Davidson Never Stopped Giving Back to ELAC
His football career started thanks to late the Husky Coach Johnson
By Mario Villegas, Special to EGP
East Los Angeles College recently lost a prominent alumnus in former Oakland Raiders football great Ben Davidson, who died of prostate cancer July 3 at the age of 72.
The 6-foot-8 defensive lineman with the handlebar mustache was one of professional football’s most feared defensive players in the 1960s and early ‘70s.
After retiring from the game, his enormous size and gravelly voice attracted movie and television producers alike and Davidson appeared in the movies “M*A*S*H” and “Conan the Barbarian,” and many TV shows.
Davidson’s greatest exposure, however, came as a popular character on Miller Lite beer commercials, which featured pro athletes in humorous situations. He made 27 commercials for Miller.
While Davidson’s achievements and exploits on the football field and his movie and television acting roles were widely reported, he is being remembered at East L.A. College for the love he had for the school and its longtime football coach, the late Clyde Johnson.
Davidson helped Johnson start a program that provided scholarships for ELAC student-athletes in 1985 by donating to the scholarship fund and speaking at banquets to raise donations. Johnson died in 1997 at the age of 80 and Davidson was among the many former players who eulogized their beloved coach.
“Coach Johnson used to refuse thanks from all the players whose lives he touched,” Davidson eulogized. “He always said not to thank him, but to always help a kid from East L.A., instead.”
Davidson honored Johnson’s request and annually awarded the Ben Davidson-Clyde Johnson scholarships to ELAC’s top male and female athletes. He personally presented the scholarship awards in 2005 when he was the guest speaker at ELAC’s annual Scholar-Athlete Luncheon.
“Mr. Davidson gladly agreed to fund the scholarships, but only if the award included Coach Johnson’s name,” Athletic Director Al Cone said. “He was a great man who never forgot Coach Johnson and how he owed so much of his success to him.”
It was Johnson who talked Davidson into going out for football when he spotted him in 1957 shooting baskets on the basketball court. Davidson had never put on a football uniform while growing up in the El Sereno community of East Los Angeles.
Davidson, whose father was a Los Angeles police officer and whose mother was a librarian, played basketball and competed in track and field at Wilson High School. He intended to play basketball when he enrolled at ELAC.
Johnson may have thought he was looking at a younger version of himself when he noticed Davidson, who graduated from high school at 16. Like Davidson, Johnson was enormous, standing 6-foot-6 with a large frame. He played offensive tackle and was the University of Kentucky’s first All-American and played professionally for the Los Angeles Rams.
Under Johnson’s tutelage, Davidson developed into a talented player who drew the attention of major college recruiters, including a then little-known assistant coach at USC by the name of Al Davis, who would later become the coach and eventual owner of the Oakland Raiders.
After starring for the ELAC Huskies in 1957 and 1958, Davidson accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Washington. He helped lead the Washington Huskies to consecutive Athletic Association of Western Universities conference championships in 1959 and 1960 and played on two Rose Bowl winning teams. In fact, Washington was awarded the national championship in 1960.
The New York Giants selected Davidson in the fourth round of the 1961 draft. But they traded him to the Green Bay Packers for a fifth round pick before the season. Davidson, however, had the last laugh, as the Packers went on to defeat the Giants for the NFL title.
Davidson spent the next two seasons with the Washington Redskins and was entering his third season with the team when he received a phone call while in summer training camp from the Oakland Raiders. Ron Wolf, the team’s personnel director, asked him to join the Raiders of the rival American Football League, and Davidson agreed.
It was the beginning of a long and distinguished career in which Davidson would go on to play in three consecutive Pro Bowls and earn All-Pro Honors. He also played in Super Bowl II.
Former Raider quarterback Tom Flores, who would later coach the team to two Super Bowl victories, recalled seeing Davidson develop into a great player.
“He was just a big, tall skinny guy that Al 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 retired after the 1971 season, but not until after having played in 152 regular season games.
At the time of his death, Davidson was retired and living in San Diego. He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and three daughters, Jan, Dana and Vicki.Print This Post
July 13, 2012 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.