The Oakland Raiders lost another link to their storied past when AFL historian Todd Tobias announced on Twitter that Raider great defensive back Dave Grayson had passed away at the age of 78. No cause of death was given at this time.
Dave played for Oakland between 1965-1970. He played for the Dallas Texans/Chiefs before that, and was originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Grayson was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oregon.
Al Davis Traded for CB Dave Grayson in 1965 (he traded him for future actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) from the Chiefs and then traded for Willie Brown from Denver in 1967. This allowed the Raiders to play the physical bump and run style that has been a trademark of the team for years.
When NFL and former Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt was asked who were the 4 best cornerbacks in Dallas history his first 3 were not a shock. Mel Renfro, Herb Adderly & Deion Sanders. “I also include Dave Grayson. He didn’t play with the Cowboys but he’s so good I’m including him.”
Dave Grayson went undrafted because at 5’ 10” and 185 pounds, he was dubbed too small by many NFL experts including Cowboys coach Tom Landry after the Cowboys briefly signed him and then let him go. Gil Brandt liked him a lot and told the upstart AFL team the Dallas Texans (eventually the Kansas City Chiefs) to give him a shot. Grayson was a key cog in the KC return game and at defensive back. Grayson was fast and a ball hawk, something the Chiefs coaches loved.
Grayson held the AFL record for the longest interception return for a touchdown at 99 yards against the New York Titans in 1961. Dave made many other key plays for the Chiefs including his famous interception off of Houston QB George Blanda in the Texans epic double overtime win in the 1962 AFL Championship game.
For the Raiders he was a great player both in the regular season and in the post season. He ended up with 48 total interceptions with an amazing 933 return yards after his interceptions. His best year was in 1968 where he had 10 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery. He was also a quality top 10 kick return man as well.
Other career highlights:
-48 career interceptions with an amazing 19.4 yard return average
-25.4 kick off return average
-6 time AFL all-star
-4 time First team All Pro
-2 time AFL Champion
-Voted on the AFL all time team
-Career interception leader in the AFL
The Greatest Defense Nobody Knows About:
Dave was a part of the amazing Oakland defense called the 11 angry men. This defense is one of the greatest of all time that never gets their due.
In the amazing 1967 season, the Raiders had an astounding 67 sacks & 30 interceptions. Teams averaged 3 turnovers a game against the Raiders. This was also only in a 14 game season. The record for sacks is held by the 1984 Chicago Bears at 72, and with almost a 5 sacks per game average, it’s pretty safe to say that the Raiders would have eclipsed that record fairly easily in 16 games.
Even with only 14 games, the Raiders STILL hold the record for causing the most yards lost while an opponent passes. This record is now 50 years old.
Another record that stands is that the Raiders lead the league in sacks for 3 straight years. Another 5 decade old record. Oakland also has the all time record for leading the league in sacks at 5. That’s how great they were. The offense always gets the publicity but even in their Super Bowl wins and in the 1960’s, getting pressure on the QB was paramount to the Raiders success. Offense puts butts in the seats and gets all of the publicity, but defense wins championships.
(Below are the all time stats for sacks by a team; many records are held by the Oakland Raiders)
With the likes of Ken Davidson and Tom Keating leading the way the Raiders had a huge and ferocious defense. The names of the past are a who’s who of Raider lore. Two more underrated DB’s in Rodger Bird, Kent McCloughan and Warren Powers were teamed up with Howie Williams, Dave Grayson and Willie Brown.
Charger receiver Lance Alworth catches pass against the Raiders Dave Grayson and Nemiah Wilson. 1969 Photo Ron Riesterer
Dan Conners played MLB while Bill Laskey & Gus Otto shored the outside positions. Dan Birdwell and Ike Lassiter, Carleton Oats and Art Thoms; so many proud names of the past that helped the Raiders to unreal records in the 1960’s. From 1967-69 the Raiders were a ridiculous 37-4-1, the best record in football.
Hall of Fame:
I’ve written at length about the biases of the NFL Hall of Fame and why some are not in the hall. There are many that should be in the hall of fame (i.e. Cliff Branch) and I’ve written about them below. I’m glad that more people are agreeing with me.
One of the great biases with NFL historians, is their turning their noses up at the AFL saying how it was no where near as good as the NFL. In the beginning days I totally agree. As time went on though, that myth was changed when the Jets beat the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl 3. More than a few people feel the Raiders and the Chiefs of the 1960’s had more talent and speed than the aging Green Bay Packers but they were overwhelmed in the Super Bowls against a mythical team with the greatest football coach of all time and an aura and mental toughness and a refusal to make mistakes.
It’s a shame that only 3 all time AFL defensive players are in the NFL HOF. There are others that deserve it and I think Dave Grayson is one of them. With his speed and ball hawking skills, he made big plays at big times and he’s never received the credit he deserved, much like the great Raider defenses of the day.
I hope that others will join me in giving appreciation for this great Chief and Raider player. Another forgotten icon of the AFL and NFL who should never be forgotten.
With Derek Carr injured, it’s all about Matt McGloin right now. Let’s look at what he brings to the table as well as the playoff picture for the Raiders.
The Good and the Bad of Matt McGloin:
With a handful of Raider fans using Youtube videos to try and convince people how amazing Matt McGloin is and some Raider fans making fun of them, it’s become just another internet drama. You’d think they’d just want the Raiders to win but it’s just how things are in today’s world. Let’s deal with the truth as we always do without all the drama.
McGloin is as tough as it gets. The word that many people use to describe him is grit. He was a 3 star athlete out of high school who wanted to go to Penn St. He ended up going there but had to make the team as a walk on. He eventually won a scholarship during the tumultuous Jerry Sandusky scandal and played fairly well but was far from a great college QB. Most felt he was a semi-long shot to make the NFL as a backup. He was signed by the Raiders as an un-drafted free agent.
I looked it up and as a starter he is 1-5. He played most of the game in the 2015 opener against Cincinnati (33-13 loss) when Carr got hurt but he didn’t start. He hasn’t started a game with the Raiders since 2013 and he now finds himself in the eye of the tornado. When he did start, he played on some bad teams. At times he played very well but he also had some real rough spots.
McGloin does have some skills. His main one is he is pretty accurate. He is good on timing patterns and short to medium range passes to the outside. He also has a knack for finding tight ends and that could be a big plus in the Raiders passing game.
On the bad side his pocket awareness at times is lacking and that has gotten him into trouble in the past with turnovers against a pass rush. His delivery can be painfully slow when he’s not aware of the pressure.
