With the passing of Buffalo Bills superfan Ezra Castro AKA Pancho Billa, the NFL fandom was reminded just how fragile life can be. Fans and players of all teams came together to mourn a man that loved his team, family, & everyone that came in contact with him.
Thirty nine years is not enough for most people, but in those years Ezra gave a lifetime worth of kindness and love. After every kind act shown to him, Ezra was shocked & often humbled at the kindness that people gave him. He never got that people thought he was a big deal and downplayed his importance. In a social media world where the need for attention and self importance is the norm, Ezra was a regular guy and a breath of fresh air.
When Greg Dresko and I did our podcast with Ezra, it was obvious he did not feel good but he rarely cancelled anything. Even on his bad days he would do interviews with a smile. After our podcast I created a prayer night for him that Greg & I promoted. Literally thousands of people got involved praying for Pancho and all of those battling cancer. We did a second one not too long ago that was also greatly supported. People really cared and it was inspiring.
Buffalo was the perfect team for Ezra. It is a team that is set back in the time of the old AFL. A team that has not yet been ruined by the greed of NFL owners who’s only loyalty is to the money they can make. They have an old stadium, the second lowest ticket prices in the NFL, and a raucous loyal fan base. While everyone else changed, Buffalo didn’t. It is a special place.
With fancy, expensive stadiums pricing out many fans, the Bills are stuck in a wonderful time warp that allows for a foundation that continues to come to the games year after year. A loyal following that braves bitter cold and wind to support their Bills. From Jack Kemp to Joe Ferguson, to Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, the Bills rich tradition is steeped in a blue collar us against the world mentality. What an amazing place.
I don’t think any fan base or team other than Buffalo could have survived losing 4 Super Bowls while still coming back with dignity and grace. Through all of the jokes and taunting, winning 4 conference championships is still among one of the greatest achievements in NFL history & they are very proud of it.
Ezra & the Spirit of Buffalo:
In true Buffalo Bill spirit, Pancho Billa battled until the end. Just like Steve Tasker making an amazing play in a Super Bowl that had long been lost, Ezra never gave up. Adversity was what Ezra faced each day after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Even in his darkest days he would show a positive, caring spirit that inspired so many. We DM’d each other on Twitter and his last message to me was a smiling emoji with a halo over his head. He knew. He also though remained positive asking people to never quit praying for a miracle. Giving up was never an option.
In reality the biggest gift Pancho Billa gave to people was the way he handled his illness. Even with social media bringing out the worst in people, he showed a spirit of pride and kindness that touched so many. He remained positive at the worst of times inspiring us all to not take ourselves too seriously. In a world where many get angry at the drop of a hat, he showed a calm passion and compassion for others during his fight.
The Power of NFL Fans:
Ezra reminded NFL fans everywhere that we are not gang members or part of a football militia that should hate anything not affiliated with our teams. He showed that in reality we are all on the same team of life and that football is a fun outlet & family to belong to. Happiness, health & supporting each other during the best and worst of times is what life is about. We all saw how our hearts are more powerful than any owners money or new stadium. It’s about the fans and the amazing relationships that we create from being fans. The simplest of things.
How I’ll Remember Ezra & You:
What I’ll remember most about Ezra, was how he brought everyone together. For a moment in time fans in New England and Oakland were on the same team. Dallas and Philly fans prayed for a miracle together and people began to realize all of the petty arguments and hate was not what being a fan was about. It’s a willingness to help when hope is hard to find, and being there to support and love someone during great times as well as their darkest hour.
Many of you have really touched me with your sincerity and compassion and I’m very proud of everyone. Your kindness touched Ezra and helped him and his family get through such an unspeakable tragedy. As much of a gift people felt Pancho was, he felt the same about you. He brought out the best in all of us and it sure felt good.
How to Keep His Legacy Alive:
If you really want to keep his legacy alive, lets be like him. Give as much as you can to others and show kindness with a calm spirit. As Ezra once said, “don’t bring flowers to my funeral. I hate flowers. Bring backpacks full of school supplies for kids”. Think of others first, and show love and appreciation and support to one another. Most of all do it without judgement or opinion. Love completely without complete understanding. What an amazing legacy that would be. And nothing would be more pleasing to the great Pancho Billa.
On his show on 95.7 The Game, Greg Papa answered any and all questions about his departure from the Raiders. It was definitely must listen to radio.
Marc Badain the President of the Oakland Raiders texted Greg Papa on July 2nd stating that they had to meet in person. Papa met Marc on July 5th and at lunch Marc said they were not going to bring Papa back. Greg wondered why now and Badain said he bought Greg a few years by defending him. I’m thinking this firing in late July is a big bite me to Greg. It’s near impossible for him to get a gig doing NFL games so late in the year other than a few here and there.
“On January of 2014 I heard the Raiders were going to interview Mike Shanahan for head coach. The interview didn’t go great so I didn’t think it would happen, but I said it was beyond my comprehension that Mike Shanahan could be interviewed because Al loathed him. Rod Woodsen and Bill Romanowski were campaigning for Shanahan to be the head coach and I couldn’t believe it”.
In his first meeting with Badain when he was first hired, Badain said that Greg had to patch things up with Mark Davis. Greg stated that he called Mark Davis early the next morning. He said the call did not go well after he said he would not apologize to Mark for his comments about Mike Shanahan. Davis hung up on him. Papa has admitted that he warned the Raiders that he would quit if Shanahan was hired and that put Mark over the edge. He said that he felt like he was public enemy number one after that and was taken off some of the things that Al had always wanted him to do. He saw Davis once and said hi to him and Davis ignored him and just walked on by.
Papa Calls Out Blogger’s/Podcaster’s With the Wrong Information:
Greg said the misinformation that was written about by bloggers was comically wrong. “I’m not much into social media but Boy, some of the crazy stories were so wrong”. He stated that he never was asked to go to Las Vegas and he never said that he would not go. In fact he admitted that he would have gone and that flying to Vegas for the weekend and doing a game was no big deal to him.
