Somewhere out there in the Great Beyond, one of two things just happened, or possibly both:
1. Al Davis hired a lawyer and sued God for ... well, something.
2. Al Davis told God he has some sort of blockbuster celestial deal brewing, but "it's on a need-to-know basis, and you don't need to know."
Oh, he was a piece of work, Davis was. With his passing today at 82, the eternally combative, eternally enigmatic owner of the Oakland Raiders leaves such a sprawling legacy that in one breath you can say professional football has lost one of its giants, and in the next say it's also lost its signature iconoclast/gadfly/pain in the ass.
His secretive nature and paranoid, junkyard dog demeanor ensured that he would always be one of the game's more bizarre figures, and he became increasingly so in his later years, as the Raiders made one inexplicable move after another. That's too bad, because it obscures the fact that he was hugely responsible for the monolith that is the modern-day NFL.
As first coach and then owner of the Raiders, Davis, after all, was the driving force behind the seize-the-day strategy that eventually drove the NFL to the bargaining table with the upstart AFL back in the mid-1960s. His combativeness came to symbolize the feisty underling league to such an extent that, despite the fact hardly any of the other AFL owners liked or fully trusted, they appointed Davis the AFL's commissioner in hopes his hardballing ways would force a merger.
And it did, getting no little help from Giants owner Wellington Mara, who inadvertently started the bidding war with the AFL by raiding the Buffalo Bills for kicker Pete Gogolak. In so doing, he played right into the hands of Davis, who immediately took the gloves off and began raiding NFL clubs.
As recounted by Michael McCambridge in his history of the NFL, "America's Game," Davis grinned at Bills' owner Ralph Wilson when he heard the news about Mara's raid and said, "We just got our merger."
How is that, Wilson wanted to know.
"Look," Davis said. "If we go out and sign their players, we'll destroy them, and they'll come to the table."
Which is what happened. And which is what set the NFL on the road to becoming the single greatest commercial force in American sports today.
And which is why Al Davis was, yes, a giant.