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A Silver and Black Sunday

Some may have chalked it up to divine intervention. Others would call it a product of mind over matter. The more cynical ones may even view it as another example that's it's better to be lucky than to be good.

But no matter how one describes the Oakland Raiders' climactic and cathartic 25-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday, all can agree it made for one damn good story.

Just 24 hours after the sudden passing of Al Davis, the Raiders paid their legendary franchise father the ultimate tribute by delivering a performance that perfectly symbolized everything that the iconic owner embodied.

For the man that coined the epic phrase, "Just Win Baby," the Raiders did exactly that. They were outgained by a 473-278 margin in total yards by the talented Texans, converted just 3-of-15 third-down opportunities, were penalized 11 times and had their best player -- running back Darren McFadden -- held squarely in check all throughout the afternoon.

Yet somehow, they found a way -- The Raider Way -- to overcome it all.

Kicker Sebastian Janikowski, one of many polarizing early-round draft picks during Davis' 46-year run as the organization's chief operating officer, general manager, primary decision maker and unquestioned leader, booted four field goals -- three of which came from 50 yards out or beyond. One of those kicks was set up by a blocked punt, another by a fake punt in which reserve running back Rock Cartwright scampered 35 yards early in the fourth quarter.

And a defense that had been pushed to the brink for most of the game stood tall when it mattered most. After the Texans had marched down to the Oakland five- yard line in the final seconds, safety Michael Huff intercepted Houston quarterback Matt Schaub's pass in the end zone to provide a dramatic ending to a truly emotional weekend.

"We just kept at it," a clearly moved Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said afterward. "One thing [Davis] always taught me, he said, 'Hue, don't believe in plays, believe in players and eventually your players will make plays for you,' and that's what I did. I could just hear him saying that to me the whole time, 'Believe in your players, not the plays.'

It was indeed an extraordinary performance. Then again, Al Davis was no ordinary man.

Sports teams are almost universally defined by the players that helped guide them to their most glorious moments. When you think of the New York Yankees, you think of Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and now Jeter and Rivera. Peyton Manning is the absolute face of the Indianapolis Colts, just as Johnny Unitas had been during the club's championship days in Baltimore.

The Raiders have never been characterized by individual stars, however. Their trademark has always been a mystique of intimidation, unconformity and taking a prodigious pride in being labeled as the NFL's renegades, a unique brand fostered by Davis' brilliance and unquenchable desire for excellence.

It was an incredibly successful formula as well. Over a 19-year period from 1967 to 1985, the Raiders won three Super Bowls and one AFL championship while making the playoffs 15 times. Along with the Pittsburgh Steelers, they're the only franchise to have appeared in a Super Bowl in four different decades.

Davis' relentless passion and determination was also instrumental to the exponential growth of professional football over the past 40 years. As Commissioner of the AFL in 1966, he launched an all-out assault against the rival NFL, resulting in his less-established operation luring a number of headline players to lucrative contracts and an eventual merger between the two leagues (which took place without his knowledge or consent).

That landmark achievement also helped ignite a long-running feud between Davis and the NFL -- and most notably former Commissioner Pete Rozelle. There would be several other standoffs in the coming years, with Davis' court battles with the cities of Oakland and Los Angeles and a very public squabble with former Raiders running back Marcus Allen among the most notable ones.

Though reviled by some, Davis was almost universally beloved by his players (he presented a record nine inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame), and respected by all that he came into contact with.

"In my eyes, so much of his legacy will be defined by the loyalty he had for the men who played for the Raiders and the love that they had for him," said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "That was a bond that extended beyond the playing years and lasted lifetimes."

Davis was the one meddling owner who had earned the right to be so, having rose through the ranks as a coach that included a three-year stint as the Raiders' head man from 1963-65. And he was a true pioneer as well, having both the vision and courage to make a number of defining decisions that were far ahead of their time.

He hired a relatively unknown 32-year-old named John Madden as head coach in 1969 and watched his young prodigy become one of the most successful sideline bosses in NFL history. Following Madden's sudden retirement in 1978, Davis replaced him with assistant Tom Flores, the first minority head-coaching hire in the modern era, and won two more Super Bowls.

Sadly, Davis had lost his edge in his later years, overseeing a litany of ill- fated maneuvers that caused Oakland to plummet from the ranks of the elite. The Raiders still haven't fully recovered from Davis' jettisoning of Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season, while the past decade has been marred by sudden coaching changes and failed high draft picks highlighted by the colossal JaMarcus Russell blunder of 2007.

Davis still never lost his sense of rebellion right up until his dying days, however. When the final vote for the league's new collective bargaining agreement was called for in July, the measure passed by a 31-0 count with one abstention.

The team that declined? Why, the Raiders, of course.

In this new age of coerced political correctness and shameful public posturing, Davis was a refreshing one of a kind, and even his most ardent rivals will acknowledge that he'll greatly be missed.

Rest in peace, baby.