Why Greg Is So Loyal To Al Davis:
Al was loyal to the end. Former Raider executive John Herrera probably said it best in a 2012 interview with SFGATE. “Al was so demanding. He would sometimes call you at 1 am just to see if you were on the ball and if you did what he asked you to do. There were no cell phones back in the day so we had to be around our home phones when we weren’t at work. Once he trusted you and knew you’d do a good job though, you had a friend for life. He helped people financially, personally and if you didn’t need help he made sure you got tickets when you wanted them”. These stories are still refreshing in a day and age when few can do something nice without posting a video of it on social media.
That’s the relationship Greg Papa had with Al Davis. Unlike the great Bill King, Al became close to Greg. Greg was the new guard in announcers. Fans started to change and most wanted their announcers to be more “homers” than objective and Greg fit right into that mold. He would criticize at times, but rarely was he super negative about the Raiders where Bill King at times would be brutally honest if they played poorly. Greg became very close to Al who appreciated his loyalty and some publications have stated that Greg was a possible front office hire for the Raiders in the future. “Al was like a second father to me,” Papa said. Many in the media said Greg was the semi mouthpiece of Al when Mr. Davis became very ill.
It must have been hard for Mark Davis to watch his father be so close to some people. The stories about how Al treated Mark at times are uncomfortable to listen to. Let’s face it; if Al thought a lot about his son he would have been in an important job in some capacity. Instead the only job Mark Davis has really ever had in his life is some minor PR jobs for the Raiders.
Who Is In the Wrong:
Probably no one. I don’t think that Mark Davis is a bad guy but he had pretty much little to no work history and now he owns an NFL team. To be fair, running a business is really difficult even with a lot of experience. Mark Davis wanted respect and loyalty from Papa and let’s face it; Papa doesn’t respect him.
I get what Greg is saying. I love my dad and I’m loyal to the nines. In fact in my first 2 years in business, 2 businesses my father despised wanted to work with us and I declined. Let’s be real; Mark and Al Davis probably weren’t Ward Cleaver and the Beaver, and Mark’s actions prove it. Like I always say, actions show a man’s heart, and their words are the B.S. to cover over those actions.
I greatly respect Greg Papa and I understand. You remember being down or just starting out and someone takes a chance on you and you make it and it’s something you never forget. In today’s world that type of loyalty means little to nothing to some people. People only look at if that person can help them or not. To Papa it meant everything.
Greg also see’s one of the greatest minds in pro football history pass away and his new boss is his son who never had much to do with the team and has little or no job history in 6 decades of life. I’m sure underneath Greg wasn’t too happy, or impressed.
I feel bad for Mark in a way. I can also see Mark’s side and it must have been hard to watch Greg get so close to his father. I don’t blame Mark Davis for wanting to be his own man but I think there are a lot more motives to all these changes than that.
Greg Papa has now gone the way of Hue Jackson, Amy Trask and John Herrera. The changing of the Al Davis guard is pretty complete. The 300-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about is the complicated relationship between Mark Davis and his father. He wants to literally start over in Las Vegas while pushing the reset button. Davis needs to realize in the NFL world he has to earn his way and earn respect. With popular Greg Papa, he obviously didn’t.
Mark Davis is trying to find himself as a person and as an owner. Today’s cynical and shallow age is a hard place to do it in especially if you are in your 60’s. And what I found out is that a radio announcer would lose a job he loves beyond measure for the loyalty of a man, and the very person who is firing him for his loyalty is the son of that man. This is a lot deeper than anyone wants to admit.
The NFL draft has always been fascinating to me. It’s an amazing thing to see how teams choose who they want to create the foundation of their team. It’s not a coincidence though that with the greatness of the Raiders of the 1960’s into early 1980’s, most of their drafts were excellent getting at least 2 good starters in many drafts. Director of Player Personnel Ron Wolf was a key element of these drafts and he is now in the HOF. As John Madden said, “Al listened to only one person and that was Ron Wolf”.
To establish a great team you have to have excellent drafts. Back in the day, a guy that could scout and pick out a good player was worth their weight in gold. A recent ESPN study showed just how bad the NFL teams of today draft, especially missing on so many QB’s that it’s ruined some franchises for years. In the olden days they relied on game films and occasional interviews with the players and their coaches. Now they over analyze and see things that aren’t there and refuse to see things that are. Paralysis by analysis. If you look at something long enough you begin to see flaws.
For now though, and look to the draft picks that did work out well often leading to wins and championships.
#5: 1974 Draft:
1st Henry Lawrence T
2nd Dave Casper TE
3rd Mark Van Eeghen
4th Morris Bradshaw
Henry Lawrence was a pillar in the OL for 13 years for the Raiders with much of it being as a starter. He has 3 Super Bowl rings and in the last 2 Raider titles he was a starting tackle. Dave Casper is a HOF player and was one of the best all around tight ends in history. With his tough and physical blocking and his amazing hands; Casper, Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, and Ken Stabler made one of the greatest passing combinations of all time.
Mark Van Eeghen took over for Marv Hubbard and could do it all. He wasn’t fast, but he was amazing at following his blockers and soon became one of the best all around RB’s in the NFL. A great pass catcher, Mark also was a key pass protector for his ability to pick up blitzing LB’s. Even though he ran for over 1,000 yards in the 1976 season, Oakland’s game plan was for Mark to be the lead blocker for most of the game and the speedy Clarence Davis (who ran for 516 yards the same year) would get the bulk of the carries against an older Minnesota Vikings team. The plan worked to perfection as Mark had an amazing game blocking and Davis ran 16 times for 137 yards. Van Eeghen ran for 73 yards and the Raiders rushed for 266 yards which is still the 3rd highest Super Bowl rushing game in history. You wonder if players of today would sacrifice like that.
In the 4th Round the Raiders got WR Morris Bradshaw who became a key member of their special teams unit for 8 years. He also was a part time starter with his best year being 1978 when he caught 40 passes for 552 yards.
#4: 1972 Draft:
1st Mike Siani WR
2nd John Vella OL
4th Cliff Branch WR
4th Dave Dalby OL
7th Alonzo “Skip” Thomas DB
To be honest you could interchange the #4 and #3 drafts and still have winners. What a problem to have. Mike Siani was a poor man’s Fred Biletnikoff and while he never lived up to his #1 status, he was a vital contributor in the Raiders passing game with many key pass catches in important games. John Vella and Dave Dalby were part of what many consider the greatest offensive line of all time. Their size and toughness wore opponents down. Dr. Death Skip Thomas was a key member of the famous “Soul Patrol” that many feel is the greatest defensive backfield in NFL history.
