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.

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  1. Fred G

    I love this story and your take on it. Brilliant.

    October 11th, 2011 9:17 am

  2. MoragaJohn

    Very interesting insight! I don’t know if it could be considered irony but while Bill may have had a softer public image, it seems to me that when in came to dealing with loyal but perhaps over the hill players, Al was really the softy.

    October 11th, 2011 9:24 am

  3. STAN

    Live long enough you learn well you can get more with sugar then vinegar,sure. Also live long enough,and you get fed up constantly waiting for those who don’t have a clue to get out of your way. Deal with educated,refined people like I have at times in the workforce,its easy to be sugar. Deal with ex felons who would steal you blind..and Al’s way is best,cleanest. It wasn’t confrontational,or crude. And,it speaks a language they know and in their crook way ,respect.

    October 11th, 2011 9:38 am

  4. Mark M

    Really enjoying these little tidbits

    October 11th, 2011 9:50 am

  5. Dan

    I find it fascinating and remarkable that these two Hall of Famers were such good friends. They were two such charismatic and brilliant men — giants in the sport, really — but so different in their football philosophies, style and personalities. And it’s obvious from reading some clips that they cared about each other: Davis publicly worried about Walsh’s condition and was among the last to visit him before he died. It’s odd that Walsh worked for Davis for one season. I wonder what their relationship was like then. I remember reading that Walsh sought the Raider coaching job after John Rauch left. He later recalled that Davis was respectful, but ultimately chose to hire John Madden. (Walsh only had a couple of seasons as an NFL assistant at that point.) I wonder how it would have turned out if Walsh had coached the Raiders? How well would he have worked with Davis? He never would have learned from Paul Brown. He might not have developed the Walsh offense as we know it today. We all know that Davis preferred that deep passing attack. Walsh would not have had to use someone like Virgil Carter, whose limitations (lack of a strong arm) forced him to develop the West Coast Offense in Cincinnati.

    October 11th, 2011 10:04 am

  6. STAN

    One other angle about handling things-I think I might have to tone it down a bit, A media injustice got me so worked up I had to take an extra BP pill.
    So,I may lean to milder answers for a while. Well,try.

    October 11th, 2011 11:00 am

  7. glenellen

    I have had a good life growing up here and enjoying my sports teams. Root, root, root for the home team. Not jumping on the band wagon of some team that is hot.
    I have a hard time believing that the next generation will have what we witnessed and enjoyed. I just don’t see another Joe Montana, Bill Walsh, The Giants of the 60′s, Barry Bonds,
    and of course Al Davis. (Exception the 2010 Giants)
    Whatever you thought of him, during his life time I don’t think anybody gave the Media more to write about than Al. Whether it was sueing the NFL, moving back and forth LA, rebuilding Mt. Davis. I can hear your old typewriter. He had the Raiders in the news all of the time.
    When some bid news event was happening, like Draft Day, or The Super Bowl, he was on the front page making a huge trade or firing someone. I am going to miss that.

    October 11th, 2011 11:17 am

  8. KauaiRobert

    Another sweet Al Davis vignette…but I find myself wanting to read more about his darker side.
    Still to soon for that…?

    October 11th, 2011 11:57 am

  9. eb

    That’s a great story, Lowell.

    October 11th, 2011 12:05 pm

  10. Brodie2Washington

    “I learned more football in one year with the Raiders then in any ten years I spent elsewhere.” Bill Walsh, Building a Champion, pg 34.

    Al knew how to fight with his mouth, Bill knew how to fight with his fists. Boxing was his first passion. Used alot of boxing tactics (like “beating to the punch”, the importance of footwork for quarterback accuracy and power, and showing players Ali-Foreman tapes before games).

    According to the book “Genius”, he once chased down another driver for making an obscene gesture, after several miles of chasing caught up to the guy and clean knocked him out.

    Look mild mannered and professorial, then shock the opponent with speed and sudden violence seems to be an ongoing theme of the WCO.

    October 11th, 2011 12:09 pm

  11. moto

    the only person in the modern era of the n.f.l. who has a comparable place in its history to Davis is Paul Brown, and of course Walsh apprenticed with both of them. no one compares to Davis however in combining intricate knowledge of the game with great vision of what the game would become in the electronic video/media age, and who else could make the humble scruffy place ‘Oakland’ recognized and respected ?

    October 11th, 2011 12:24 pm

  12. John Sousa

    Somehow I could Lowell doing that.

    October 11th, 2011 2:52 pm

  13. Dennis

    I tend to admire the Bill Walsh’s in life more than the Al Davis’. But I do believe that you need to be who you are and who you are comfortable with. I don’t think either man could have been successful in life if they tried being each other.

    October 11th, 2011 4:21 pm

  14. TJB in HMB

    Then Al flapped his dark cape and vanished in a puff of smoke.

    October 11th, 2011 4:45 pm

  15. stlhd


    Good journalists are short subject novalists – to wit this column. Thank you, and I apologize for the spelling.

    I was connecting through Chicago years ago when I spotted Mr. Davis in his trademark white and gold – with escort walking toward me in a sea of dark suits. I am a Niners fan, but a dear friend was as loyal a Raider fan as there ever was – Dick was in the end zone made famous by the “Sea of Hands”. I HAD to get Mr. Davis’ autograph for him.
    The Raiders were in LA at the time. I got the autograph – on my boarding pass – and in passing I wished Mr. Davis the best, and offered hope that the Raiders would soon return to their roots – Oakland, for my dear friend Dick. What I will never forget about that brief encounter was the fact that Mr. Davis was approachable and kind to me, and what he said about the City of Oakland – “They better treat us better than they did the last time…the SOB” Not quite “get the hell outta here…but close. May he rest in peace.

    October 11th, 2011 6:30 pm

  16. russell

    glenellen – How can you leave out the A’s? Heck, even the Warriors of the 70′s up through the TMC days. You are correct in your thoughts I believe but you left a ton of history out.

    October 11th, 2011 8:27 pm

  17. Michael O'Donnell

    I think you’re one of the best sportswriters in the country but something of a phony. I stopped reading the Chronicle during the Walsh era because you were always ragging on them when they didn’t fulfill your absurd expectations. I think if Walsh was more like Davis he’d have told you to go straight to hell once you decided you were a fan and had always been a fan which is total BS.

    October 11th, 2011 10:47 pm

  18. KezarMike

    Well Lowell, I’m gonna disagree with Mr. O’Donnell. I’ve been a fan of yours since the Chronicle days of the 80s and I now read you on the net from Chiang Mai, Thailand (among other places). I like your son’s stuff too, by the way. And re: Bay Area sports in the 60s – 90s – the A’s had some great runs too and of course for almost two magical seasons in the mid 70s – even the Warriors! But…. with the Giants of 2010 and now with the beginning of the Harbaugh era…. a new golden age?

    October 12th, 2011 5:01 am

  19. chris

    my mother just told me a story about her good friend who was standing in line at a local airport, when all of a sudden a commotion started up behind her……she turned around and an irate man was clearing people aside saying “outta my way, I’m Al Davis”……..and it was Al Davis. As Ralph Barbieri once said on KNBR, “Al Davis is an egomaniacal jerk”……oh well, just have to put that side of the man on the back burner to enjoy his football team…..Another sellout for this weekend to honor the mans great NFL moments………should be alot of emotions flowing on Sunday at the House of Thrills.

    October 13th, 2011 8:50 pm

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