Wayne Valley

Francis Wayne Valley
Born March 28, 1914, Portland, Oregon
Died October 2, 1986, Piedmont, California, age 72

Wayne Valley was the primary moving force behind the Oakland Raiders during the AFL years. After Chet Soda’s departure in early 1961, Valley took the reins and made the decisions that made the Raiders a professional football power by the end of the decade. His most consequential decision, though, the hiring of Al Davis in 1963, ultimately led to the usurpation of his authority and after a bitter power struggle, he sold out just months before the team won its first Super Bowl championship.

Francis Wayne Valley was born March 28, 1914 to a schoolteacher from Maine named Abbie and her French-Canadian husband who died within a year of Valley’s birth.[1] Two years later, the widowed mother moved to Oakland with her infant son and took a teaching position at tiny Beulah Grammar School.

Wayne attended his mother’s school and as he grew up developed an aptitude for sports. After graduating from Castlemont High in 1931, he attended St. Mary’s College briefly before heading north to Oregon State Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). There, he worked as a lumberjack to earn his way through school. He hadn’t played football in high school but turned out for the Oregon State squad and played well enough to be named a team captain in 1935. For academic reasons, he later transferred to the University of Oregon where he completed his degree.

By 1940 he was married to the former Gladys Leibbrand, with whom he had four children: Patrick Wayne, Tamara, Sonya, and Michael. Following in the footsteps of an uncle who had been in the trade, Valley started a home building business in 1940 that would earn him a small fortune in the coming years. By 1960 he was “a millionaire several times over,” owned a private airplane, and Besco, his business partnership formed with a man named Jack Brooks, was building shopping centers and thousand-unit housing developments.

Almost from the beginning, he had dreamed of owning a pro football team. During the war years, he and fellow builder Ed McGah had tried unsuccessfully to buy a semi-pro team in San Francisco and later the pair tried to get involved with the All-America Football Conference 49ers, but that deal fell through, too. So, when the chance came to get an American Football League franchise for Oakland, it was only natural that Valley was in on the deal.

He was the Raiders’ vice president under Soda the first season. Arguments over how to spend money led to a major reorganization of the ownership group, resulting in five of the eight owners selling out and leaving Valley in an ascendant position. He was still vice president, under McGah, but as the only member of the group to have played the game at a high level, he tended to take the lead in controlling field operations.

Fellow owner Robert Osborne’s ill-health and arguments over keeping the team in Oakland resulted in his departure, leaving just McGah and Valley holding the reins. Two awful seasons in 1961 and 1962 almost ended with the league taking back the franchise and in a last effort to right the ship, Valley hired Chargers assistant Al Davis as head coach and general manager. Davis immediately made the Raiders a contender in the AFL west and as a result earned a reputation as a young football genius, an epithet Valley would apply to him, both in praise and in derision, over the coming decade.

With the team’s continued existence assured, Valley split time between the team and running his development business. After Davis’s brief stint as AFL Commissioner in 1966 ended with the merger, Valley and McGah welcomed him back to the Raiders as the third general partner, giving him a small piece of the team that would grow over time, and paid him a salary to take charge of football operations.

Davis slowly expanded his influence over the team, causing Valley to have some misgivings, but a tragedy in the spring of 1969 pushed all thoughts of the Raiders aside for a time. His son, Wayne Jr., who like his father had been a standout football player at Oregon State, drowned in a swimming accident. The 25-year-old had been swimming with friends in the North Santiam River in Oregon. After jumping off a rock into the water he failed to surface. It wasn’t until several days later that his body was found two miles downstream from where he went in.

When he returned to football, he continued to take an active role in league as well as team operations, serving on the NFL’s player relations committee in the early 1970s. In 1973, though, a fissure opened in the Raider partnership that would lead to Valley’s departure. According to a lawsuit Valley filed in April, McGah had signed Davis to a 20-year contract extension that would give Davis what amounted to dictatorial powers over the team’s operations. Valley argued that McGah and Davis had not informed him of the contract offer prior to Davis’s signing of it and wanted it declared invalid. Davis contended that Valley had been aware of the contract months before and McGah argued that Valley was airing dirty laundry in public, that Valley had made a mess of things when he was in charge, and that Davis was the superior choice for the position.

The suit played out in both the courts and in the public opinion arena for couple of years but was eventually decided mostly in Davis’s favor with some reduction in his powers. By then, reconciliation was impossible, and Valley sold his share back to the team in early 1976, less than a year before their first championship.

Still a wealthy man from his housing development operations, Valley spent the next couple of years trying to buy control of the ailing 49ers, but was blocked by Golden State Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli who also owned a small chunk of the Niners. A few years later, when Charlie Finley was threatening to sell the Oakland Athletics to a Denver businessman, Valley made an offer to buy the team. Davis was trying to move the Raiders to Los Angeles at the time and Finley saw the offer as Valley’s way getting under Davis’s skin and rejected it.