His main weakness; which he also had in college; was that he doesn’t stare down his receivers; he gazes into their eyes. After McGloin takes the ball from center, you almost always know where he’s going to throw the ball. He struggles with medium to long throws down the middle because of it. Former Raider great Lincoln Kennedy a few years ago during the Raiders-Bengals game in Oakland was just frustrated. He was the Raiders sideline reporter that day for their radio team. When asked what was wrong with McGloin, Kennedy told the Raiders radio crew, “I literally know where he’s throwing the ball even before he takes the snap. Every pass he throws he’s staring down his receiver”.
How to Set Up McGloin to Succeed:
One thing the Raiders need to do is to make sure they use quick throws, preferably to the outside. Especially against a team like Denver, you don’t want him to stay in the pocket long with that pass rush all around him.
The run game is the key though. Their offensive line has had a great year and it needs to continue. The Raiders need to run the ball just like they did in the first game against the Broncos. So sick of the Bronco media saying their downfall is due to their offense because it’s just half of the reason. Their offense last year was one 19th in scoring and this year so far they are 22nd. Last year they had a running game, this year they don’t. Peyton Manning had 18 interceptions (the worst in 2015 was 19) last year and he did that in only 9 starts. Manning had the worst Super Bowl performance of any winning QB in history and was 1 for 15 on third down. Manning was 29th in passing in the NFL last year. He was atrocious. But this year so is Denver’s run defense which is getting a pass.
How Do the McGloin Lead Raiders Beat Denver:
This year the Broncos run defense is 29th in the NFL (last year #3) in rushing yards per game. The national media isn’t doing their homework blaming all of their ills on the offense. This defense is a shell of what they used to be last year.
The Raiders need to run the ball and run it some more. A first down pass to shake things up, followed by a physical run game. Denver gave up 218 rushing yards to the Raiders, 136 to the Patriots, 238 against the Chiefs, 180 against Tennessee, and 154 against Jacksonville. And this is just in the past six weeks! In those 5 games they are 1-4.
Who Will The Raiders Play In the Playoffs:
If they Beat Denver:
This Denver game may make or break the Raiders season.
If the Raiders can pull out a win against the Broncos, they now are the #2 seed. That gives them a bye the first week and then a home game against probable winner Pittsburgh. If Miami somehow wins; which I doubt very much; the Raiders will then play the highest seed left. Again it’s hard not seeing Pittsburgh winning. Miami is another overrated team with only a plus 4 point differential. Playing Pittsburgh in Oakland is a lot better than a contest in the cold of Pittsburgh. The Winner will then probably get New England on the road; a very cold, winter game. Whatever happens, the AFC championship will probably go through New England.
If they lose to Denver:
If they lose and KC beats San Diego, the Raiders will be the 5th seed. They will go to Texas and play Houston in the first round. Houston is far from a good team and they are in a bad division. This game is very winnable. If they win they then go to Kansas City or New England. Not a fun road to go down. Asking Matt McGloin; and even Carr for that matter; to win 3 road games with 2 being in the cold, is just too much. This Denver game is pivotal.
Why the Raiders Can Make a Post Season Run:
Let’s be real; if ANY team loses their starting QB, they are in trouble. Think of Pittsburgh without Ben, or the Patriots without Brady. Other than the Cowboys with Tony Romo, no one really has a good backup.
The QB position in the NFL may be the worst it’s ever been. The Raiders alone had backups in the past such as Ken Stabler, George Blanda, and Jim Plunkett. Earl Morrall lead the 1972 Dolphins to the only undefeated season when starter Bob Griese was injured in week 5. Griese made 2 appearances late in the season and played in the Super Bowl, but without backup Morrall, the Dolphins don’t end up with a perfect season.
(side note; that Miami team was the only Super Bowl team in the modern era never to be invited to the White House due to the Watergate scandal. In 2013 the 1972 Dolphins were honored at the White House by President Obama).
The NFL longs for parity. They want a new Champion every year and this year they got it. Both Super Bowl teams won’t even make the playoffs and they are thrilled. This allows for different fan bases to be involved in the big game and the playoffs.
A funny thing happened on the way to the bank though. The NFL ratings are down. What the NFL arrogantly felt is that fans would watch the NFL no matter what. That hasn’t happened. The Thursday night games have mostly been bad and there are no more great teams. In the 1960’s-90’s you had some of the greatest teams of all time; especially in the 1970’s; so when the best teams played it was must see tv. The NFL world stood still with such Matchups as the Raiders-Steelers, Steelers-Cowboys, 49ers-Cowboys and so many amazing rivalries. Now you have teams like Houston who are in first place and are going to the playoffs and they have a MINUS 42 point differential so far in their season. They’ve been outscored by 6 touchdowns this year and will make the playoffs. They are also 3-4 against teams with a winning record. That’s smelly.
In the AFC there really are only 2 QB’s to fear in the post season for the Raiders. Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. And sorry KC fans. Andy Reid and Alex Smith are more conservative than Ronald Reagan at Bohemian Grove so they will never win a Super Bowl in my opinion. You win Super Bowls; you don’t hope not to lose Super Bowls.
Injuries have also hurt teams badly. Kansas City is now wondering if pass rushing star Justin Houston will ever be the same, again struggling with his health after coming back from surgery. Their other pass rushing great Tamba Hali says he has no cartilage left in his knees and can only play on passing downs.
The Texans get a myriad of players back but they have greatly missed JJ Watts this year.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is finally getting healthy but they are still struggling to keep healthy on the defensive side.
New England has their best offensive threat in RB Dion Lewis back from last years surgery but that gaping hole you see in their offense is the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski who is out for the year.
What all this means is that no team is unbeatable. Everyone has weaknesses but the Steeler’s and Patriot’s have their trump cards in two great post season quarterbacks.
Derek Carr will be out 6-8 weeks and being young, he will probably heal up quickly. If somehow, someway the Raiders get to the Super Bowl, it will be right on the 6-7 week time frame. Can he come back? Yes; many have come back and much sooner than that, but time will tell. For right now they can’t worry about that. If they lose to Denver they play an ordinary Houston team who they can beat but then they will probably get into some murky waters in Pittsburgh and New England or Kansas City. And with a backup QB, that’s not the place to be swimming.
The Raiders though have their own ace in the hole; the second best offensive line in the NFL. If the Raiders give McGloin the time they gave Carr, McGloin can have a chance to play well. The Raiders also have to use their 3 headed monster running game, using all of their RB’s to keep them fresh.
This Denver game is bigger than people think. The Raiders being the #5 seed I think gives them little to no chance of making a deep run. If they beat Denver though and are the #2 seed, they now have to gut out one home win; probably against the Steelers; to get to the Championship game against the probable winner New England. And oh the online drama. The media and fans everywhere will be in their dramatic social media glory. It will look like a Jr. High School love triangle with the melodrama of the Tuck Rule. For the meantime though the Raiders need to think one thing; beat Denver.
