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‘GM Street’ Pod: Michael Lombardi on the Chaos of Al Davis’s War Room

Davis is an NFL legend, but his draft-day routine was a mess

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Al Davis is an unquestioned NFL legend, seeing his franchise win three Super Bowls and earning induction into the Hall of Fame. He became known as one of the league’s most eccentric personalities, particularly in the 2000s. Michael Lombardi worked with Davis and the Raiders from 1998 to 2007 as a senior personnel executive, and on the latest Ringer NFL Show he discussed the chaotic war room, why the Raiders drafted Sebastian Janikowski in the first round, and the time the Raiders missed out on Wes Welker.

First: That war room. When Michael Lombardi got there, it didn’t even have computers. The guys making the decisions barely knew who had been drafted and who hadn’t been when it was Oakland’s turn to pick. Even in the late ’90s, the Raiders drafted like it was 1960.

"There were black boards," Lombardi said on the podcast. "No names on the board. Nobody was going to see where a guy was going to get drafted and Al would refuse to tell anybody who he was going to pick. So there was a level of secrecy. … Computers weren’t even allowed in the room. So eventually, my second year there, I brought a computer in there. I just said, ‘The hell with it. We’ve got to figure out who they’re picking or we’re going to be wrong.’"

Everything on draft day ran through Davis — and he’d never take the blame if it went south.

"Al controlled every draft. No player got picked in Oakland without Al saying yes to it. … It was a mind game with Al. Al would put it on you that it was your guy. ‘Oh, I’m going to go with you because you like him.’ But if you said you didn’t like him, then Al would try to corner you into liking him, and then fix it on you so … Al could absolve [himself]. ‘I was just doing what everybody told me to do.’"

When the Raiders drafted Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th pick of the 2000 draft, it marked the first time an NFL team had used a first-round pick on a kicker since the 1970s. That was also an Al Davis selection, here’s how it went down:

"Al was obsessed with Janikowski’s powerful leg. He could make field goals from anywhere. Now we think in the draft that we’re going to pick Todd Heap, because we need a tight end. [Head coach Jon] Gruden wants to pick Todd Heap. But Al wants to make his mark in history … and he picked the greatest punter in the history of punters in Ray Guy [in 1973], so now he’s going to pick the greatest kicker in history with Sebastian Janikowski."

And it’s well-known that Davis loved player who were fast. Wes Welker wasn’t exactly a sprinter coming out of college, which is why the Raiders passed him over.

"We watched Texas Tech offensive tape with Wes Welker making every catch on the tape. And we drafted Carlos Francis in the fourth round, because he was the fastest guy at the combine. We’re watching Wes Welker like, ‘Who’s this guy making all the plays on the tape?’ Oh, forget him we’ll draft Carlos Francis because he can run fast. But that’s the way it was — and Al had so much experience you couldn’t win that one."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.