Cliff Branch will eventually get into the Hall of Fame but he remains one of the greatest deep threats the NFL has ever seen. During a talk show Raiders great Ken Stabler said, “I had a great offensive line, Casper, Biletnikoff who caught anything and Cliff Branch who could outrun half of the cars in the parking lot”. This amazing draft class is just another reason why the Raiders were so dominating.
#3: 1977 Draft:
2nd Mike Davis
4th Mickey Marvin
5th Lester Hayes
5th Jeff Barnes
8th Terry Robiskie
12th Rod Martin
Maybe this draft didn’t have the iconic talent of other drafts, but it definitely filled a lot of holes with excellent players. Mike Davis was a key member at safety and his interception against the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs helped propel the Raiders to eventually win a Super Bowl. Mickey Marvin was an excellent OL for years. Lester Hayes started out slow, but eventually became one of the best cover corners in the game and should be in the HOF. Jeff Barnes and Rod Martin were excellent LB’s that helped the Raiders shore up their defense after the Villapiano, Willie Hall and Monte Johnson era. Terry Robiskie was a great special teams player and backup RB.
#2: 1971 Draft:
1st Jack Tatum DB
2nd Phil Villapiano LB
4th Clarence Davis
5th Bob Moore
12th Horace Jones
“They changed the rules because of Tatum and Atkinson”, said HOF QB Fran Tarkenton on San Francisco’s KNBR radio. “The 5 yard chuck rule was created because of them and the other Raiders DB’s because the WR’s literally could not get off of the line against them. They were so physically imposing and strong.”
Jack Tatum hit harder than any DB in history and should no doubt be in the HOF. Phil Villapiano said, “Tatum’s shots just sounded different. His hits sounded like a car wreck”. George Atkinson added, “I once saw Jack hit Denver’s Riley Odoms so hard that I thought he killed him. It sounded like a car wreck”. He was a star at Ohio St. where Woody Hayes loved his hard hitting style and instinct to be where he needed to be, and he brought that to the Oakland Raiders. Jack’s timing was unmatched. If it wasn’t for the Darryl Stingley hit, Tatum would already be in the HOF. RIP to both of them.
A huge get was Phil Villapiano. Supposedly an undersized LB out of Bowling Green, most teams had him as being too small. Almost everyone had him as a possible 3rd round pick, but most had him going into the 4th round. The Raiders; who were the only team that would not share information with other teams; picked him in the second round. They knew that Phil was really 225 and not the 210 that everyone else said he was. Villapiano became a key element shoring up their back 7 on defense. He could tackle and stop the run, and with his lateral speed and timing he was a great pass defender. There are many that feel Phil should be in the HOF as well. His personality and fun spirit is classic Raider. The below video shows Phil Villapiano leading the Raiders on and off the field.
Clarence Davis was a fast and clutch player. His catch in the famous “Sea of Hands” game and his amazing performances in post season including his 137 yards rushing in the Super Bowl win against Minnesota are immortalized. Bob Moore was a solid NFL back up tight end and Horace Jones was an important defensive starter for four of the 5 years he played for the Raiders.
#1: 1968 Draft:
2nd Ken Stabler QB
3rd Art Shell T
4th Charlie Smith RB
7th George Atkinson DB
11th Marv Hubbard
Now finally the greatest draft in Oakland Raiders history, the 1968 draft. If you can draft 2 quality starters in your draft, usually your draft is considered pretty good. Draft 5 key starters and 2 Hall of Famer’s and I’d say your draft was awesome.
In 1967 the Raiders drafted HOF guard Gene Upshaw who would help anchor an amazing offensive line. In 1968, they chose other big pieces that would lay a foundation for their success in the 1970’s.
This draft was the key to the Raiders success in the 60’s and 70’s and this draft topped them all. They now had one of the greatest QB’s in history in Ken Stabler, and another HOF player on the OL in Art Shell. With Charlie Smith and Marv Hubbard they had a set of starting RB’s that could run and catch the ball. All 4 players were big parts of the success of the Raiders in the 1970’s and late 1960’s.
Then oh by the way add 7th round pick George Atkinson who was considered too small to be a full time safety. What teams didn’t get is that Atkinson was as tough as nails, hit like a ton of bricks, had a bad attitude on the field and was as fast as lightning. Early in his career he was a great kick returner on both punts and kickoffs and held records for a number of years in the return game. He was also the voice of the famous “Soul Patrol” defensive backfield.
So there you have it. These are the 5 greatest draft classes in Raiders history. The hope of all fans is that their favorite teams draft choices will reach their full potential and step up to be great players. In the following years we will find out how the draft choices of the new millennium rank. History shows us that if you consistently draft poorly, you will eventually erode your foundation and have to start over. If you excel in the draft, you create a winning team for years to come. When the Raiders had great drafts, they succeeded and were the winningest franchise in U.S. sports. When they didn’t, they failed and struggled breaking records for futility. Here’s to a future of great draft picks and great success to this amazing franchise.
Friends used to ask who do you want on a podcast or even to just have a beer with. The 4 people remain the same. Ken Stabler, Bill King, John Madden, and Phil Villapiano. Today I’m writing about one of the most popular Raider players of all time, and one of my dad’s favorites in Phil Villapiano. “Foo” was a Raider from the start.
From Day One:
When Phil Villapiano was drafted, most teams had him going in the 3rd or 4th round. The Raiders drafted him in the 2nd round out of Bowling Green which was a surprise to some. Many teams had Villapiano listed at only 210 pounds, being too small to play linebacker. Back then there was no NFL combines or official weigh ins, so most teams would share information with each other to save money and time. The Raiders refused to share information.
What the Raiders knew about Villapiano was that he was legitimately 225 pounds. He was an instinctive player who loved to hit. His speed laterally was excellent and a big part of his game. He could play every down and had great feel in pass coverage. In the same draft Oakland selected Jack Tatum, Clarence Davis, and backup tight end Bob Moore. With Tatum and Villapiano, they had 2 hard hitters to go with another that loved contact in George Atkinson. The Raiders added Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas in the following draft and their back 7 was as physical and skilled as any in the history of the game.