In a night that went as perfect as a last minute Ken Stabler drive, Ken Michael Stabler took his rightful place in the NFL pro football hall of fame. For one last time, Ken Stabler lead everyone on a magical ride that will never be forgotten.
With decades of Raider tradition all around mixed in with a little Southern warmth from the state of Alabama, Canton looked more like Oakland, Ca than the sleepy town that wakes up for a week every year before the NFL season starts.
With several Raiders by their sides and HOF WR Fred Biletnikoff giving support, Ken Stabler’s grandsons unveiled the HOF bust of their beloved grandfather. In one action, all of the emotions that have built up from decades of frustration, anticipation, sadness and hope was released. Tears flowed, and closure began to fill the air slowly like a soft mist on a hot night. All the years of waiting; all the unjust votes and comments came out in a healing moment that hopefully now brings closure to an amazing career by an amazing man.
I have many good friends from around the country who ask me, why was there so much emotion and love for Ken Stabler. I think the answer is easy.
When the Snake saw a fan he didn’t care what color you were. He didn’t care if you were famous or rich. He truly appreciated the adoration that was given him. I think Ken always knew how important he was to the City of Oakland, Alabama and the bay area. That’s why he was so kind to so many. He never judged; never lashed out; he was always good to those that supported him, and shrugged off those that hurt him. Many saw a little of themselves in Ken. Sometimes misunderstood, often doubted, and occasionally misjudged. Ken was an every man and in reality so many people related to the things he went through.
Ken was real. He made mistakes; he failed at times; he was ripped in the media at times; but he ALWAYS dusted himself off and kept coming. He never quit and the harder someone pushed, the harder he pushed back. The Raiders and Ken Stabler smashed people in the mouth and never gave up. That’s why when most teams would have quit, the Raiders usually won due to the never give up attitude of the Snake. Ken was a lot like the fans that supported him. He was a lot like the City of Oakland and the East Bay; always fighting, never quitting.
Why Younger Fans Should Be Excited:
Some younger Raider fans seem to be in a fog at the great adoration for Ken and this amazing era. Let’s face it, we live in a society where history to some is what pokemon go character you caught last night. If it’s old, society seems to not care about it.
If you are a younger fan, look at the extreme excitement that is seen in social media today for the upcoming season. The Raiders were 7-9 last year and some are nearly losing their minds with excitement. Nothing wrong with that especially with all the improvements, but put it into perspective.
Think about going 56-13 in Ken’s first 69 starts. Think of going 18-1-1 on Monday night football. Think of having the highest winning % of ANY professional team in the U.S. of ANY sport for a 25 year stretch. Think of 3 Super Bowls in 7 years and 5 straight AFC Championship games. For almost 3 decades the Raiders and the Cowboys were consistently on top of the NFL ratings for most watched teams on television. Oh and don’t forget having more wins in the greatest NFL decade of all time, the 1970’s. Could you imagine what Ken and the Raiders offense could do with today’s rules? Now you understand OUR excitement. As Raider great Tim Brown said Friday, “When Ken walked into our locker room you saw everyone change. It was like royalty had just come into the room. The Raiders of that time were just that good; people adored him.”
A Leader to the End:
The reason this meant so much to so many is because Ken really was the Raiders leader in every way. He was a leader on the field and off. Players felt he was invincible and looked to him when things got rough. Even after his death he inspired. Raiders greats like George Atkinson, Art Thoms, and George Buehler followed in Ken’s footsteps and decided to donate their brains to the study of CTE and give them to the Concussion Legacy Foundation after they passed away. Truly unselfish acts inspired by the Snake’s selflessness and the encouragement of his partner Kim Bush.
“When you see your teammate deteriorate a lot through the end of his life, to see him go out like that, it brings us together,” Thoms said in a Mercury News article. George Atkinson has complained often of his memory issues. “Ken meant so much to us and we felt we needed to do this.”
The Closest Team in the NFL:
Many of the retired Raider players talked about how close they were to each other. Many stated how no team was as tight as they were. Even after retiring, they would meet for dinner often and even if players were out of state, they would fly back to join their fellow teammates. It was important to them to stay in touch with an incredible time that gave them so much enjoyment.
We have many older patients and one is Mr. & Mrs. C who live deep in the wine country (I wont give their name for health privacy reasons.) They used to be a Raiders season ticket holders in the 60’s and 70’s. I visited them recently.
Mrs. C is the classic sweet nurturing elderly woman who still feels a good meal will solve any problem. Mr. C was a successful businessman who’s health is failing. I go to their house so he doesn’t have to go into the office. I also know they enjoy my visits. Mr. C usually holds court with a scotch in his hand while I get my usual pay for a house call. A cold beer with a roast beef or turkey sandwich or the occasional German Chocolate cake and cold glass of milk.
“You know something James, those times were so special and those guys meant the damn world to us. Players like Tom Keating and Art Thoms; Tony Cline, Warren Wells, Charlie Smith, Raymond Chester. Tatum and Atkinson, Skip and Willie. Otto, Beuhler and Dalby; Upshaw and Shell; Sistrunk and Kinlaw; Rod Martin and Vilipiano. Sumner, Wolf, and Al Locasale. So many great men that gave their all to win. And Kenny was everyone’s favorite. No group of players and fans were closer. The minute you forget this son, you won’t be worth a damn as a writer, or as a fan.”
After a pregnant pause, Mr. C showed a moment of rare emotion. Pointing his finger at me he said softly while winking, “Ken in the Hall of Fame? This one means something son; this one means something.”
When you look back at the history of the Oakland Raiders, it is a work of art on how to build an NFL dynasty. Some drafts would get several starters and some even multiple HOF players. Ron Wolf & Al Davis made it an art form to pick up late round talent and pick players that others had no desire to choose.
Even though Bo Jackson was originally drafted by Tampa Bay, he was put back into the 1997 draft and the Raiders took him in the 7th round so technically he wasn’t an original pick. Al Davis was the only owner that allowed him to play both football and baseball. Bo never had 1000 yards and only started 23 games and ran for 2782 yards in his career, but his long touchdown runs were fun to watch and will always be remembered.
At the University of Oklahoma, Reggie Kinlaw was a superstar using his great speed to dominate defenders. At 6’ 2” and 245 lbs. experts said he was a huge long shot to even make the NFL let alone be a quality player. He played for the Raiders for 6 years and started on two Super Bowl teams. Many Raiders have said Reggie is one of the unsung heroes in the history of the Raider legacy.
After a record setting career at Texas A & M, Lechler was selected in the 5th round by the Raiders. He has had a stellar career and is a perennial pro bowler. He currently kicks for the Houston Texans.
