It could have been borne from the comment about The Immaculate Reception football being worth a million dollars from the Football Life series. Or was it simply a scenario where a player has gained enough from a momento from his past?? Whatever the reason, in casual conversation former Oakland / LA Raider Mike Davis has decided to sell the football he has held since the Red Right 88 interception against the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 playoffs.
To understand the value of the ball you have to understand where it came from. It is from the single play that saved the Raiders season and propelled them to become the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl 3 weeks later. The entire story of Jim Plunkett wouldn’t have been complete without this play.
Head coach Tom Flores, whom we believe should be in the Hall of Fame, wouldn’t have been able to leave the shadow cast by John Madden without it. The 11-5 Cinderella Raiders were riding high after a wildcard win over the Houston Oilers 27-7. They had vanquished former Raider Kenny Stabler, whom they traded before the season. Now they were off to play the AFC Central champion Browns.
What is forgotten is how great the Cleveland Browns of that era were. In 1980 they were great throwing the football. In fact they were ranked 2nd only to the San Diego Chargers of Air Coryell fame. Quarterback Brian Sipe was the NFL MVP in 1980 and Head Coach Sam Rutigliano had just won his second straight Coach of the Year honor. Sipe threw for 4,132 yards 30 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions. Over the 1979 and ’80 seasons they had come from behind to win 14 times in the last 2 minutes. In contrast, Roger Staubach had 23 over his entire career to earn the nickname Captain Comeback.
So the football world was gearing up for an aerial AFC Championship between the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers. It was to be the changing of the guard from the grind it out Pittsburgh Steelers to the first conquerors of the new passing NFL set up by the rules in 1978 favoring such. The Chargers had vanquished the best defense in football in the Buffalo Bills in one AFC playoff 20-14 on Saturday. Now they awaited the Browns who would play an Oakland Raider team full of unknowns, with a journeyman quarterback and unknown coach on Sunday…
The Raiders escaped the confines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and rode the wave of momentum into San Diego. They won the AFC Championship 34-27 for the right to play the Philadelphia Eagles for Super Bowl XV. All the while Mike Davis clutched the football that propelled his Raiders into NFL history.
He would eventually win two Super Bowls with the team when they came back and dethroned the Washington Redskins in XVIII. There he made another iconic play when from his Strong Safety position blitzed sacking Joe Theismann. It was the final turnover and the famous visual of Theismann slowly walking off. His jersey, half pulled off exposing his shoulder pads and stained by field paint.
Yet it was this famous play in the 1980 playoffs that altered the course of NFL history. NFL pundits were ready to crown Air Coryell as the sucessors to the ground oriented teams that dominated the 1970s. Accolades that were thrown around a year later when San Francisco and their passing offense made it to the top of pro football.
So what would this football be worth? To Oakland Raider fans?? To Cleveland Brown fans?? To a collector?? To the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? Mike’s question hit me like a ton of bricks and it took me a day to realize that football’s value. You can see a part of the conversation on social media to know that it’s true. You’re hearing about this for the first time.
The first thing Mike, we have to get your ball appraised and possibly auctioned by one of the memorabilia auction houses. Here at Taylor Blitz Times, we would like to hear from Raider fans what it would be like to own a big piece of Oakland Raider history like this. The Chancellor of Football has an idea what the football would be worth. But lets hear from the professionals who appraise such things first.
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Epilogue: What is intriguing is following the principles of a seminal moment. In this instance what did the future hold for the vanquished Browns, Brian Sipe, Sam Rutigliano, and owner Art Modell?? At the time, if you were in Ohio as I was, you heard “The Browns’ 12 Days of Christmas” for the last two months as the Browns appeared headed to a Super Bowl. After “Red Right 88” I can’t remember hearing it once living there the next 17 years.
You’ll have to ask Brian Sipe and Sam Rutigliano… as for fellow Arizonan Mike Davis… he received this from Art Modell:
Time may heal all wounds. Yet a letter from years gone by about a moment of great reflection is the closure The Chancellor can add between Art Modell, who owned the Browns in 1980 and Mike Davis of the Raiders, who ended their best ever season. If Modell can find forgiveness…??
Remember….these men lived it…
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With your passing we lost a great player and I lost a good friend. Your teammates and Raider family shared many great stories at your Celebration of Life service. May this article be here to educate new Raider generations of “Red Right 88” and learn of this great moment in team history and you in general. We will definitely see each other again and this article is dedicated to your memory.
Mike Davis: April 15, 1956 – April 25, 2021