By now, Valley’s health was starting to decline. In the mid-60s, he had had his first surgery to treat arteriosclerosis and in 1981 he underwent heart bypass surgery. He lived a few years more, tending to his real estate ventures, but in 1986 he was diagnosed with an unspecified form of malignant cancer that was described as “fast-moving”. He died at home on October 2, survived by his wife Gladys, children Tamara, Sonya, and Michael, and seven grandchildren.

Auburn Journal
Berkeley Gazette
Corvallis Gazette-Times
Eugene Guard
Fremont Argus
Klamath News
Los Angeles Times
Medford Mail-Tribune
Oakland Tribune
Pasadena Independent Star-News
Redlands Daily Facts
Roseburg News-Review
Sacramento Bee
Salem Capital-Journal
Salem Statesman-Journal
San Bernardino County Sun
San Francisco Examiner
San Mateo Times
San Rafael Daily Independent-Journal
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
Stockton Independent
Ukiah Daily Journal
United States Census Bureau

[1] I couldn’t find his father’s name in any of the sources I looked at, though it seems pretty certain his father and mother were married at the time of his birth.

Ed McGah

Edward Winston McGah
Born July 18, 1899, Alameda(?), California
Died September 17, 1983, Los Angeles, age 84

Ed McGah owned a piece of the Oakland Raiders longer than any of the other seven original owners. Described as “thoughtful” and “low-key”, he stuck with the team through internal squabbles, big financial losses, profoundly bad play, and lawsuits, and lived to see them win two Super Bowl championships.

He was the eldest of three surviving children of James and Wilhelmina McGah. Two of his siblings died in childhood and those who remained were his sisters Hildreth (born 1903) and Erol (born c.1909). His father worked variously as a longshoreman and general laborer while the kids were growing up. Ed left school after the eighth grade but was an avid young baseballer playing in amateur leagues into his 20s.

He was still living at home when he married his first wife, Gertrude, sometime around 1920. Edward, Jr., their only child, was born in 1921, and grew up to be a good enough ballplayer himself to get a cup of coffee with the Boston Red Sox in the late 1940s. Somewhere around this time Ed, Sr., took a job with the Superior Tile Company, based in Berkeley, and worked his way up to president of the firm by the mid-1930s.

Sometime before 1930, despite being Catholic, Ed and Gertrude divorced, and Ed married his second wife, Lucille. Into the thirties, he and Superior Tile took on bigger jobs, acting as a subcontractor on such projects as the Yerba Buena Tunnel on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. By the early 1940s, he had become a land developer and house builder, and was wealthy enough to try and land a semi-pro football team with fellow businessman and future Raider co-owner Wayne Valley, with the goal of getting into the NFL. Later that decade, he tried to get a piece of the San Francisco 49ers in the All-America Football Conference, but both efforts failed.

Still, he was making money. His development company built a large tract of 1,500 new homes in central Contra Costa County and joined up with a partner to from the McBail Development Company in 1949. In the 1950s, he branched out further, forming the Trancas Land Company with another business partner, and earned a spot on the board of directors of the Associated Home Builders of the Greater East Bay. One of Trancas’s biggest projects was the building of the Bel Aire Shopping Center in Napa.

Like most of his fellow owners, McGah was a social networker, holding membership in a number of clubs and taking part in various charitable activities. He was quite active in his support of the Silesian Boys Club, sitting on the board with future partners Art Beckett, Charles Harney, Robert Osborne, Wallace Marsh, and Chet Soda.

McGah finally got his chance to own a pro football franchise in 1960 when he joined the group that landed an American Football Franchise for Oakland. That first season he didn’t make a lot of noise, leaving most of the running of the team to Soda. Late in the year, though, the owners fell to fighting amongst themselves. In January 1961, with reconciliation no longer possible, five of the owners sold their shares to McGah, Osborne, and Valley, and McGah emerged as team president.

The new, streamlined partnership didn’t solve the Raiders’ money woes, though. With the team playing in San Francisco, and playing horrendous ball to boot, attendance was sparse and financial losses were expected to mount into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Late in 1961, McGah and Valley gave the city of Oakland an ultimatum: build a stadium or they would sell to a group likely to move the team to another city. Osborne, caught unawares by the announcement, swore the team wouldn’t leave Oakland, but he had had a heart attack several months ago, and unwilling to lose even more money in 1962, decided to sell his piece of the team to McGah and Valley.

Though the city finally approved the construction of a new stadium and put the team up in temporary digs at tiny Frank Youell Field, the Raiders were even worse in 1962 and again, McGah and Valley made it known that they were looking for someone to take the team off their hands. A deal to move the Raiders to New Orleans came close to fruition, but the parties couldn’t agree on a sale price, and it fell through.

