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Mark Davis has been the sole owner of the Oakland Raiders since his father, Al Davis, the legendary coach and owner, died in 2011.
Over this stretch, the Raiders have mostly struggled to maintain relevancy, on or off the field. This year, however, the Raiders have become one of the most intriguing franchises in sports.
On the field, the team is in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They play the Texans on Saturday in an AFC Wild Card game, and though they will be without their MVP-caliber quarterback Derek Carr, they are still a young group that looks promising for years to come.
Off the field, meanwhile, the franchise nearly moved to Los Angeles las season and are now threatening to move to Las Vegas, where the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has helped push funding for a $1.9 billion stadium through the state senate.
But for as relevant as the team is at the moment, precious little is known about Davis. Unlike his outspoken father, the younger Davis mostly stays out of the public eye and is known only for his trademark orange Prince Valiant bowl cut.
Last year for ESPN the Magazine, Tim Keown published a revealing profile of Davis that offered a rare glimpse into the life and mind of one of the most fascinating owners in sports.
From its first paragraph, the profile gives us a sense of just how eccentric Davis really is:
“Most days start the same – behind the wheel of a white 1997 Dodge Caravan SE outfitted with a bubble-top Mark III conversion kit, a VHS player mounted to the roof inside and a r8hers personalized plate. Mark Davis pilots this machine from his East Bay home to the nearest P.F. Chang’s, where he sits at the left end of the bar, same spot every time, puts his white fanny pack on the counter, orders an iced tea and unfolds the day’s newspapers. Beside him on the bar, next to the papers, is his 2003 Nokia push-button phone with full texting capability. When someone calls and asks him where he is, he says, “I’m in my office,” and sends a knowing nod to the bartenders. It gets ’em every time.”
Davis is worth an estimated $500 million, so his tricked-out minivan and throwback cellphone are telling of the man’s personality. It’s possible to interpret Davis as someone wildly out of touch with reality, but it seems that more than anything he just loves football. Unlike his father, he handles almost no actual decision-making responsibilities, and when he does make decisions, he does so in curious fashion.
From the same ESPN piece, here is how he instructed his team’s general manager to improve his secondary:
“During one dinner with a group that included his mother and Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, Davis inexplicably handed a piece of paper to McKenzie with the corners torn off.
“This is what I need you to get me,” Davis said.
McKenzie, flummoxed, turned the tiny triangles over in his hands.
Seeing nothing, McKenzie gave up. “What is this?” he asked.
“Two corners,” Davis said. “I need you to get me two corners.”
The ESPNprofile is filled with quirky moments like this. Depending on how you read it, some may look at Davis as a tragic figure, or a total oddball.
Regarding the bowl cut, Keown writes that Davis travels more than 400 miles from his home in northern California to Palm Springs just to get it cut at the same barber:
“In perfect Davis family fashion, it’s a middle finger to convention. Davis travels to Palm Desert to get it cut, just as he traveled to Chico from Oakland to visit a preferred barber long after he left college at Chico State. “I think he’s had three barbers since college,” [former Raiders WR Cliff] Branch says. “If he likes something, he stays loyal.”
The question of loyalty is a sort of recurring motif of the piece, particularly regarding the team’s uncertain future in Oakland, not to mention Davis’ tenuous relationship with his father, who when he was alive wouldn’t let his son travel on the team plane to games and once stayed in the car while his wife was visiting their son (and his pet pigs).
Needless to say, the whole profile is worth a read.