The Raiders offenses were awesome but most forget that in 3 Super Bowl wins the Raiders only gave up 33 points and had three great QB’s in Fran Tarkenton, Ron Jaworski & Joe Theismann running for their lives most of the time. In fact all 4 teams in last years AFC and NFC Championship games were in the top 5 scoring defenses in the entire NFL. It isn’t sexy but defense still wins championships.
Phil’s Coming Out Party:
In week 3 of the 1971 season, rookie Villapiano was thrown into the fire and he had to start due to injuries at linebacker. Phil had an amazing game on national television against the Browns in front of 84,000 screaming Cleveland fans. To the dismay of every fan outside of Oakland, Howard Cosell raved about Phil during the Raiders 34-20 win, making him a household name over night and announce another weapon for the hated Oakland Raiders.
A Key Member of the Raiders Defense:
Phil soon became a mainstay in the Raiders physical style of play. He could cover all parts of the field, and his violent play was just what the Raiders wanted. In front of the famous “Soul Patrol” and behind an aggressive and relentless defensive line, Monte Johnson, Ted Hendricks, Willie Hall, and Villapiano manned one of the more underrated LB crews and defenses in the NFL. Al Davis and Ron Wolf’s motto for their defense was one thing; the QB must go down, and go down hard. Raider fans loved seeing Villapiano slowly and methodically hitting his arm pad on the line of scrimmage letting opponents know that he was coming and he was going to hit somebody.
(A video showing the brutality of the Raiders defense and Phil Villapiano’s team “activities”)
The renegade Raiders were by far the king of bay area sports and they capped off their success in 1976 with a dominating performance in Super Bowl 11 with a win over the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14. There were some sweaty palms at the start of the game though. The Raiders took the opening kickoff and went down the field but kicker Errol Mann missed a 29 yard field goal. Later in the 1st, Viking great Fred McNeil blocked a Ray Guy punt for Guy’s first blocked punt in his career. Minnesota recovered it on the Raiders 3 yard line and Raider fans began to worry. On third down, Villapiano forced a fumble from RB Brent McClanahan which fellow LB Willie Hall recovered and the Raiders went on a long drive for a short FG. Phil’s key play changed the momentum of the game.
(Phil is even clutch during a fun time at the 2009 Biletnikoff Celebrity Golf Tournament)
The Wild Days In Oakland:
Along with their amazing winning ways, Oakland also lead the league in having fun. The Raiders off the field craziness was unequalled, with Phil Villapiano being the unofficial ring leader of all of the antics. The stories of the Raiders training camp days in Santa Rosa are of legend. So many fans enjoyed spending time with players at North Bay hotspots and one of their favorites to party with was Villapiano and Ken Stabler.
(Phil’s interview on his foundation to save the Jersey Shore after hurricane Sandy)
He would set up activities and games to break the monotony of training camp. And as many players have said, cheating was not only encouraged but a necessity. Players drank with fans, outcasts, and anyone else that was considered part of the Raider family. Hells Angels and the Black Panthers would befriend some Raiders, and even a few shady figures would emerge. While most celebrities loved glamorous teams like the Cowboys, actors like James Garner became friends with the Raiders of the 70’s along with owner Al Davis.
From paying a woman to run naked across the practice field, to setting a small fire to stop the monotony of training camp, the pranks were wild and Phil was usually the instigator. Phil once even helped put on a wedding at one of the restaurants with some of the Raiders helping with the direction and officiating of the nuptials. After passing the hat around they helped the couple go on a honeymoon. Of course the wedding was bogus, and to this day no one knew if the couple ever found out they really weren’t married.
Phil & the Raiders Legacy:
I fought with some old time NFL fans and writers last year who tried to downplay how good the Raiders were. We all know how I love facts so I was loaded for bear. Daryle Lamonica was 38-4-1 in his first 43 starts for Oakland. Ken Stabler was 50-11-1 in his first 62 starts and the Raiders were 18-1-1 in their first 20 Monday night football games. No offense, but if Derek Carr and the Raiders had those stats today, with the fervor of social media, they would be erecting statues for them.
The Facts About The Raiders & the 1970’s:
The Raiders won more games than any other team in the NFL in the 1970’s, the greatest decade in NFL history. During the 1970-75 dynasty of the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders were 4-2 against the mighty Dolphins including 2-1 in the playoffs. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s, the Raiders were the only team with success owning a 6-5 record. They were 2-3 against Pittsburgh in the playoffs but one of those wins was the Immaculate Reception, and another was the 16-10 loss in Pittsburgh, where “somehow” outside the hash-marks the field had become completely frozen after the Steelers groundskeepers allegedly watered it down in the frigid cold of a Pennsylvania winter day. One of the few players Pittsburgh Hall of Famer Mel Blount struggled with was Cliff Branch. Al Davis got in an argument, yelling at Pete Rozelle before the game on the field saying how this now limited Cliff Branch’s speed. And they say the Raiders cheated!
In an online contest created by the NFL on their website, the 1976 Raiders were voted the greatest team in NFL history by over 5.2 million fans.
Phil was a big part of all this success. In fact most felt the Raiders were better in 1977 but Phil and OL John Vella had season ending injuries. The beat up Raiders were never healthy for the rest of the decade. Eventually he was traded to Buffalo not long after he made comments that the Raiders needed to stay in Oakland. He said that he never felt those comments got Al Davis mad, but Phil is a nicer guy than I am and I’m not so sure.
Phil is Just as Good Off the Field:
First off, congratulations to Phil who just won the Jersey Shore’s greatest Sports Personality in the last 50 years! We hope that this is not the last HOF he gets into. Again, please go to his Facebook page to support his Hall of Fame run.
When I first worked for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation in honor of my cousin Celestina, I was so happy to see Phil Villapiano being such a huge contributor for them. Phil has lent himself to many charities and he is beloved by fans and organizations alike. Phil is in various Hall of Fames and his other charities include saving the Jersey Shore after hurricane Sandy and MDA & ALS.
He also has bravely offered his brain to CTE research as well. Players like Jim Plunkett and George Atkinson have discussed the issue and the struggles they are having, and Phil also has done several interviews on the effects that football has had on his body.
