Blog Entry

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Posted on: October 11, 2011 2:55 pm
Back in 1994, Mike Shanahan ordered Elvis Grbac to "throw the ball" right at Al Davis. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

In the days since Raiders owner Al Davis passed away, everyone associated with the NFL has, in one form or another, honored his memory. Davis, who had been associated with the league since 1960, gave Mike Shanahan, now with the Redskins, his first head coaching job in 1988.

On Monday, Shanahan spoke about Davis.

Remembering Al Davis

“I got a chance to be around him, I was 35 years old," he said, according to the Washington Post. "I never met a guy with more passion and worked harder than Al Davis. He was just relentless in his approach to the game, and he had a great understanding from Xs and Os and personnel and knew it extremely well. I wasn’t around him extremely long – a year and four games – but I learned a lot from him."

What Shanahan left out was that Davis had fired him four games into the 1989 season and that, along with some things we'll get to shortly, led to hard feelings that lasted long after Shanahan left Oakland.

And that brings us to this gem from's Mike Freeman, written in 1998 when he was with the New York Times. It's a story of intrigue and revenge with a dash of slapstick comedy.
It was 1994 and Shanahan and Grbac were both with the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan, the offensive coordinator, was working with Grbac before a game against Oakland. Shanahan had spent just over one season as coach of the Raiders before being dismissed by the owner, Al Davis. The breakup was bitter, and the two men despised each other, mainly because of a dispute over back pay.

Davis, as he does before almost every game, was walking the field, talking to players and others. Shanahan pulled Grbac aside, Grbac recalled, and gave an unusual order: ‘’See Al Davis over there? I want you to throw the ball right at him.’’

A shocked Grbac replied: ‘’I can’t do that. If I hit him, do you know what he could do to me?’’

Shanahan looked at Grbac with his intense glare and said, ‘’Throw the ball.’’

So Grbac did. He threw a tight, hard spiral some 30 yards directly at the head of Davis. At the last second, Davis saw it and ducked, the ball missing him by only a few inches. Davis, his hair ruffled, then made an obscene gesture at Shanahan, witnessed by a former Raiders coach who confirmed Grbac’s story.
Poor Elvis Grbac. The guy was trying to work on his game and his coach had him firing footballs at a 65-year-old man.

But as Freeman wrote after Davis' passing Saturday, the Raiders owner had a reputation for occasionally rubbing people the wrong way. "For much of his brilliant, chaotic and unreal life, Al Davis was at war. He fought commissioners. He fought other owners. He fought cities. He tussled with mayors and politicians and his own players. He earned a reputation as a crazy man."

Which reminds us: the Vikings play the Redskins on Christmas Eve. We fully expect Donovan McNabb to be winging balls in Shanahan's direction during pregame warm-ups.

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Since: Sep 5, 2009
Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:33 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

    Shanahan looks more like Judd Hirsch than DeNiro in the pic. 

Since: Jul 29, 2011
Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:19 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Shanahan!  I always he was overrated as a coach but I never thought he'd stoop to this level.  Elvis Grbac should have told Shanahan to do his own dirty work.  He should have stood up to the overrated bully with the wimpy glare.  I used to work for a guy like him.  He was a supervisor and he used to stare at you and say the most derogatory comments about you, your mother, your father, your girlfriend , your pets.  I couldn't stand him and alot of others couldn't either.  But he did have his favorites.  One of those favorites went to HR and got him in trouble.  The supervisor demanded that I say some nasty things to his face.  I beat the supervisor up then dragged him over to the former favorite employee and told him to speak for himself.  After that I walked away and promised myself I would never put up with a selfish, arrogant power hungry jerk again.   

Since: Jun 23, 2008
Posted on: October 11, 2011 5:48 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Mike was just mad at Al for stealing his lips and turning him into the Shanarat. And Willie Brown (SF Mayor) was right about Elvis being a disgrace to football.

Since: Sep 7, 2011
Posted on: October 11, 2011 5:47 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Shanahan is a medicore coach at best anyways !!!!!

Since: Oct 9, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 5:11 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

We have all had our comments regarding Al Davis in the last few years, when you go beyond that and see what he did for the league he was truly one of the pioneers of the NFL. After reading and hearing what all he did to and for the league I gained a whole new respect for the man. RIP Al.

Since: Aug 2, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

There has to be a bunch of great stories like this about Al Davis. In the last ten years he has really been shown in a negative light, but the last week has brought out so many good memories by great people. It's good to see that people really let him get to them, that in itself illustrates that he made some pretty good judgment calls before he went to war with these guys.

One thing that is very difficult to believe though....Elvis Grbac threw a perfect 30 yard spiral? Come on now, thats a bit of a stretch right?

Since: Sep 5, 2009
Posted on: October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

I just love the pic of Shanahan. He looks like Robert DeNiro. "You talkin to me? Are you talkin to me?"

Since: Jun 28, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

We fully expect to be winging balls in Shanahan's direction during pregame warm-ups.
And they'll land 5 yards short into the dirt like all of McNabb's passes tend to do...

Since: Dec 15, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:54 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

This isn't too much fluff at all.  It really gives a good insight into The Legend Himself, Mike Shanahan.  He would rather shoot himself in the foot for a personal vendetta, than see his players become better.

In addition, it points out some cowardice that the Shanahan himself has shown over the years.  Your defense is can't be because of your (Shanahan's) awful personnel decisions, it has to be because of the D Coordinator.  Let's fire that guy yearly.  He won those Super Bowls, but couldn't even get out of the first round the grand majority of years without the great John Elway.  And he couldn't even stand up to Al Davis himself...have the backup quarterback throw a football right at his head instead.  That way, Shanahan, the living embodiment of everything that is great and holy, could blame someone else, which is what he is best at.

I'm sure when Rex Grossman doesn't work out, he will blame his own son for convincing the Marvelous Mike Shanahan to make him the starter.

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:47 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

I am willing to bet somewhere Al Davis is smiling about that. Knowing he got to Mike. They both have had good careers so what they had a little bad blood? Comes with the territory. I thought Al Davis was the shit. He just blew the call on Jamarcus the walrus and that made him look bad. 3 rings? not bad my friends. 45 years running a Pro Football team? Great Life. I will miss you Al and I am not even a Raiders fan.

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