There was a memorial for Oakland Raider great Big Ben Davidson down in San Diego. Ben passed away on July 2nd, he was 72 years old. There were many of the old school Raiders in attendance whose stories were amusing and clean yet there was always the feeling that they were holding back. Otis Sistrunk (University of Mars), an overweight Marv Hubbard (” I used to be a fullback now I am a full front “), George Atkinson (criminal element), John Vella, Rod Sherman, Tom Flores (ex Raider head coach), Phil Villapiano, and many others honored Ben with their presence. A few told stories of their old friend (like how Big Ben got his friends in the Hells Angels Oakland Chapter to help insure prompt payment of rent at one of the apartment buildings he owned or when Ben and a teammate after a night of heavy drinking took a shortcut through a pasture only to be confronted by an angry bull. The bull charged Ben (who was 6’8″ and close to 300 pounds) and had him between the horns, drove him back into thick bushes. The bull ran away leaving a moment for Ben’s teammate to check on his health. Ben stood up , dusted himself off, and said ” If I wasn’t so damn drunk I would have been able to pull that guy off his motorcycle.”)
Ben was more than a Raider. He won two Rose Bowls and a National Championship at the University of Washington. He won a NFL Championship (Before Super Bowls) with the Green Bay Packers and took his bonus money and bought an apartment building which was very unusual both then and now. He continued buying apartment buildings his whole life and worked construction in the off season. But as a Raider he shined – winning multiple awards as their defensive end. He also broke Joe Namath’s jaw, speared Lenny Dawson, and almost took Bob Griese’s head off, but was convinced “they had it comin.”
Ben, who grew up in East Los Angeles, spoke fluent Spanish, which came in handy for his many motorcycle trips to Mexico, Central America, and South America putting over 100,000 miles with his good friend and teammate Tom Keating (who also passed away recently). In his travels Ben visited over 100 different countries and collected over 2400 beer bottles from around the world which now reside at a bar in Normal Heights, San Diego.
His acting career included movies Mash, Conan the Barbarian, and Behind the Green Door (Ben played a non participating Bouncer) and T.V. classics from the 70’s and 80’s as Chips, Happy Days, Charlie’s Angels, and Duke’s of Hazard to name a few. Of course he had one of his biggest roles as a spokesman for Miller Light for 17 years. Ben visited over 100 U.S. military bases around the world shaking hands and visiting hospitals.
Among the speakers at the memorial were the national and local presidents from the Muscular Dystrophy Association who tearfully related how much Ben had done for them not just raising money and playing in golf tourneys around the country, but visiting the children at the hospitals who had been taken down by the disease. According to them Ben Davidson had given as much as any celebrity and always asked what he could do more. Ben supported other charities in San Diego and across the U.S.
Many a family member and friend spoke that day , but one of the more moving tributes was given by Ben’s mailman who spoke of him as a generous, intelligent, thoughtful, giant of a man who became his friend.
I think that says a lot.