Phil joins the ranks of so many special Raider players. Their love of life, football and their fellow man is both inspiring and endearing. Born in Long Branch, New Jersey and raised in Asbury Park, Phil has left his mark on many hearts around the country. He has seen pain and tragedy but through it all he lives life with joy and a smile. Graduating from Bowling Green and making a name on the national scene in Oakland, he is more than a college icon, former NFL Rookie of the Year, 2 time all NFL player, or 5 time all AFC player. A lot more.
I was once asked on a podcast why the Raiders players relationship with the fans was so special because they said they just didn’t understand it. I said, “Most people look at the players as celebrity athletes. It’s their team. Even though I was too little to understand anything, in Oakland the Raiders were not celebrities but they were considered family. The players were underpaid so many worked, played and were socially active with the fans. They also genuinely enjoyed and cared for each other, and the players were a part of the community. From Al Davis who the NFL and most owners hated; to the great Bill King who the networks and the Warriors took off of tv for looking like the Devil; neither they, the players or the fans really fit in anywhere. Except in Oakland”.
“They worked hard and played hard and loved their families. They were outcasts and throw aways that made sense to no one. The players were always too old, wild, or too slow or not big enough. Al Davis would see their heart and take them in. Then you put them all together with an East Bay attitude under an overcast, grey sky in Oakland on a crisp fall day, and together they all made sense. They won and they dominated. The pride; the winning; the diversity in race and religion; it was the best relationship in sports. No stadium was louder, no bond stronger”.
From New Jersey to California, Phil has never lost who he was and who was there for the ride. His loyalty and love for fans and family is contagious. And anyone that could put a smile on my mom and dad’s face has my loyalty.
(The Amazing run of the Raiders; The Rebels of Oakland)
They say never meet your heroes, and when I first started my medical business in the bay area, I was able to meet some A-List athletes and celebrities that I admired. Most were ok, but a couple turned out to be arrogant, self absorbed and just plain strange and it hurt. Raider fans are lucky because for the most part they are never disappointed. Meet Lester Hayes or Jim Otto or Phil Villapiano, and they will have you leaving with a smile. Phil is a fan favorite due to his whit, love of life, and passionate heart. He’s never really received the credit he deserved on the field, but let’s be real, many Raiders haven’t. People forget the east coast media dominated sports at the time. I’m sorry but waiting this long for Cliff Branch, Lester Hayes, Jack Tatum and Phil Villapiano is unacceptable and I’ve told the NFL writers as such. (Don’t get me started on Ken Stabler). Phil is already in our HOF and I hope Phil truly knows just how special he is to the bay area.
So if you are having a rough day, open your favorite adult beverage and go on youtube and enjoy the Super Bowl and championship games all over again. Check out Phil’s interviews that will leave you inspired and always laughing. Reminisce about the players and friends and family that you shared these amazing times with. Remember loved ones that are no longer with us that you shared so much with and who started your journey as a Raider fan. The Sea of Hands; The Holy Roller; the Ghost to the Post; the Heidi Game; and all that winning. For me, every time I watch these videos and see the feelings of joy in the fans and the players, it’s as exciting as the Klondike, flying over the Atlantic, or the story of the White Whale.
How innocent were those days….how rich we are to have known them.
In true Oakland Raiders draft day fashion, they had people scratching their heads, mouths agape, while some clapped their hands with hope. In one hour they managed to tick off 75% of the fan base, and had me laughing my head off with the Twitter rants of upset Raider fans. Even though 95% of fans had no clue who Kolton Miller was before yesterday, there was much battling online about the choice. Welcome to the 2018 NFL Oakland Raiders Draft kids.
ESPN Study Shows ALL NFL Teams Struggle With the NFL Draft:
Since 2000 at our draft party, I’ve been flat out documenting my drafts. (Last year I drafted Reuben Foster and the Raiders drafted Gareon Conley). This year I drafted Vita Vea and the Raiders drafted Karlton Miller.
When fans and writers were telling me that all Jamarcus Russell, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Fabian Washington needed was time, I was choosing Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree and Aaron Rodgers. I’ve tried to get other fans and writers to document their drafts with me. Still I have NO takers, mainly because drafting is hard and most don’t want their picks to be remembered. As I tell all of my followers, if I’m not right most of the time, don’t follow me. It’s easy to be a Monday morning QB and question bad drafts of the past when in reality many backed the choices.
ESPN finally proved what I’ve been saying for years. With all of the nonsense at the NFL combines and the stupid questions that teams ask, many are missing on their picks.
The NFL especially sucks when drafting Quarterbacks. I didn’t really love any of the picks this year and Josh Allen? If you are tall and have a big arm, you are anointed a QB prospect to most NFL scouts. And most NFL scouts have been proven to be WRONG when it comes to the NFL draft. DOCUMENTED. FACTS.
So when fans and online writers tell me that everyone should just bow down to the “experts” because they know more and are right much more often, well they are WRONG. I’m not bragging but I’ve been out-drafting the Raiders for years and if some amateur like me (and others) can outdraft an NFL team that spends millions on it, then there is something wrong with the process.
Someone once said if you look at a pretty women day after day for months, eventually you will find flaws and soon she’s not that pretty. That’s what the NFL does with the NFL combines and other nonsense. To throw out years of game films for a few days of drills in gym shorts in an air conditioned arena or in nice sunny weather, is insanity. That’s why John Madden once said on CBS radio, “I watch what they do on the field. Not in gym shorts doing drills”.
Ok enough talking Jax, what happened yesterday and was it a good thing?
Why UCLA OT Kolton Miller Was a Good Pick:
To be fair, the Raiders needed a Tackle either this year or next. Unfortunately this was one of the worst drafts for Tackles in recent memory. In contrast there are already 4 offensive tackles; and possibly more; that I like for next years draft over miller. Neither Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame or Kolton Miller out of UCLA are a sure thing but both have a lot of potential. I read over about 50 evaluations about Miller from scouts and even his biggest fan said he’s a B- type draft pick who could start in the NFL and be average to very good. That’s not exactly Jonathon Ogden type fervor but a very good NFL tackle is worth their weight in gold.
