PHOENIX — Chalk one up for the little guy.
Well, at least among the NFL’s Billionaire Club.
Mark Davis is as salt-of-the-earth as you’re going to get from a primarily pompous group of team owners. There is no air of wealth and privilege even though he had both as the son of late Raiders patriarch Al Davis.
Mark Davis is surprisingly approachable for someone whose personal financial value stands at a reported $500 million. This comes through at Raiders training camp in Napa, Calif.
Usually wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeve white Raiders shirt, Davis takes sincere please speaking with fans and taking pictures at training camp because, in many ways, he’s like one of them —he bleeds silver-and-black.
His suite at Raiders games isn’t filled with big-name celebrities, politicos or television network executives like those of Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft. Davis surrounds himself with former Raiders players with whom he remains close.
The every-man aspect plays out in other ways. As chronicled in a brilliant 2015 ESPN story, Davis regularly eats at P.F. Chang’s and Hooters. He drives a minivan. While other NFL owners were treating themselves to lavish meals at a recent Super Bowl, I spotted Davis dining alone at the media hotel bar.
Such qualities can be considered endearing. His peers might not always have thought the same.
The impression I’ve always gotten is that Davis was considered a real-life version of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. Even though others amongst them had inherited teams from their fathers, Davis was considered a clown because he held no major sway or front-office position when his father was running the team. His unpolished appearance —complete with soup blow haircut that Moe Howard would love —and the Raiders’ on-field woes in his first four years running the team didn’t help that perception.
Nobody is laughing now.
Proof that Davis earned their respect came Monday when relocation of the Raiders to Las Vegas was approved at the NFL owners meeting by a 31-1 vote in Phoenix.
Davis and team president Mark Badain —both of whom once served as Raiders water boys —pulled off what was once considered implausible. That’s getting the league to sign off on letting a franchise move directly into the heart of organized gambling and all the sordid temptations that come with it.
Davis did it by corralling a sweetheart deal that provides $750 million in public funding —the most ever committed to any U.S. stadium project —for a $1.7 billion facility scheduled for completion in 2020. Davis didn’t even have to surrender any ownership stake in the Raiders for more funding capital, which was once considered imminent considering his only major source of wealth is the franchise itself.
The deal wasn’t handed to Davis, either. When prospects of reaching a stadium deal in the Bay Area turned bleak several years ago, Davis began courting his club to different cities like a player in free agency.
Once the governor of Nevada said he was on board, Davis became steadfastly committed to building an enduring trust and shut the door on Oakland. The Raiders then scrambled to save their deal in Las Vegas earlier this year by finding a new partner (Bank of America) after talks went south with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Davis wasn’t gloating on Sunday night when walking alone through the Biltmore Hotel with a serious look on his face. I told him he was the "Man of the Hour."
Davis replied, "Yeah, right.”
Once the vote was complete, Davis was just that.
"My father used to say the greatness of the Raiders is in its future,"Davis said during a post-vote news conference. “This gives us the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world, one that gives us the opportunity to achieve that greatness."
Maybe so, but the work for Davis isn’t nearly over.
Based upon their lease agreement, the Raiders still must play the next two seasons in the dump officially known as Oakland Alameda Coliseum while remaining the NFL’s only team to share a facility —and dirt infield —with a Major League Baseball team (the Athletics). Davis left open the possibility of playing there again in 2019 while the Las Vegas stadium gets completed, but that might be asking too much considering how much earth is scorched with the locals.
Davis knows there’s a broken-hearted Bay Area fan base to deal with as the Raiders leave Oakland for the second time in the franchise’s 58-year history. Davis offered refunds for any season-ticket holder who wants them and said he would speak with Raiders faithful in the coming days to pitch his explanation of why a deal to stay couldn’t be reached. He also asked they not take out their frustrations on players and coaches during the transition to Las Vegas.
Good luck with that. The same for head coach Jack Del Rio in trying to minimize the headaches and distractions all this will cause a Raiders team finally ready to contend for a Super Bowl again.
More challenges are ahead when the Raiders do finally arrive in Las Vegas. Among them: Davis must try his best to maintain a high-character roster and deploy safeguards that insure his players don’t succumb to the persuasions of Sin City.
The hard part, though, is over. Davis did what his father could never do and some of his peers doubted could ever get done.
He found the Raiders a home of their own.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET Monday through Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.