The latest edition of ESPN's 30 for 30 arrives with Al Davis vs. The NFL. Twelve-time Emmy Award filmmaker Ken Rodgers directs his fifth episode of the hit ESPN series. Al Davis vs. the NFL presents an intimate look inside one of the great rivalries in the National Football League's history – Raiders legend Al Davis and former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Their battle grew so intense that players, owners, franchises - even the league itself - became characters in a three-decade-long Shakespearean feud that changed football forever. As the Raiders play their inaugural season in Las Vegas with a brand-new stadium, something Al Davis often dreamed of building himself, it's time to examine the adversarial relationship between the two visionaries most responsible for building the league to its current greatness. And who, in the course of trying to destroy each other, created the NFL landscape that thrives today.
The documentary arrives right on time as Super Bowl LV airs this Sunday. Last week I reviewed another football-based documentary, and in that review, I mentioned I am quite the novice when in every facet of football. When I discovered that I would review the documentary, I immediately reached out to all of my friends who are sports fanatics to get Al Davis's basics. One of the initial things I must point out is that since Al Davis and Pete Rozelle are both deceased, director Ken Rogers used the technology known as "Deep Fake" to bring both men back to life for the film. I want to assure viewers though both Al and Pete's families signed off on the re-creation and made sure that the lines written for the actors transpire from things the two men said in their lives.
On the one hand, it was a risky move, but I do commend Rogers for taking the risk. I can see some viewers having an issue with Rogers's choice, but I myself wasn't bothered. Throughout the 78 minute documentary, we get a sense of Davis's mentality, who never apologizes for his own dreams. Watching the documentary, I can see the visions that Davis had manifested in the league today. I enjoyed seeing the archive footage of fan's reactions when Davis made a call they didn't like, but in the end, I concluded there was a method to his madness. There's also a great scene that shows Davis celebrating with his players in the locker room after a victory.
In all honesty, the rivalry between Al Davis and Pete Rozelle has the makings of a traditional Hollywood biopic. Upon further reading, I discovered that Davis remains the only executive in NFL history to be an assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner, and owner. Not to mention his involvement in the civil rights movement and all of his first hiring when it came to his organization. None of these moments have a strong narrative in the film. Since Davis's goal of moving the team to Vegas came to fruition, I'm sure a feature is silently in the works. For now, fans have an excellent documentary to tide them over.
Final Grade: B
Al Davis vs. The NFL premieres tonight on ESPN
Photo courtesy of ESPN & NFL FILMS