They don’t say it but Oakland knows the key to the engine of their offense is Derek Carr, and the key to Derek Carr is protecting him. He’s straight up a bad QB when he’s rushed and had the worst QB rating of any NFL starter against a pass rush. Protect him and he’s a very good QB.
The 49ers made a nice pick in the more seasoned Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame. With Trent Brown a year away from a huge payday and looking overweight following shoulder surgery, they wanted to make sure they had insurance at a much lesser price.
The Raiders took the second best tackle in Kolton Miller out of UCLA. He’s 6’ 8” and has great athleticism. He had the fastest 40 time of any OL (why that matters I don’t know) and before he wowed people at the NFL combine, he was considered more of a second round pick by most.
Miller and experts have said he wants to improve against smaller, quicker pass rushers and become more polished. He’s not a plug and play guy like McGlinchey, and it will take a year or two of seasoning to see what the Raiders got in him but he has the ability to be a quality linemen. He’s insurance on the OL and that isn’t a bad thing. If somehow he can overcome the tall man tackle syndrome (struggle getting low against speed rushers) and shore up his technique, the Raiders feel they have a tackle for several years that can shore up the OL.
By trading down the Raiders got 2 extra picks. They used the #3 pick to trade for Pittsburgh’s WR Martavius Bryant. I like his talent, but hate his attitude of always thinking he’s never getting enough balls or credit, but think he’ll do great with Oakland. Problem is you trade down to get a coveted #3 pick that is going to be with you for 10 months. Next year he is an unrestricted free agent so he’s pretty much a rent a player. He told the Pittsburgh press, I want a lot of balls and a lot of money. He’s making 1.94 million this year and has been underpaid. He’s talented so he’ll probably get both. If you thought Michael Crabtree was a pain in the ass, Bryant says, “hold my beer”. He’s a talent though.
Was drafting Miller and trading down and getting this pick a good thing? Bryant will be good for 2018 but beyond that it won’t help much. Miller is a project but may have to play now. It wasn’t Bill Walsh or New England Patriots trading down, but it wasn’t bad. I still think there are many more plug and play tackles for next years draft.
Why This was a Bad Idea:
In the last 21 drafts the Raiders have drafted a defensive front 7 player only 2 times and one of them fell in their lap; Khalil Mack. They’ve drafted 8 DB’s in that time. They have 1 winning season in 15 years and no playoffs wins. NOT a coincidence. The Raiders refusal to use #1 draft picks for defensive front 7 players is killing them. Stop the run and rush the passer. You do that with DL and LB’s.
Some said the Raiders Super Bowl wins were mainly because of the OL. Well it wasn’t mainly but they played a big role for sure. The defense though only allowed 33 points in 3 Super Bowl wins and great QB’s like Tarkenton, Theismann & Jaworski spent their Super Bowls running for their lives due to the Raiders great defensive front 7’s.
With the new rule changes, it’s near impossible for DB’s to cover for long periods of time. You have to put pressure on the QB. The Eagles, Rams, Saints, Broncos, Jaguars and a few other teams are going out of their way to get as many pass rushers as they can find. With Von Miller, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett and now Bradley Chubb, the Broncos have some extreme heat to put on Qb’s if they can stay healthy. The Raiders only have Khalil Mack.
The Raiders defense isn’t good; it’s not even average. Their obsession with using #1 picks for defensive backs and offense and then using later rounds to pick DL’s and LB’s has straight up been an epic fail. Take out the 2014 NFL draft and Reggie McKenzie’s drafts are brutal. The Raiders have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL but still can’t crack the top 20 in sacks. Two years ago they were last in the NFL in QB sacks and last year 24th.
The Raiders obviously are not into the defensive side of the ball like they are on the offensive side. Vita Vea is a straight up disruptive player that made a big difference in the Washington Huskies defense and he is much more explosive and physical than Ward and Vanderdoes. He dropped to the Raiders but no dice. And if you are obsessed like the Raiders are with DB’s, Derwin James was there to pick to play safety. I’m not super high on him like I was Minkah Fitzpatrick but he would have been a quality pick. Now the Chargers polished off their defensive backfield by choosing him. Tremaine Edmunds was considered the best LB by many in the draft and he’s going to turn 20 next month. He was available as well and was taken in the next pick after Miller.
Tom Brady had 2 final drives to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Both drives failed because of the Eagles quality pass rush. The Eagles now got another quality pass rusher in Seattle great Michael Bennett. Did I mention yet that the Raiders have only Khalil Mack?
What Will Happen in Day 2:
The Raiders will do what they’ve been doing for years. They have all their toys so now they are going to try and get things they really need like DL and LB’s. They will use later round picks to try to keep fixing their defense and their recent history shows it doesn’t work.
Obi Melinfonwu is more athlete than football player and still has a lot to learn. Karl Joseph is good against the run but still struggles covering people. It’s more clear who will start at cornerback, but not clear if any will succeed. The Raiders LB’s struggled last year and they could not put up a consistent pass rush even with Khalil Mack. An aging Navorro Bowman was their best LB and he’s unsigned and it’s unclear whether he will choose dollar signs or stay in his beloved bay area. And the Raiders have been very spoiled with Mack’s health. What if Khalil Mack gets hurt? Did I mention the Raiders only have Khalil Mack to rush the passer?
I get what the Raiders are doing and it’s not the worst idea in the world, but they wanted a tackle no matter what and the defense isn’t good. With the defensive talent out there, I would have chosen for defense in Vea, Edmunds or James and then looked for a Tackle that could start right away in 2019. Already for next year I see 4 tackles for the 2019 draft that I like better than Kolton Miller. If Miller is a year or two away then why not just draft a better tackle next year who can be a plug and play player?
I think what bothered fans yesterday is the pattern. Draft DB or offense in the first round and then try to plug the defensive front 7 holes in the later rounds. That strategy doesn’t work. The defensive front 7 is the key to your defense; especially in today’s NFL; and until the Raiders get that, Super Bowl trophies are not happening. And with 1 winning season in 15 years and no playoff wins, fans that say give them time and be positive are beginning to be drowned out more and more by the Just Win Baby crowd. You can’t lie about facts. Time will tell.
