best way to finish my career. You make a decision, you live with it.”