ALAMEDA Ben Davidson, the hulking defensive end who starred for the Raiders in the 1960s before becoming an actor and television pitchman, has died. He was 72.
Davidson, who was being treated for prostate cancer, died Monday night.
He spent 11 years in pro football, starting with the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins in the NFL before joining the Raiders in the AFL in 1964.
That's where the 6-foot-8 Davidson became famous. With his distinctive handlebar mustache, raspy voice and physical play, Davidson helped personify Al Davis' renegade Raiders of the 1960s.
"He was a tough, gutsy ballplayer, team-oriented with enough meanness in him to be feared and enough talent to be effective," former Raiders teammate Tom Flores said.
Flores, who recently played golf with Davidson, learned of his death while in Las Vegas for a celebration of Davis, who would have turned 83 today.
Raiders owner Mark Davis said Davidson was a larger-than-life figure to him.
"The handlebar mustache, the motorcycle riding. He was a rebel one of so many unique individuals on the Raiders," Davis said.
Davidson's style of play made him a favorite of his teammates and fans, if not his opponents. He played hard, fast and reckless, often taking down quarterbacks with tackles around the head and diving into players at the end of plays.
"I don't think I'd make it in the NFL today," Davidson said in reference to his reckless style of play.
One of Davidson's most memorable plays came Nov. 1, 1970, against Kansas City. The Raiders trailed 17-14 late in the fourth quarter when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson ran for a first down that seemingly sealed the win.
As Dawson was on the ground, Davidson dived into him with his helmet. In a rage, Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor jumped on Davidson, and a brawl ensued. The game ended in a 17-17 tie.
"Their attitude was, if you've got a shot at the quarterback, take it," Dawson said in 2010.
Even Davidson's teammates had to be on guard when he was on the field.
"If you make a tackle, and Ben is not laying next to you, duck, because here comes Ben," former Raiders defensive lineman Carlton Oats said.
Davidson didn't play football until going to East Los Angeles Community College.
"I just decided that I'd try it," he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times a few years ago. "I didn't know the positions. I knew the center was probably in the middle, but I'd only been to one or two games and I never really paid much attention to it.
"I have no idea what kind of stance I got into, but that was a major project. The coach had me so fixated on getting a good stance that I'd be looking down at my legs, trying to make sure everything was right, and they'd snap the ball."
Davidson went from there to the University of Washington, where he helped the Huskies win Rose Bowls in 1960 and '61. He was a fourth-round draft pick by the New York Giants in 1961, but he played his rookie season with Green Bay, winning the NFL championship with the Packers in 1961.
He then played two years in Washington before joining Oakland, where he spent the final eight years of his career. He was a second-team Associated Press All-AFL selection in 1965 and a first-teamer in 1967.
"He was just a big, tall, skinny guy that Davis took a chance with," Flores said. "He was able to rush the passer and worked hard to get bigger and stronger, with the character and personality. He was always that way."
After his playing career, Davidson's fame continued. He became a successful actor with roles in films like "M*A*S*H," "Conan the Barbarian" and "Necessary Roughness," and he played himself in Miller Lite ads.
"I was a geography major in college, so I love to travel," Davidson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Greenland, Guam, Korea, Panama, Honduras you name it. We signed autographs and met people and drank beer. I made more money doing that than playing pro football."
Davidson is survived by his wife, Kathy, and daughters Jan, Dana and Vicki.