Sunday, October 9, 2011
(the following is an excerpt from the RS 128 from February 15, 1973 article Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine entitled Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl.)
The conversation took place within 10 yards of me, and I heard most of it.
“Who's the big guy over there with the ball in his hand?” asked the man with the DA.
“His name's Thompson,” replied Chronical sportswriter Jack Smith. “He's a writer for Rolling Stone .”
“The Rolling Stones? Jesus Christ! What's he doing here? Did you bring him?”
“No, he's writing a big article. Rolling Stone is a magazine, Al. It's different from the Rolling Stones; they're a rock music group. . . Thompson's a buddy of George Plimpton's, I think. . . and he's also a friend of Dave Burgin's -- you remember Burgin?”
“Holy shit! Burgin! We ran him out of here with a cattle prod!”
I saw Smith laugh at that point, then he was talking again: “Don't worry, Al. Thompson's okay. He wrote a good book about Las Vegas.”
Good god! I thought. That's it. . . If they read that book I'm finished. By this time I'd realized that this strange-looking bugger named “Al,” who looked like a pimp or a track-tout, was in fact the infamous Al Davis-- general manager and de facto owner (pending settlement of a nasty lawsuit scheduled for court-action early this year) of the whole Oakland Raider operation.
Davis glanced over his shoulder at me, then spoke back to Smith: “Get the bastard out of here. I don't trust him.”
I heard that very clearly -- and if I'd had any sense I'd have abandoned the whole story right then, for reasons of extreme and unnatural prejudice; call the office and say I couldn't handle the bad vibes, then jump the next plane to Colorado. . . I was watching Davis very closely now, and it occurred to me that the fiendish intensity of his speech and mannerisms reminded me very strongly of another Oakland badass I'd spent some time with, several years earlier -- ex-Hell's Angels president Ralph “Sonny” Barger, who had just beaten a multiple-murder rap and then copped out, they said, to some kind of minor charge like “Aggravated Assault with Intent to Commit Murder,” or “Possession of Automatic Weapons” (submachine-guns), “Possession of Heroin (four pounds) with Intent to Sell, and Sexual Assault on Two Minors with Intent to Commit Forcible Sodomy”. . .
I had read these things in the Chronicle. . . but. . . What the hell? Why compound these libels? Any society that will put Barger in jail and make Al Davis a respectable millionaire at the same time is not a society to be trifled with.
In any case, the story of my strange and officially ugly relationship with Al Davis is too complicated for any long explanations at this point. I spent several days pacing the sidelines of the Raider practice field with him -- prior to the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Kansas City games -- and the only thing I remember him talking about is “Environmental Determinism.” He spoke at considerable length on that subject, as I recall, but there is nothing in my notes to indicate precisely what he said about it.
Shortly after I heard him tell Smith to get rid of me on that first afternoon, I walked over to him and somehow got wound up in a conversation about how he was having trouble buying property in Aspen because “some people out there,” thought his money was “dirty” because of his known connections in Las Vegas. “Hell, that's no problem,” I told him. “I once ran for sheriff in Aspen; I know the place pretty well, and I can tell you for sure that at least half the money out there is dirtier than any you're likely to come up with.”
He stopped and eyed me curiously. “You ran for sheriff?” he said. “In Aspen, Colorado?”
I nodded. “Yeah, but I'd rather not talk about it. We didn't lose by much, but losing in politics is like losing in football, right? One vote, one point --”
He smiled crookedly, then began pacing again. “I don't give a damn about politics,” he said as I hurried along the white-lime sideline to keep up with him. “The only things that interest me are economics and foreign affairs.”
Jesus christ! I thought. Economics, foreign affairs, environmental determinism -- this bastard is sand-bagging me.
We paced back and forth a while longer, then he suddenly turned on me: “What are you after?” he snapped. “Why are you out here?”
“Well. . .” I said. “It would take me a while to explain it. Why don't we have a beer after practice tomorrow and I'll --”
“Not tomorrow,” he said quickly. “I only come out here on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They get nervous when I'm around, so I try to stay away most of the time.”
I nodded -- but I didn't really understand what he meant until an hour or so later, when Coach Madden signaled the end of that day's practice and Davis suddenly rushed onto the field and grabbed the quarterback, Ken Stabler, along with a receiver and a defensive back I didn't recognize, and made them run the same pass pattern -- a quick shot from about 15 yards out with the receiver getting the ball precisely at the corner of the goal line and the out-of-bounds line-- at least twelve consecutive times until they had it down exactly the way he wanted it.
That is my last real memory of Al Davis: It was getting dark in Oakland, the rest of the team had already gone into the showers, the coach was inside speaking sagely with a gaggle of local sportswriters, somewhere beyond the field-fence a big jet was cranking up its afterburners on the airport runway. . . and here was the owner of the flakiest team in pro football, running around on a half-dark practice field like a king-hell speed freak with his quarterback and two other key players, insisting that they run the same goddamn play over and over again until they had it right.
That was the only time I ever felt that I really understood Davis. . . We talked on other days, sort of loosely and usually about football, whenever I would show up at the practice field and pace around the sidelines with him. . . and it was somewhere around the third week of my random appearances, as I recall, that he began to act very nervous whenever he saw me.
I never asked why, but it was clear that something had changed, if only back to normal. . . After one of the midweek practices I was sitting with one of the Raider players in the tavern down the road from the fieldhouse and he said: “Jesus, you know I was walking back to the huddle and I looked over and, god damn, I almost flipped when I saw you and Davis standing together on the sideline. I thought, man, the world really is changing when you see a thing like that -- Hunter Thompson and Al Davis -- Christ, you know that's the first time I ever saw anybody with Davis during practice; the bastard's always alone out there, just pacing back and forth like a goddamn beast. . .”