Unable to find buyers, McGah and Valley agreed to play the 1963 season in Oakland and made the most momentous decision in franchise history: hiring San Diego Chargers assistant coach Al Davis as head coach and general manager. Davis immediately turned the team’s fortunes around, earning Coach of the Year honors and remaking the team in his own image. While the next two seasons weren’t quite as successful as the first, Davis was regarded as an up-and-comer and in 1966 was named AFL commissioner as the league battled the NFL for supremacy.

When the leagues agreed to a merger, McGah and Valley welcomed Davis back, not as head coach and general manager, but as “managing general partner” with an annual salary and a small share of ownership that would grow on a yearly basis. McGah and Valley took a more passive role as Davis built the team into a perennial powerhouse.

Davis’s continued success pleased McGah, but his level of team control rankled Valley. In 1973, McGah signed Davis to a 20-year contract giving him dictatorial powers over the Raiders. Valley objected, saying he hadn’t been aware of the contract prior to its signing and sued to have it declared void. McGah responded by calling the suit “ill-founded and destructive” and added that “Wayne should know he can’t run the Raiders. He made a mess of it before.”

The suit dragged on for two years before the contract was upheld in court, though the judge did reduce the scope of powers accorded to Davis in the agreement. Valley, however, had had enough and sold his share back to McGah and Davis in 1976, less than a year before the team would win its first championship.

McGah, happy with the way the team was performing, and the profits derived therefrom, let Davis alone to run the Raiders his way, even when Davis set in motion plans to move the team to Los Angeles in 1980. While commissioner Pete Rozelle and the NFL spared no effort to prevent the move, McGah, a lifelong Bay Area man, backed up his fellow owner, and moved to Los Angeles himself when his team finally started play there in 1982.

By this time, though, he was in his 80s and his health was starting to fail. In January 1983, he had surgery for “blood clots and other internal problems” and on September 17, died at Cedars Sinai hospital after what was termed “a long illness,” just four months before his team would win its third Super Bowl title in Tampa. He was 84. He was survived by his son, Ed Jr., third wife Ruth, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.[1]

Eureka-Humboldt Standard
Los Angeles Times
Napa Valley Register
North Hollywood Valley Times
Oakland Tribune
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Sacramento Bee
San Bernardino County Sun
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
United States Census Bureau

 

[1] The last mention of his second wife, Lucille, that I could find was in the 1940 census and the first mention of Ruth was in his obituary. Lucille died in 1982, so he might have remarried soon after or they may have divorced years ago. I could find nothing to corroborate any particular chain of events.

November 26, 1960

Grim news appeared the morning before the Raiders were to play the Chargers in Los Angeles. Starting end Ralph Anderson was found dead at his girlfriend’s apartment following an evening spent at the movies with teammate Ron Botchan and their dates. The cause of death was not immediately known, but Anderson was a diabetic and his position coach, Al Davis, said he had had a diabetic attack in the recent past.

The Chargers team was in shock. They tried to have a pregame practice but had to stop after 15 minutes. “We couldn’t go through with it,” said head coach Sid Gillman. “I don’t know how we’ll be able to get these boys in any kind of mental shape at all for Sunday’s game against Oakland. Ralph’s death has put 34 other players and five coaches in a state of shock that will take days to overcome.”

This would be the second time this season the Raiders were to face an opponent following the death of one of their team members. In October, the Raiders played the Titans after guard Howard Glenn died following a neck injury suffered against the Oilers.

Despite the news, the game would go on and the teams had much to play for. “If we win, we’re tied with LA and then we meet them at home,” said Eddie Erdelatz. “If we lose, we’re two games out and in this tight race that could be too much to make up with just three games left after tomorrow. I’m real proud of this team. They’ve been bouncing back all year and have fought hard in every game. They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to and win, lose, or draw against LA, I think we have a great outfit.”

Talking of the Chargers, who were coming off a 32-3 loss to the Bills, Erdelatz said, “Buffalo was really up for the game. We had thumped them pretty good the week before and they went into the Charger game with blood in their eyes. I don’t think LA was prepared for such a tough contest. This week, it is the Chargers who are near the boiling point, which means they’ll be tougher than usual for us.”

Three Raider players — Jetstream Smith, Riley Morris, and Billy Reynolds — were looking forward to taking on the team that had rejected them in the preseason. Reynolds had particularly aggrieved tale to tell. “It’s not so much that they cut me,” said Reynolds, “but the day before they put me on waivers, I checked with coach Sid Gillman on my status. I wanted to know if it would be wise for me to bring my family out West. Sid told me, ‘Sure, Bill, bring ‘em out,’ and then the next day, I’m on waivers.”

Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram
Oakland Tribune
United Press International