#13 Pete Banaszak HB: (1966; 5th round AFL Draft)
A solid player at the University of Miami, he was chosen in the 5th round of the AFL draft. The Raiders were the first to employ a short yardage RB full time and for 13 years Banaszak played that role to a tee. In 1975; his best year; he ran for 16 touchdowns. In the Super Bowl against the Vikings he scored 2 touchdowns. Nicknamed the Rooster by fans and teammates, he could do anything in the clutch including catch the ball. He was a key element of the Raiders domination in the 1970’s.
#12 Charlie Smith RB: (1968; 4th round 110 overall)
A standout at the University of Utah, here is another unsung hero and my mom’s favorite player. Charlie Smith was a classic change of pace back of the time that could do anything. He was a great pass catcher with speed and he was an integral part of the Oakland Raiders offensive machine. His most famous touchdown was never seen. He scored the go ahead touchdown in the famous Heidi game.
#11 Tony Cline DE: (1970; 4th round 102 overall)
One of the great players from the great defenses of the early Oakland Raiders, Tony Cline was as good a pass rusher as there was in football. He has the unofficial rookie sack record in the AFL at 17 ½ sacks in 1970. Some say due to the hate the NFL had with anything AFL, the NFL does not acknowledge the sack record. Officially the NFL didn’t record sacks until 1982 even though the AFL did. Tony’s son Tony Cline Jr. also played in the NFL. Raider fans will never forget Tony Cline.
#10 Marv Hubbard RB: (1968; 11th round 277 overall)
“Take it to the Cupboard Hubbard” and “Run Like a Mother Hubbard” were favorite signs of Raider fans in the 1970’s. The NFL yawned when Marv Hubbard was taken out of Colgate. Slow and not athletic, he was not expected by most experts to make the NFL. Boy did he ever. He became a 3 time pro bowler and helped lead the Raiders to 4 Western Division titles and 3 AFC Conference Finals.
Hubbard is ranked 4th all time in NFL history in yards per carry (4.8) for fullbacks and is 13th overall. “Marv was one of the toughest players to ever play for the Raiders. I’ve never seen anyone look for contact and then actually enjoy it”. The wars between Hubbard’s Raiders and the Chiefs and their bulldozer Ed Podolak were much awaited games for NFL fans everywhere. Hubbard had a knack of hitting holes perfectly and getting every yard that he could out of runs.
Marv never left the bay area and he had a lot of interactions with fans. He loved muscle cars and could always be seen waving to appreciative fans everywhere. His death last year was a sad end to an amazing life. He also released two music singles. Smart and outgoing, he will never be forgotten.
Another fan favorite, the USC product was a key member of the famous Soul Patrol defensive backfield of the Oakland Raiders. His physical play was as intimidating as any DB before or since. Thomas could play safety or cornerback but his play in the Super Bowl shutting out Vikings WR great Sammy White in the first half will always be remembered as one of the key’s to a huge Super Bowl win. He played his entire career in Oakland and he had back to back 6 interception years. No one will ever forget Dr. Death.
#8 Dave Dalby C: (1972; 4th round 100 overall)
Another beloved Raider who left us too soon, he is on UCLA’s all century team. He played 14 seasons and NEVER missed a game. He replaced hall of famer Jim Otto and many feel Dave Dalby deserves that same honor. He made one pro bowl and he started on 3 Super Bowl winning teams. I still see his friends talking about him at times online. A kind person who is really missed.
#7 Clarence Davis RB: (1971; 4th round 97 overall)
A 1969 All-American, Clarence Davis slipped through the cracks in the 1971 NFL draft. People forget that Davis was a part of the famous “All Black Backfield” at USC. With Sam Cunningham and QB Jimmy Jones, it was the first time in college history that a backfield purely made up of African Americans was created.
When USC went to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, they steam rolled the Tide beating them 42-21. This convinced Bama coach Bear Bryant to allow non-whites to play on the team. It also made the Alabama fan base insist on integration to keep up with the west coast schools.
Scouts didn’t think Davis was good enough to be an NFL starter and he was smaller than advertised (5’ 10”, 190 lbs.). Davis was the classic Raider RB of the day. He could block, catch in the clutch (didn’t have great hands though), and play special teams. He ran back kicks his rookie year.
Davis will forever be remembered for his catch in the “Sea of Hands” game and his clutch post season performances. His amazing record setting game in the Super Bowl win against the Vikings put an exclamation point on a great Raider career.
#6 Greg Townsend DE: (1983; 4th round 110 overall)
Greg Townsend was a standout player at TCU who was considered more of an NFL project than super star. He ended up being the all time sack leader for the Raiders with 107.5 sacks and is 16th all time on the NFL list at 109.5. He was a 2 time pro-bowler and a 4 time all pro. He also recovered 8 touchdowns in his career with 3 of them going for touchdowns. A great career for another later round pick.
#5 Rod Martin LB: (1977; 12th round 317 overall)
The ultimate underdog. After being drafted out of USC by the Raiders, he was cut. He then signed with the 49ers and was cut again. The Raiders then resigned him and the rest is history. No one really gave Rod Martin much of a chance to make the NFL. With his weight fluctuating between 200 and 210 lbs., he was the classic tweener. He was a linebacker trapped in the body of a safety. The Raiders had him gain 20-25 pounds and eventually he took over the starting OLB job. He then became one of the best LB’s in the NFL.
He was on several all pro teams and made 2 pro bowls. His 3 interception game in the Super Bowl win against the Eagles is still considered by many as the greatest defensive game of all time in the Super Bowl. A clutch player, people forget he also had an interception and fumble recovery in another Super Bowl win against Washington. He also stopped John Riggins on a fourth and 1 in the third quarter when Washington was trying to get back in the game & he had a sack.
Rod Martin now works at USC and remains a beloved member of the great Raider teams of the past.
#4 George Atkinson DB: (1968; 7th round 190 overall)
Not much was known about Morris Brown standout George Atkinson at the 1968 draft. He was a good player at Morris Brown but he was not considered a top prospect by NFL scouts. Boy were they wrong.
In 10 years with the Raiders he played in 16 playoff games and won a Super Bowl ring. He still holds the punt return record in a game for the Raiders with 205 yards against Buffalo in 1968. He ended up with 30 interceptions and 13 fumbles. He was a key element of the famous Soul Patrol and many feel he and Jack Tatum were the greatest safety tandem of all time and that the Soul Patrol was the greatest defensive backfield of all time. The trash talker of the group, George was a mixture of great speed and toughness and will always be a big part of Raider lore. He still works for the Raiders doing the pre and post game show for their home radio station.