The NFL has done a masterful job in getting people addicted to the NFL draft. Some even pay “experts” to tell them who will be drafting who. The funny thing is if an expert can get 6-8 picks in the first round right, then that is really good. About 5 years ago KNBR pointed out after the draft how Mel Kiper Jr.; the present draft guru; got ONE pick right in the first round. What this tells us is that your guess is as good as theirs.
I first got into the draft in the 1980’s. To the ire of my mom, my dad and I would watch hours of the coverage. She would vacuum under our feet and sigh every once in a while letting us know that Dr. Z’s thoughts on an offensive linemen was not vital to mankind’s existence. “How in the world can you watch hours of grown men talking about who to choose to go on a stupid football team?” Eventually my dad would say,”your mother is mad, let’s get some stuff done”.
My friends and I picked up the torch. In 2000 we started having a draft party. We would take the day off work to the chagrin of our female partners, and drink adult beverages, eat food, and draft for each of our favorite teams. We vowed to keep our draft picks and the following year (and years) we would rip on each other or brag about each of our picks. As a Raider fan, what really was sad is that a bloke like me drafted 100 times better than the Raiders did for almost 2 decades.
ESPN did a great article saying what I’ve been saying for years; NFL teams do not draft very well; especially at Quarterback. If you look at the NFL draft history, no team stands out as a great drafting team and most have had a lot more misses than they would like to admit.
Why The NFL Struggles With the NFL Draft:
It’s really not that hard. I can’t remember who said it, but during one of the drafts, he told a great story. “If you have a beautiful woman standing in front of you, you are amazed at her perfection. If you look at her day after day then all of a sudden she’s a little too fat in some areas and she’s not as pretty as you thought. If you look hard at something long enough, you will find flaws and imperfections”.
The NFL combines is that over analyzing factor. I never watch or care about it. If a team denies 3 to 4 years of game film because a guy impresses them while wearing gym shorts in an air conditioned arena, then you deserve what you get. I remember half a dozen DB’s (and even a WR) picked by the Raiders alone purely because they had the fastest 40 times at the combines but they ended up being huge busts. Darrius Heyward-Bey was never really that good at Maryland and couldn’t carry Michael Crabtree’s jock but his 40 time wowed Al Davis and the rest is history. Still remember all of the Raider fans telling me to give him time. I hope they still aren’t waiting.
The NFL has also become a cookie cutter league. They have a certain size that they love in players. For QB’s if you are 6’ 3” and over with a big arm, you are anointed a great prospect. I watched Wyoming QB Josh Allen in a lot of games and to be honest I never saw him as a great QB or even a first rounder.
Josh Allen has bust written all over him but he’s big and has a rocket arm. He’s never been in the top 50 in QB rating and against the best competition he’s faced, he had his worst games. In contrast players like Baker Mayfield and Georgia LB’s Roquan Smith’s best games were against their best competition.
In true NFL manner, someone also has brought up tweets that Allen made when he was 15 and 16 trying to stir it up. Funny how they are brought into the news right before the draft, but no one said this wasn’t a dirty business.
To me the NFL is as ridiculous as it gets with some of their research. The dumb questions teams and scouts ask at the NFL combines are of legend. This year one possible draft pick was asked if he was gay and another was asked what type of women he liked. Other dumb questions that players have admitted they were asked will astound you. Do you wear boxers or briefs; is your mom pretty; what’s the most popular drug at your school; if you had to kill someone, would you use a knife or a gun?; when did you lose your virginity; what team do you pick in Madden and why?; if I give you a paper clip, what things would you do with it? And these are the “experts” that some fans like to defend when people question teams choices?
Fans v.s. Teams:
Personally I’ve had some stud drafts over the years. Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson have been great picks for me but I’m honest. I also wanted Matt Leinart so I’ve had my train wrecks too. While the Raiders picked Gareon Conley last year I chose Reuben Foster. I like my chances on that one too.
This years draft will be classic because there are so many QB’s in it which means there will be busts. For me I’m not in love with any of the QB prospects. Darnold is a turnover machine who takes too many chances; Rosen has to have a lot of time because he struggles against a rush; and Lamar Jackson out of Louisville looks like an athlete playing QB a lot like Terrelle Pryor and even former Texas Longhorn QB Vince Young.
The Raiders will choose……..
Oakland will pick in the #10 spot after losing the coin flip to San Francisco. What stinks is that the 49ers have many of the needs that Oakland does. San Francisco would love to have another linebacker to go with Reuben Foster and their young and talented DL but they also have huge holes in the secondary just like the Raiders.
As I’ve said before, the rule changes have made passing the ball so much easier and it’s limited the effectiveness of defensive backs. You have to have a pass rush. The Patriots lead the NFL in post season sacks and who would think Tom Brady would be stopped on his last 2 drives in the Super Bowl? The Eagles pass rush stopped those drives. Offense puts butts in the seats but defense wins championships. The Raiders pass rush was poor again last year and that is with Khalil Mack in the fold. They desperately need a DT that can push the pocket back to opening up sack opportunities. Below are the players that they are almost certain to have on their draft board.
Roquan Smith, LB Georgia
I don’t think he will last. If he drops down to the 49ers it’s hard to think them passing up on him. Smith can play every down and can start immediately and he and Foster would be some tandem in the 49er recent tradition of linebackers. He can play every down and he’s legit.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Alabama
I’m into pass rush and having a stud defensive front 7 but Minkah is a stud. Some teams say he doesn’t have the ideal size but I like him a lot. If the Raiders do get him then it says they aren’t exactly thrilled with #2 draft pick safety Obi Melifonwu which means another wasted pick. Obi is an amazing athlete but he has little instinct especially in the passing game. I did not like the pick last year. Karl Joseph also struggles at times in pass coverage. Fitzpatrick is instinctive and can tackle. The Raiders have missed a lot on draft picks, and you can’t keep redrafting and resigning positions due to mistakes and win.
Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame
McGlinchey is the sexy pick of late for draft “guru’s”. He is a polished player who is 6’ 8” and 310 pounds. Most feel that he needs to hit the weight room a bit but overall he is a great talent who can start right away. They need defense so I’m not so sure about this pick. The Raiders defense isn’t that good and they have to upgrade the talent.
