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10/10/11

Raiders Al Davis and Apple’s Steve Jobs Contributions to the NFL

Late Raiders owner Al Davis

The late Raiders owner and general bad-ass Al Davis in younger days.

A lot of wonderful pieces have been written on Al Davis since he passed away. Up until Ice Cube’s 30 for 30 documentary aired I knew a little about the Davis and the Raiders’ storied franchise–but not a whole lot. And it’s a shame too, because Al Davis has contributed to two major things of interest to me: Vertical offense and creative marketing.  The marketing side of his contributions is covered fairly well in the 30 for 30 documentary. And reporters are doing a great job explaining his impact on the NFL’s passing game. I think that this is the best description (fairly brief and easy to understand) that I’ve seen.

In short Davis help change offenses from stretching the field horizontally to stretching the field vertically. That means rather than covering the field side-line to side-line, Davis looked to cover it from the line of scrimmage to the end zone. Before Davis started extensively using rarefied (at the time) formations and strategies offenses weren’t really in the business of “attacking.” Offenses looked for ways to exploit defenses, sure, but Davis wanted defenses to work for every stop.

What does all of that mean today? Well, I’d say a few things.

Stretching the field from the LOS to the end zone makes football way more watchable. Some of the most boring games we see today are ones that involve a lot of short screen passes, stifled runs down the middle, and Wide Receiver jams that should have resulted in deep plays. The more of play action that takes place at the LOS the less watchable football is–especially when you’re watching on TV. Bringing football the length of the field puts more of what’s happening in view.

Think about the fact that even with modern broadcasting abilities, we probably see about 1/100th of what happens on that field. When all of play action is smash mouth running, covered blocking, and crowds of bodies blanketing the play there’s not a whole lot to see. Vertical offense helped take football from a game you kinda have to love and be there to appreciate to a game with broader appeal. Without  guys like Al Davis and Don Coryell and, to an extent Bobby Bowden, I doubt we’d be seeing receivers like Calvin Johnson do much stuff like this. And I doubt there’d be such a stage for guys like Lil Baby Darren Sproles (I gotta stop calling him that!), LeSean McCoy and other pass-catching running backs that rely on space to make it do what it do if not for Davis inspiring more use of the slot.

I feel confident in crediting Davis and the aerial pioneers with my love of the NFL. The ideas they implemented created a ripple effect. Once offenses were altered, defenses followed suit. And being obsessed with defense the way that I am, I love that the emphasis on the passing game has caused defenses to present a variety of looks for my personal enjoyment!

For a great article on Davis, check out this one from SI’s vault.

Steve Jobs contribution to the NFL is actually sort of related if you’re thinking about “modernization” of the game. NFL teams are starting to move their playbooks to the ipad. I’m interested to see which teams will be the slowest to embrace the new technology. I think the use of the ipads is a great thing. I haven’t seen exactly how the playbooks look on ipad and I don’t know all the capabilities, however, I can fully imagine players getting somewhat of a second life experience with the ipad letting them more fully envision their roles, the moves of other players, draw on the screen the way that coaches draw on the chalk or white erase board. Seeing little men on a screen sounds so much better than dry ass Xs and Os.

And then there’s this:

In a lot of ways, this is exactly what tablets are meant for: easy access to data via wireless networks, high-quality photos, and portability. And from a coach’s or player’s perspective, imagine being able to quickly sort through a large set of plays, look at them in a stylish graphical presentation, see animations of them in action, and more–or to download a photo of the last play seconds later.

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