#3 Lester Hayes DB: (1977; 5th round 126 overall)
When the Raiders picked Texas A & M safety Lester Hayes in the 5th round, the NFL kind of shook their head. Many felt he wasn’t fast enough to play DB in the NFL and in pre-draft interviews many teams said that Hayes was not a very bright person. Most had little confidence in him due to his lack of social skills.
What teams didn’t know is that Lester Hayes had a massive stuttering issue. He also had severe nasal problems including chronic sinusitis. As a child he had severe head and jaw pain and would wake up with apnea. After using nasal medications for years, he finally got surgeries to correct it after he retired; it took 3 of them. In an interview Hayes said, “As a young player I sounded like Cousin It in the Adam’s family. No one could understand me”.
When he was drafted he literally cried in front of Al Davis begging him not to move him to cornerback. He felt if he went there he’d be cut but Al Davis asked him to trust him and the rest was history. Hayes explained, “It was so much pressure playing CB in our glory years of the 70’s and 80’s. We had to be right in the face of the WR because we were obsessed with rushing the QB. Our defense would blitz constantly and you could see the fear in the QB. They had to get rid of the ball quickly and if we weren’t all over the WR we were going to get burned. The pass rush and our coverage though helped us win and play at a high level.”
In 1980 Hayes won defensive player of the year after his NFL record tying 13 interceptions. He is a 5 time pro bowler, 2 time Super Bowl champion and a member of the 1980’s all decade team. He shares the all time Raider record for interceptions with Willie Brown at 39. How The Judge is not in the Hall of Fame is a miscarriage of NFL and sports justice. Ridiculous.
#2 Cliff Branch WR: (1972; 4th round 98 overall)
At 5’ 10” and 170 lb. Cliff Branch was a standout track star at the University of Colorado. He was also a 5 year standout in football running back an amazing record 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career. Many felt he didn’t have the size or the hands for the NFL and early on he struggled with drops. After a lot of practice and mentoring through the likes of Fred Biletnikof, Branch solved that problem and for 14 years was a top WR in the NFL. He holds the record for the longest pass play in Raider history at 99.
When Branch retired he led the NFL in post season receptions (73) and yards (1289) for an average of 17.7 yards per catch, while scoring 5 TD’s. And remember this was in the time where DB’s could do anything they wanted to WR and get away with it. He remains the only Raider WR with 3 Super Bowl rings. He was a 4 time pro bowler and a 4 time all pro. He ended up with 501 receptions, 8685 yards and 67 touchdowns. He was a semi finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame and him being omitted from the HOF is another ridiculous miscarriage of NFL & sports justice.
#1 Jim Otto C: (1960; 24th round AFL Draft)
If you look up Oakland Raider in the dictionary, a picture of Jim Otto will appear. The epitome of what it is to be a Raider, he was undersized, undervalued and a pure winner. A 9 time all star, 3 time pro bowler, 3 time all pro and a Hall of Famer. He also was selected to the all AFL team. In 15 years he never missed a game because of injury. In his life he’s had 28 knee surgeries and 74 total surgeries. In 2007 due to infection he had to have a leg amputated.
When he was eligible for the draft, no NFL team wanted him. He finally was drafted by the Raiders in the 24th round. At 6′ 2″ and 240-245, it was thought he was no way big enough. Otto later stated it was a great chore to keep his weight at 250-255 lbs. The NFL Network voted Jim as the 63rd greatest football player of all time.
It’s amazing to see how great the Raiders were at drafting good players late in the draft in the 1960’s and 1970’s. NO ONE was as good as Ron Wolf and Al Davis at evaluating College football talent. They remain the gold standard of the NFL draft and how to build a winner.
This article is for the fans of the AFC West. If you are a fan of these great teams, these players may be household names to you. It’s so important though that the history of the game is respected, and these great players are not forgotten. This article is in honor of them, and the fans that watched.
San Diego Chargers:
Many think the Chargers uniforms of the 1960’s and 70’s are the greatest ever made and it’s hard to argue with that. What also can’t be argued is their dominating win in the AFL Championship game in 1963 sealing their argument as one of the innovators of the modern NFL passing game that is seen today.
Sid Gillman may be the greatest football coach of all time. He is the only coach in history that is in both the NFL and College football Hall of Fame. His coaching tree is the greatest of all time bar none. Bill Walsh, Al Davis, Chuck Knoll, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, Don Coryell, Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Tom Flores, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and many others fall under his umbrella of greatness.
The vertical passing game of the Raiders was taken straight from him. Al Davis called him the Einstein of the NFL and he is the father of the modern passing game. There will never be another Sid Gillman. As John Madden recently said, “what some teams are just discovering, Sid Gillman was doing in the 60’s”.
San Diego’s version of Fred Biletnikoff was the great Gary Garrison. Lance Alworth gets all of the publicity but in reality the Chargers had another fine Wide Receiver. His nickname was the ghost. Sid Gillman literally called him an artist in regards to his amazing route running skills. One sports writer said it was like watching a figure skater on a football field; his routes were so precise.
He is 5th and 4th all time on the Chargers reception and yards list respectively. He has more receiving yards than Kellen Winslow and Wes Chandler. He averaged an amazing 18.6 yards a catch which is second all time for San Diego pass catchers with over 120 catches.
With Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln in the backfield, San Diego had one of the great 1-2 punches in pro football history. They helped lead the Chargers to their only championship in 1963. He is the 2nd all time leader in rushing yards for the Chargers. He was the 1965 UPI AFL MVP, 2 times AFL All Star, 2 times All AFL team. He was also voted onto the ALL time AFL team, 2 times comeback player of the year, and he’s the all-time AFL leader in average yards per carry at 4.9. And he still holds the NFL record for 6 straight 100 yard games with 14 or fewer carries.
Paul Lowe can still be seen today at the Chargers games. He is a season ticket holder and a fan favorite.
Kansas City Chiefs:
The Chiefs have had an amazing history of talented teams with some of the greatest players to play football. Buchanon, Dawson, Taylor, Lanier, Culp, Thomas, Holmes; the list goes on and on. When eclectic head coach Hank Stram allowed NFL films to record him during the Super Bowl, he became the first NFL coaches to wear a microphone. Stram brought in the triple stack defense to hide his linebackers. When he had several WR’s injured; and against the Raiders powerful pass rush and great DB’s; he used the T formation and ran 60 times for over 300 yards to a 24-10 victory over Oakland. Len Dawson complete 3 passes for 16 yards. In the AFL days they lead the AFL in playoff appearances tied with the Raiders. Hank Stram was as great as the players he coached.
Just the mention of his name can still bring a smile and a tear to some players and fans eyes. He was headed for greatness.
