Friday, October 28, 2011

A Man Possessed: Is Al Davis’ Spirit Occupying Darrius Heyward-Bey?

On October 8th, 2011, long-time Raiders owner and NFL innovator Al Davis passed away at the age of 82.  His greatest accomplishments include helping to guide the AFL towards a merger with the NFL, winning three Super Bowls (XI, XV, and XVIII) and defying all odds by living as a skeleton long after his blood had evaporated and organs dried up.  Arguably his greatest defeat was the drafting of Darrius Heyward-Bey 7th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.  After a less than historic college career, Heyward-Bey decided against returning to Maryland for his senior season, running a blistering 4.3 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine but falling behind other receivers (Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree, among others) on the draft boards of many NFL general managers and draft “experts”.  But collecting speed had always been a hobby of Al’s, and on draft day the Raider’s owner made Darrius a Raider faster than anyone could say "Heyward-Bey".  

Sadly, Darrius was not an instant success in the Raider’s offense, entering this season with a Yards Per Game average of less than 20.  This means that, although he would’ve led the NFL in receiving in 1920, by modern day standards his output had been less than stellar.  While unfortunate, his struggles were not unexpected, and the vast majority of the football establishment appeared to have left him “for dead”.  But not Al Davis.

On October 9th, the day after Al Davis died, Heyward-Bey exploded against the Patriots with 99 yards receiving and his first touchdown of the year (tying a career high for touchdowns in a season).  He has followed this game with two consecutive games with at least five receptions and 80 yards receiving, a bright spot amidst an increasingly dark outlook for the Raiders season.  What has changed to make this possible?  We know that Darrius is no faster, stronger, or more well endowed with names on names on names.  The only measurable difference is the absence of one skeletal man in his life – Al Davis.

It seems fair to say that Al Davis has dabbled in the dark arts, and equally fair to propose that Al Davis would seize any opportunity to prove naysayers wrong yet again.  What better opportunity than to occupy the body of Darrius Heyward-Bey?  In one fell swoop, Davis took over a body that has speed, strength, and more surnames than he ever had, and gained the chance to stick it to his detractors one final time.  It’s not as though having Kyle Boller or Old Carson Palmer throwing the ball has ever resuscitated anyone’s career, and Heyward-Bey’s sudden emergence can’t just be chalked up to performance enhancing drugs – Darrius’ only problem was his hands, and could the fastest player on the Raiders take amphetamines to improve his coordination?  Wouldn’t his heart explode?

Ultimately without the help of professionals, it will be impossible to determine whether or not Darrius Heyward-Bey has been possessed by the spirit of Al Davis.  But when Heyward-Bey starts slicking his hair back, wearing glasses on a chain and talking like a real New Yorker, don’t be surprised.

Joe Silvestro is a regular contributor to Sports Casual, check back every Funday Friday for his witticisms concerning the Wide World of Sports.  Email him at

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