Bill Walsh told me this one not long before he died. He and Al Davis went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant — it might have been in Palo Alto. They were having a nice time until one patron noticed them and walked over to their table. The guy had been drinking a lot. He grinned at Walsh and Davis and said how nice it was to see these two rivals together.
Davis and Walsh chatted with the man for a moment and then got back to their meals. The man didn’t leave. He just stood there grinning. Finally, Davis turned to him.
“Did you get what you want?” Al asked.
“Yes,” the man said.
“Then get the hell out of here.”
Walsh loved that story, laughed when he told it to me.
It has so many layers. Bill never would tell someone to go to hell. He was too polite for that, although I’m sure he was glad Al got rid of the guy. But it’s also that Bill disliked conflict. He admired Al for embracing conflict, but he also found it, in some situations, crude or too frontal — something that could have been handled with diplomacy. Bill was conflicted about Al. He admired Al’s toughness, wished he could be like Al, but he also didn’t want to be like Al. Are you with me here?
Once in 1992 he asked me if I knew Al well. I said no, that through most of my career Al was in LA. Bill said that was too bad. He said Al was fascinating and I would have benefited by having a relationship with him. Al taught Bill the core of his football knowledge and Bill acknowledged that. Bill admired Al’s straight-ahead Brooklyn guts but didn’t know how to be that way himself.