His acts of generosity and kindness are still of legend. So are his acts on the football field. A Raider beat writer once said, “There is fast and then there is Joe Delaney fast”. He was a game breaking type of player who could catch the ball and run like the wind. With a strike shortened season and an eye injury, he only played 1 ½ years but he was amazing. He had 196 yards rushing against Houston and ran for 1121 yards his rookie year while getting the Rookie of the Year Award and making the Pro Bowl.
He once ran 75 yards for a touchdown but it was called back. Two plays later he ran for an 82 yard touchdown. Sadly, while trying to save 3 boys that were drowning, Delaney drowned. He could not swim. Only 1 of the boys made it. Joe received the US Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan and should always be remembered.
His occasional wildness off the field gets some publicity at times but in reality Chiefs Running Back Ed Podolak was one heck of a football player. With his hooked bar helmet, he looked like a red bull chasing after people. He could catch, run and block. He was an all purpose back that could do it all including returning punts and kickoffs.
He is the 5th all-time Chiefs RB in regards to rushing yards, and the 10th leading pass catcher of all time. He was also a quality return man. His wars against the Raiders and their bulldozer RB Marv Hubbard were must see tv.
Nicknamed Thunderfoot, Jerrel Wilson was flat out one of the greatest punters of all time. Often overshadowed due to the greatness of Ray Guy, his booming and towering punts were a thing of beauty. Ray Guy and Wilson transformed the punting game into an offensive weapon in regards to controlling field position.
He was a 3 time pro bowler and on the all AFL team, and in one year avg. 46.1 yards per punt. His greatness should not be forgotten.
For a 25 year period, the Raiders winning % was far and away better than any professional sports team in the U.S. In their first 20 Monday night football games they were 18-1-1. In the greatest decade of the NFL; the 1970’s; they had the most wins. In the NFL.com fan poll of the greatest teams a few years ago, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were voted the greatest team of all time by over 5.5 million NFL fans.
For 3 decades 2 teams were almost always on top of the ratings charts in the NFL. The Cowboys and the Raiders. The 2 teams people loved to hate. For a time the Cowboys were America’s team but the Raiders were the renegades of the NFL with talent to back it up. Those days seem light years away. They moved to Los Angeles which slowly eroded their tough blue collar Oakland persona, and the violence at games along with the small crowds, eroded their mystique. Their style of play changed and they’ve never been the same. It’s sad because few teams in the NFL boast a higher level of talent in their great history.
“The greatest player I ever coached was Warren Wells. I never saw anyone that gifted and that fast”.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Madden
This is still one of Ronnie Lott’s favorite players. If you talk to any player of the 1960’s, the one player that always amazed them was Warren Wells. For a 3 ½ year period, he struck terror in the eyes of all teams.
He was as fast as lightning and just as gifted. Before the NFL changed the criteria, Warren Wells was the all time leader in yards per catch at an inhuman 23.3 yards a catch. In one year he caught 47 balls for an incredible 27 yards per catch. He and Daryle Lamonica; The Mad Bomber; were the originators of Al Davis’ feared vertical game.
Due to off the field issues and an ankle injury, Wells career was cut short. He straightened up his life and last year was honored by lighting the torch at one of the Raiders home games.
He was the anchor of the famous “11 Angry Men” Oakland Raiders defense of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tom Keating was one of the best defensive linemen in AFL history. He was a 2 time AFL all star and on the all time AFL 2nd team. He played so hard that a story was written about him alone when the Raiders played the Packers in Super Bowl II. He was a part of the famous 1967 Raiders defense that caused a record 667 yards in losses on 67 sacks. They remain one of the most unheralded defenses of all time.
He was talented and tough. Off the field he was a fan favorite and very happy go lucky. He was a bay area guy and lived and died here. Many feel that if he didn’t have such bad knees that he was a hall of famer for sure.
With Southern California looks and charm, this USC favorite son was also a great football player. Making most of his fame in Buffalo, Bob Chandler had it all. He was known for his great hands. The Raiders signed him after Buffalo let him go and he fit right in. He caught 4 balls in the Raiders Super Bowl win against the Eagles. Between 1975 and 1977 he led the NFL in pass catches. In a famous scene he was hit in the stomach stretching to catch a ball in Denver. His spleen was ruptured and he had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery which saved his life.
He once posed for Playgirl. He wrote books, hosted tv shows and eventually became a Raider announcer. Sadly; a non smoker; Chandler got a rare from of Lung Cancer and died at the age of 45. The Raiders and their broadcasting crew took the news hard. He was very well liked and should be remembered fondly and more often for his charisma and his great football talents.
A little known fact that may buy you a drink someday if you are a Denver fan is that many of the AFL teams didn’t have much money. The Broncos first uniforms were actually mustard yellow and brown. The reason they were that color is that the Broncos wanted to save money so they bought the used uniforms off of the University of Wyoming football team and used them for a year. Wyoming were upgrading their uniforms so they were available. They then got a designer to make a new uniform the following season.
If it weren’t for Floyd Little, there probably would not be football in Denver. Nicknamed “The Franchise”, his popularity helped keep the Broncos in Denver when their attendance and play on the field suffered. In the mid to late 1960’s, his popularity soared and it got Denver excited about football. The Broncos were the only team to never play in an AFL title game and the only AFL team to not have a winning season while a member of the AFL.
If you are a Denver fan; even a young one; and you don’t know the name Floyd Little then you need an education fast. He was the Allen Iverson of his time in regards to sports popularity. Because of his small size he was a fan favorite of kids from all over the country. He was fun and friendly off the field, but literally a nightmare on it. He was fast and could turn any play into a long gain.
He’s a 2 time AFL all star, 3 time Pro Bowler and a member of Pro Footballs Hall of Fame. From 1968 to 1973, Little gained more yards from scrimmage than any player in the NFL. The Broncos were not a very good team for most of his tenure there, so he never seems to get the publicity or the credit for how great he really was.
Most knowledgeable Denver fans will remember Odoms but many NFL fans don’t. He was before his time; a Kellen Winslow type of player who could stretch a defense vertically, or make the tough catches when needed.
He was a 4 time Pro Bowler and a 2 time All Pro Player. He is the 7th all time receiver in Broncos history and was a key member of their prominence in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s after their first 16 years of existence without a winning season.
Another guy that doesn’t get his due is Rich Tombstone Jackson. He was the first real great pass rusher in Denver history. He was very physical and Lyle Alzado of all people called him the toughest man he ever met.
He was a 2x AFL All Star, 2x AFL All Pro and voted second team on the all time AFL team. As with many players of his day before modern knee surgeries, he tore his knee and had to retire early from football. Many believe he was the best pass rusher of that era and that without injury he was heading into the NFL Hall of Fame.
With so many people lacking any knowledge of the past in our social media mentality of today, it’s important for all of us to remember the great players of yesteryear. The AFC west was a huge part of AFL and NFL lore, and their contributions should never be forgotten.
