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.