Vita Vea, DT Washington
I love this pick. He can move the pocket and he’s as strong as it gets. He’s a beast in the middle and he can push the pocket back and be a huge problem for offenses to block. Problem is, it shows again wasted picks with Jihad Ward who is a probable bust, and Eddie Vanderdoes who didn’t supply a pass rush up the middle just like he didn’t at UCLA. I personally think because of the picks the past 2 years, Vita might be passed over if he drops this far but it would be a mistake.
Derwin James, S Florida St.
He’s got classic Raider pick written all over him and I don’t like it. He’s big at 6’ 3” 215 lb., and he has good speed. He’s more of a safety than a CB. I’m not thrilled with this pick but with the Raiders revolving door of DB busts draft picks and signings they’ve had over the recent years, I still have nightmares of bad first round DB draft choices dancing in my head. Don’t be surprised if this is their guy.
Barring a trade, these are probably the draft picks the Raiders will choose from. A new rumor yesterday said the Raiders may draft up for stud DE Bradley Chubb out of N.C. State, but wake me up if that happens. (I’m still waiting for the LeVeon Bell to the Raiders and Odell Beckham Jr. to the Patriots rumors to come true). The Raiders have had many chances to sign a stud pass rusher but they didn’t spend the money and I find it hard for them to move up to do this. Getting Chubb would immediately improve their defense but me winning the lottery would improve my goals of buying cars for everyone.
So there you have it. Pour yourself an adult beverage and enjoy the draft. But remember, it’s easy to be right after the fact and complain about others on social media, than it is to be accountable for your picks. If you have the guts though, start drafting for your favorite team and see how you do versus the experts like we’ve been doing for 19 years. It’s a lot easier being a critic than a GM.
Al Davis has been called many things. Innovator, rebel, leader, dictator; and many other things that are not for print. One thing many will remember him for though is as a civil rights leader. Al Davis had one goal in sports; winning. And because of that spirit, he didn’t care what color or sex you were. Just win baby.
Davis Stand against Racism in the 1960’s; The AFL makes history in a boycott:
The 1960’s was a heck of a time. It had a lot of turmoil due to military conflicts and racial injustice. From the college game to the NFL game, there were still many fans, coaches and administrators that didn’t like having blacks on their teams. We applaud the storied Alabama football program for it’s winning today but we forget it didn’t integrate black players until 1971 when John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson first played for the Crimson Tide. Even though the civil rights bill threatening to take away federal funding to schools that discriminated against African Americans was enacted in 1964, it took years for some schools to comply. In fact, even though they have tried to hide it, look at the Mormon Church and BYU’s history in the 1970’s in regards to race. Quite a read.
The same was seen at a smaller level in pro football. Even though there were many African American players, they were not welcomed by everyone with open arms. Al Davis really helped in opening doors for many people.
The AFL and Al Davis especially were different. In a 1963 exhibition game in Mobile, Alabama, Al Davis demanded the contest be moved to Oakland because he was not going to separate his players in segregated hotels. He also tried to do this in many other games through the 1960’s. When Raiders outspoken star Clem Daniels complained about the way black players were treated at the 1965 AFL All-Star game in New Orleans, Al Davis supported them when they voted to boycott the game unless it was moved. Other owners and commissioner Joe Foss joined the outcry. Even many white players including Ron Mix stated that they would no longer play in the game if it stayed in New Orleans. The organizer of the All-Star game went so far as to tell the minority players that they and their families were welcome in New Orleans but that was far from the case. African American players were left stranded at the airport with some not being able to get taxi’s while others were not allowed to go into restaurants and bars in the french quarter due to the color of their skin. Eventually the game was moved to Houston and even though it was a spur of the moment thing, Houston did a good job of hosting. AFL Commissioner Joe Foss wrote a letter to the people of Houston thanking them for the classy way they supported the AFL’s players. The actual letter is below. Pretty cool letterhead.
African American Colleges Play a Big Role in Player Drafts:
When he took over for the Raiders, Davis was one of the first to specifically target black/small colleges. Some of the greatest Raiders were from small or black colleges including Hall of Famer’s Gene Upshaw ( Texas A & I) and Art Shell (Maryland St.). Both Hall of Fame players were thought of as somewhat risky picks because they were from schools that were too small or too abstract.
When Raiders all world WR Warren Wells was in Texas state prison serving time, the Raiders had an important team celebration. Mr. Davis contacted the state of Texas stating that he would pay for security for Warren to attend, but the state denied the request. It didn’t matter that Warren was an African American to Al Davis. What was important was that he was a Raider.
The Good Old Boys Network Get’s a Shakeup:
When Davis hired Art Shell to be the first African American head coach, it had broken down decades of prejudice. It was groundbreaking and even today name all of the GM’s in the NFL that are African American or Hispanic? There aren’t very many, but of course the Raiders have one of them in Reggie McKenzie. Al Davis also hired the first Hispanic head coach in Tom Flores, and the first female executive in Amy Trask. If he thought you could do the job, he didn’t care if you were a blue smurf, he would hire you.
In an episode of HBO’s amazing series “Real Sports”, they talked about the lack of support and care for retired NFL players. One owner had an idea of building a hospital in Utah or another inexpensive state for the retired players that would be funded by the NFL retirement plan through the profits of the league. Who was the owner that created the plan and was the only one that voted yes for it? Al Davis.
There have been many white owners, coaches and players in pro footballs history who have done their part in helping to cross the barriers of prejudice and hate. None of them though did it with the confidence, fire and flare that Al Davis did. On the field Mr. Davis didn’t want to lose and he didn’t want to tie. He wanted one thing and that was to win. And if you could help the Raiders get to that goal, he wanted you and you were a Raider brother for life no matter what your religion or race was. Especially in today’s America, wouldn’t it be nice if that was the way things were?
Sadly we still have a long way to go in eliminating hate and prejudice, but it’s people like Martin Luther King Jr.; and to an extent Al Davis; that gets us closer to that goal. I know today is MLK day but on this day I always think of Mr. Davis. From Terry Bradshaw to Derrick Thomas to the countless number of players from other teams that he supported during bad times, Mr. Davis really cared about them. The football world is not as fun without Mr. Davis but few see his other side because like most men his age, they didn’t want the attention it gave. The thing that everyone in football knows about Al Davis is that even though he loved the Raiders tough, renegade image, he had an awful soft heart under that ugly white jumpsuit.