Other than Al Davis, NO ONE ever made an impact on the Oakland Raiders like Ron Wolf did.
When you ask a Raider fan who is the greatest Raider of all time, you will get several different answers. Maybe you will hear Ken Stabler, Art Shell or Gene Upshaw. Some may say Tim Brown or Marcus Allen or any of the other all time Raider greats like Jim Otto. In reality though, the greatest Raider of them all is Ron Wolf. If you are under 30 years old you are saying, “Who is Ron Wolf?”
Ron Wolf was one of the greatest evaluators of talent in the history of the NFL and now takes his place among the games greatest, being voted into the hall of fame. He was in charge of the draft and player personnel moves starting in 1963 for the Oakland Raiders. He was Al Davis quiet right hand man.
Wolf was the perfect fit to team up with Al Davis. He was the strong silent type who didn’t compete for attention with Mr. Davis. It is fairly common knowledge that Wolf was one of the few people that Al Davis actually listened to, and followed. Under Wolf the Raiders scouting team was the best in football. Many of the great Raiders of all time like Stabler, Shell, Upshaw, Tatum and Cliff Branch were all key choices by Ron Wolf. Wolf and Davis had no peers when it came to drafting and picking up castoffs that other teams gave up on.
In 1975 the NFL approached Davis and Wolf and asked if Wolf could take over the GM position for the newly created Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wolf then went to Tampa Bay.
Wolf went on to be the architect of the Bucs. His first 3 drafts included hall of famer Leroy Selmon, the great USC running back Ricky Bell (whose career was cut short tragically by a terminal illness which took his life in 1984) and QB Doug Williams who eventually became the first black quarterback to ever win the Super bowl with the Washington Redskins. With these 3 key players they are still the fastest expansion team in the history of the post merger era to win a division, a playoff game, and host an NFC championship game.
Citing differences with the meddling Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse and head coach John McKay, Wolf came back to the Raiders before the 1980 season. In usual fashion the Raiders soon drafted players like Marcus Allen and Howie Long. Players that other teams said were reaches. Allen was considered a question mark by many because he was considered too slow and Long was thought to be a long shot due to him coming out of Villanova who no longer had football.
Ron Wolf’s mentoring tree is long and talented. He taught Packers GM Ted Thompson, Seahawks GM John Schneider, Chiefs GM John Dorsey, Washington GM Scot McCloughan, and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.
Unfortunately though, Mr. Davis transformation had begun. He was obsessed with speed and the long ball trading popular Kenny Stabler for strong armed Dan Pastorini. When Pastorini bombed and lost his job to Jim Plunkett, Mr. Davis insisted on drafting another strong armed QB out of BYU named Marc Wilson. A few years later the Raiders drafted speedster Jessie Hester proclaiming him to be the next Cliff Branch.
What changed the NFL and the Raiders forever was in 1982, when Dallas Owner Tex Schramm asked the NFL competition committee to hold an evaluation time for all of the players, so all of the teams can evaluate them at the same time. Before that, teams had the option to share notes, films, and evaluations. Now players would be timed and rated on basic exercises and drills in gym shorts at the NFL combines. Al Davis loved it, especially the speed times. Ron Wolf, considering the Raiders evaluation of players to be superior, hated it. When he was asked once why he doesn’t share information or films with the rest of the league he said, “why would we; we know more than everyone else”. A true Raider.
As time went on in the 80’s their relationship strained. While Mr. Davis was obsessed with speed at wide receiver and defensive back, Wolf stuck to his roots of shoring up the defensive and offensive line. In the 70’s Al Davis coined the phrase, “the quarterback must go down, and must go down hard”. The key to that was a strong defensive front seven but Al Davis had gone away from that formula, obsessing about speedy defensive backs.
In 1991 Wolf left the Raiders to become the general manager of the Green Bay Packers. His first moves were to fire the coaching staff and to hire Mike Holmgren as his new head coach. He also traded for a little known quarterback playing in Atlanta by the name of Brett Favre. The Packers soon signed the biggest free agent on the market, Reggie White as well as Santana Dotson and Sean Jones. Wolf drafted another stud defensive lineman, “the gravedigger” Gilbert Brown. Their defensive line was a nightmare to stop.
In his 9 years as GM of the packers, Wolf had helped lead them to the second best record in the NFL (second only to Bill Walsh’s 49ers) and two Super Bowl appearances with one Super Bowl win.
Every team that Ron Wolf ran became a winner. During his glory days with the Raiders, no one could draft or evaluate talent like he did. The Raiders took players that other teams felt were not fast enough, not big enough or from very small schools that no one ever heard of. Some even had legal problems like WR Warren Wells who John Madden still says is the best player he ever coached, never having a season with less than 20 yards per catch. They cared about two things; can the person play football and can they be a part of a winner.
Last year during his daily interview on CBS sports in the bay area, John Madden said the unsung hero of the Raiders will always be Ron Wolf. Mr. Davis would allow him to draft players that fit the Raider mold. They both were on the same page and it was pure magic. The genius of Mr. Davis at that time was to trust Ron Wolf and the scouts and it helped create a winning formula. Together they lead the Raiders to not only the highest winning percentage in football, but the highest winning percentage of any sports franchise during a two and a half decade span. The first draft choice Mr. Davis made after Ron Wolf left was Todd Marinovich.
Ron Wolf takes his rightful place in the hall of fame. Every Raider fan, young and old, should appreciate the legacy and foundation that was created by Al Davis and Ron Wolf; the greatest Raider of them all.
Kendra: @JimJaxMedia this is an amazing article and tribute to my Dad. Thank you. He would have loved this. The love & support has amazed us all.
Marissa: @JimJaxMedia Thank you so much for honoring my dad with such beautiful words.
“Some People need 8 Hours of sleep and some need 3 hours. I didn’t need much sleep and sometimes studied my playbook by the light of the jukebox”
“He was the perfect quarterback and the perfect Raider. If I had to pick one quarterback to win a game in the final drive, it would be Ken Stabler”
“It’s a Travesty of sports justice that Ken Stabler is not in the Hall of Fame. He was as good as any quarterback I ever saw”
Former Bronco Great, Tom Jackson
“Joe Namath was the greatest athlete at quarterback that I ever had, but Ken Stabler was the best quarterback that I ever coached.”
Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary Alabama Coach
“He was such a gentleman. He wanted to fight it quietly without bother. That’s who he was”.
Ted Hendricks, HOF Raider Linebacker
“I never saw anything like it. He was like Madison Bumgarner the way he could throw fastballs or sliders with pinpoint accuracy.”
