Football has a unique way of fostering kinship between players and Raiders legend Al Davis knew how to harness it, and create a culture with loyalty at its core.
Before he ever donned the Silver and Black, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick knew what it meant to be a Raider at a young age, and was mesmerized by the mystique of the Raiders. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, Riddick recalls being glued to the television screen watching Mr. Davis' Raiders in the Super Bowl, playing the physical brand of football they were known for.
"Anyone who grew up in the '70s and '80s — when I was in grade school, junior high and high school — remembers the Raiders of those years and how they were a fixture on NBC Sports," Riddick said. "The AFC telecasts back in that time, I remember watching them play the [Philadelphia] Eagles in the Super Bowl down in the Superdome with Jim Plunkett and Kenny King, and Cliff Branch. I remember the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay against the Washington Redskins with Marcus [Allen] and Vann McElroy, and Lester [Hayes], and Mike Haynes, and Rod Martin.
"Those were all guys who were synonymous with the '70s and '80s NFL football, and the Raiders always had a mystique. Everyone talks about it, it isn't something you can necessarily put your finger on, but they had a mystique of being the tough guys of the NFL, and the Silver and Black from an aesthetic standpoint epitomized to me what toughness looked like. I was always captured by the mystique of the Raiders as a kid."
From that point on, Riddick knew he wanted to be a Raider, but the first few years of his NFL tenure were spent elsewhere, as a member of the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns. He formed close bonds and developed camaraderie with his teammates, but some of his fondest memories came when he eventually became a Raider in 1998.
After making the roster, Riddick was at home with his wife and newborn in Dublin, Calif., when he received a call from Mr. Davis' secretary, curious if Riddick was free for a call with the Owner. Confused and under the impression it had to be a prank call, the former defensive back was shocked when Mr. Davis called five minutes later. For roughly 15 minutes, the two talked about his physicality, passion for the game, and how he represented what it meant to be a Raider.
"I couldn't believe it, my mouth was hanging open the whole time he was talking," Riddick said. "He was someone who every time I saw him in the locker room after games, he'd always nod at me and say 'good game' and acknowledge the fact that I was a Raider. That meant the world to me because in the grand scheme of things I was a small part of the Raiders at that point, but he took the time to acknowledge the fact he liked the things I did and that I embodied what a Raider should be. I always remembered that."
Players who have suited up for the Raiders hold a special connection to the team; whether it was due to their relationship with Mr. Davis, or the goosebumps they felt pre-game when they heard the "Autumn Wind," being a Raider is special.
"It's interesting that everybody who plays there wind up feeling a sort of loyalty and kind of connection with the place," Riddick added, "once you leave there they remind you that once you've worn that uniform you'll always be remembered as part of that team."
Few teams honor their history the way the Raiders do and current Owner Mark Davis wants to uphold that tradition, which is why even though the team's future is in Las Vegas, recognizing the players who helped them reach this point is imperative.
Similar to when he received a call from Mr. Davis, Riddick was surprised when he received a letter out of the blue addressed from the Raiders. Inside was his certificate for the Legacy Brick Program, informing him that he'll continue to be an important piece of the team for years to come.
The Davis family has created something special that resonates with former players even after they retire. Riddick's days as a Raider were brief, but it impacted him greatly and he's still enamored with the mystique, like when he was a kid watching them on TV.