Ben Davidson helped create the Oakland Raiders mystique. A larger-than-life figure, he embodied the true spirit of the Silver and Black.
Davidson played 11 pro seasons, primarily with the Oakland Raiders. A three-time AFL All-Star, he was First Team All-Pro in 1967. Big Ben won an NFL title with the Green Bay Packers and an AFL championship with Oakland. Respected by teammates, Davidson was a gutsy, one-man wrecking crew. Rough-and-tumble, Big Ben was revered in Raider Nation. But he was despised in every other town throughout the league.
A ferocious pass rusher who terrorized opponents – and quarterbacks in particular – Big Ben was a dominant defensive end. At 6’8″ and 275 pounds, Davidson was mean, rough and gruff. With a towering physique and signature handlebar mustache, he personified the villain.
Davidson led the Oakland Raiders to three straight AFL title games. They lost each one to the eventual Super Bowl champions: the Jets in 1968, Kansas City in 1969 and the Baltimore Colts in 1970.
In 1974, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol wrote a poem entitled The Autumn Wind. Dubbed “The Battle Hymn of the Raider Nation,” the piece is synonymous with the Oakland Raiders. And no player personified the swashbuckling image of those Raider teams more than Ben Davidson.
His face is weather-beaten.
He wears a hooded sash,
With a silver hat about his head,
And a bristling black mustache.
Born June 14, 1940, in East Los Angeles, Benjamin Earl Davidson Jr. was the son of a police officer father and mother who worked as a librarian. His mother, he joked, would tell him, “Read, or I’ll have you arrested.” Davidson attended Woodrow Wilson High School, where he played basketball and competed in track, specializing in high jump, hurdles and shot put. He didn’t play football until he arrived at East Los Angeles College. Davidson went from there to the University of Washington, where he helped the Huskies win Rose Bowls in 1960 and 1961.
Davidson was selected in the fourth round [46th overall] of the 1961 NFL draft by the New York Giants, then traded to the Green Bay Packers during training camp. As a rookie, he played mostly on special teams for the Packers in 1961, who beat the Giants 37-0 in the championship game to capture the first of five NFL titles for head coach Vince Lombardi. Prior to the 1962 season, Davidson was traded to the Washington Redskins for a fifth-round draft choice.
The 1961 NFL draft produced seven Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson, Herb Adderley, Bob Lilly, Fran Tarkenton, Billy Shaw and Deacon Jones.
Following two nondescript seasons in Washington, the 24-year-old Davidson was waived by the Redskins during final cuts prior to the 1964 season. Raiders coach Al Davis scooped him up and Davidson found his form in.
Oakland. The hulking defensive end became a feared pass rusher and one of the team’s defensive leaders, guiding the Silver and Black to four straight division titles between 1967 and 1970. After Davidson helped the Raiders capture the 1967 AFL championship, they faced Green Bay in Super Bowl II. In Lombardi’s final game as head coach, the Packers dominated Oakland 33-13.
Ben Davidson played in 152 games during his pro football career. The most infamous came on November 1, 1970. The defending world champion Kansas City Chiefs clung to a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter of a pivotal AFL Western Division showdown in Kansas City. With about two minutes remaining, the Chiefs faced a third-and-three and only needed to pick up a first down to run out the clock. KC quarterback Len Dawson kept the ball on a bootleg, picked up eight yards and, knowing he had the game won, dropped to the ground while staying in bounds. Dawson remained on the ground for several seconds. Well aware that he had not been touched down, Davidson went airborne and speared the Chiefs signal caller in the lower back.
KC wideout Otis Taylor charged Davidson, wrestling him to the ground. A melee ensued and penalty flags flew. The referees called offsetting penalties, nullifying the first down and forcing a repeat of third down. The Raiders held, Kansas City punted, and Oakland’s George Blanda booted a 48-yard field goal as time expired to earn a tie. The Chiefs would finish 7-5-2 and out of the playoffs, while Oakland went 8-4-2 and won the division title. As a result of the play, the NFL later implemented the “Davidson Rule,” mandating that players on the ground be touched rather than hit, and separated personal fouls called during a play from those called after it.
Davidson’s hit on Dawson was a cheap shot. It was targeting, spearing, late and illegal. In today’s game, Big Ben would have been ejected, fined and suspended. Instead, the play allowed the Raiders to tie the game and earn the division title.
After missing all of the 1972 season with an Achilles tendon injury, Davidson retired from the NFL. He returned in September 1974, signing with the Portland Storm during the World Football League’s inaugural season. A late season knee injury ended his season and playing career.
Davidson leveraged his sinister mien to help him gain notoriety off the field. He appeared in a few films, including M*A*S*H, Conan the Barbarian, The Black Six and Necessary Roughness. Although he also earned roles in the short-lived TV shows Ball Four and Goldie and the Bears, the raspy-voiced former Raider was best known for playing himself in Miller Lite ads.
On this date in 2012, Ben Davidson died of prostate cancer at 72. Mr. Davidson was retired and living in San Diego and is survived by his wife Kathy and three adult daughters.
He growls as he storms the country
A villain big and bold.
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake,
As he robs them of their gold.