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: Aug 12, 2006
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:39 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

I wish Elvis was more accurate. LOL Fluff piece story but entertaining nonetheless.

Since: Apr 6, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:37 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

When I read the headline, I imagined it was a 50-60 yard bomb....not a tight spiral at 30 yards.  

Since: Aug 16, 2011
Posted on: October 11, 2011 4:29 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Shanahan stock just went up.

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:52 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

That Youtube clip would get about 11 Million hits.... just in the city of New York!

Since: Jan 6, 2010
Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:25 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

Well done, Mike!  Had it been Elway, though, instead of Elvis, that throw would probably have (1) connected, (2) killed the guy, and (3) brought a tear of joy and laughter to the Bronco nation long before you joined it.  And probably those Raiders who knew AD better than the rest, as well.

For all of the gushing over Al Davis and his contribution to football life as we know it (much of it hyperbolic!), it is easy to forget that this guy played fast and loose with people's lives and livelihood.  He was a genuine jerk to work with, to work for, and to work around.  The older he got, the more abrasive he became.  The swagger of the Oakland Raiders may have reflected this part of Davis' personality, but it was THEIR talent, not his influence, that made them a force to reckon with.

Poor form, I know, to speak ill of the dead, but for every contribution to the NFL for which he MAY overgenerously be credited, there are ten anecdotes to be told about what a creep he was.  During this time of mourning, it is fitting to emphasize the former, but let's not go too far overboard.  He was more than a burr in the saddle of the NFL.  He was, at times, a legitimate threat. Or at least up until the time when he lost all credibility.  

Since: Jan 21, 2007
Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:25 pm

Shanahan once ordered QB to throw at Al Davis

I keep on waiting for some coach to call a power sweep towards Jerry Jones' direction while he's standing on the Cowboys' sideline........

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