Lester Hayes, Former Raider Cornerback
“The Passing Of Legendary Raider Ken Stabler Shocks a Nation”
A leader and true Southern Gentleman to the end.
I’m the big brother people call when there is a tragedy or a problem. There isn’t a week that goes by where someone won’t call me between midnight and 3 am with either a problem or wanting to talk. Call it the John Boy Walton in me. For this I don’t cry much in front of people to try to be strong. And to be honest I never cry over a celebrity or an athletes death. Famous people have never impressed me that much and when people drop their names I just kind of yawn. Unfortunately after hearing the fiasco which is the internet tell me finally that the matriarch of the dynasty which was the Oakland Raiders was gone, I was filled with emotions that shocked me.
Kenny Stabler; Snake; passed away yesterday at the age of 69 due to complications of stage 4 colon cancer sending a shock wave of sadness throughout the NFL world. In death, as he did in life, Kenny took on the pressure himself and many of his teammates didn’t even know he was sick. Stabler, until the end; was the classy leader that took on the pressure while lifting the load off of others. Later in life he did color commentary for Alabama games and the state is in mourning for their favorite son.
I slowly walked down my hiking trail and just wanted a minute alone with no sounds. I looked out over the water and for the first time in my life I cried over the loss of a professional athlete.
Ken Stabler; like many; was my favorite athlete. In fact I often either wanted #12 on my teams or the #21 for Roberto Clemente. As an adult I would often write both numbers on professional contracts at the bottom when I became an adult. I remember my parents and coaches getting mad at me as a little boy for wanting to use my left hand like Kenny. I remember praying to God to make me have special powers so I could use my left arm like Stabler did.
For a young fan to even grasp in a small way what Stabler meant to the Raiders would take a lot of effort on their part. If you ever get the chance, read the book Snake. It’s the candid account of the lifestyle and crazy ways of the Raiders of that time. In the greatest era of the NFL in the 70’s, George Clooney and Clint Eastwood had nothing on the Snake.
In high school Stabler was 29-1 as a starter. He averaged 29 points a game as a high school basketball player and was drafted by two major league baseball teams. At Alabama he was 28-3-2. For the Raiders he was 69-26-1. 126-30-4. I’m speechless.
To see how dominating the Raiders and Ken Stabler were, look at this stat. In Stabler’s first 69 games as a regular starter for the Raiders, the Raiders were 56-13. I actually had to check the numbers 5 times to make sure they were right. That is unreal. That’s greatness.
The Stabler Kindness:
Stabler’s generation is amazing. Many times under the darkest of circumstances, they are so selfless. This is seen especially in sickness and death. When he was sick he didn’t want to be a burden and again, was as selfless and giving as a man can be. Kenny and his family have helped countless people through the XOXO Stabler Foundation. Kenny also was amazingly giving of his time and his efforts in many charities and causes. Like most of his generation he didn’t want much fanfare and didn’t call the presses every time he helped someone. He was a great person. He never turned down a fans request to sign something or talk to him.
I often feel bad for his daughters, grand kids & his long time Partner Kim who have shown great patience with some of us loving Ken so much. They have been as caring and kind as he was. In death they also showed the selfless Stabler spirit. The Stabler family announced that his brain and spinal cord will be donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research for degenerative brain disease in athletes. People forget that the Snake was involved in the concussion lawsuit against the NFL.
People often say why does it matter where the Raiders play? I always tell people outside the Oakland bay area that the Raiders are your team but they are our family.
The stories about the fans and players interactions during the glory days of the Raiders in the 70’s are of legend and will never be seen again. The Santa Rosa area would be up all night during training camp, and many times Ken Stabler was up with them. My father actually got to drink with Mr. Stabler once in Santa Rosa when the Raiders were holding court in one of the watering holes.
People forget that during the 70’s the players weren’t getting rich off of the NFL. Many players had extra jobs and did other things to make money. Often times they would meet, work with, or become friends with the fans. You can still see it with some of the Raiders kids and grandkids who are online still repping the silver and black. With fans. the Raiders were not considered celebrities but literal family members.
The fans were close to the players but the most beloved player of them all was Ken Stabler. Mix part Clint Eastwood, part Johnny Cash, a little Kid Rock, and Part Johnny Unitas and you had Ken Stabler.
I laugh now when fans say the NFL and other teams hate the Raiders. They really have no idea what hate is. Back in the 70’s there was no internet, and there wasn’t even an ESPN. The only way to get national news on any team was to watch it on television and most news services were based on the east coast and extremely biased. There were times that you would get more coverage about the Jets and Yankees than you did on your local teams. If they covered the Raiders, it usually wasn’t very positive.
The Raiders were flat out hated; by everyone, including some in the media. Since the merger Raider owner Al Davis felt screwed by the AFL and the NFL because he felt they had told him he would become their commissioner. Al Davis from then on was a renegade and it was us against the world. The Raiders constantly had one of the best teams in the NFL and the loudest home crowd but because they never had won a Super Bowl, they were shredded in the media.
The media often said there was a reason for their apathy towards Oakland. “The Raiders and Ken Stabler can’t win the big one; they choke in the big games; the road to the Super Bowl easily goes through Oakland; The Chokeland Raiders”; it was hard for fans at that time to take, and only a Super Bowl win would fix it.
The animosity for the Raiders was so bad that even after Stabler won the 1974 MVP trophy (and even opponents were shocked he didn’t win it in 1976); many times announcers would have to remind people during the game all the things that Stabler had accomplished. If you were west of the Mississippi in those days, you had to really fight for respect.
Stabler was Joe Montana before Montana. Montana often said Stabler was the guy he tried to be like and that was someone he looked up to. Stabler was a master at game management and his pinpoint passing accuracy was of legend. Because the Raiders were so good he never got the credit for being as great as he was and that often bothered other players, but not Snake. Remember this was during the time where there are no HD high speed camera and videos on the sidelines, or radio transmitters in the helmets. Quarterbacks actually did call their own plays. From Stabler to John Madden, to Ron Wolf to Al Davis; they all told the media the same thing. We don’t care what the other team does; we are going to do what we do and they can’t stop us. Supreme confidence with results.
Players often have wondered how someone as great as Stabler could not be in the Hall of Fame. My friend Tim Casto who I really enjoy; founder of Raiders Homeport; reminded me of a nasty situation between Stabler and quality sports writer Bob Padecky. There were rumors of a drug set up and most writers supported Bob and turned on Snake. Writers around the country helped ruin Stabler’s reputation and tried to keep him out of the hall of fame. They said they did not want to be intimidated into writing fluff pieces on athletes. Ken Stabler is still the only Super Bowl winning QB of the 1970’s not in the HOF. He’s also the only all decade QB not to be elected into the hall. Travesty.
I rarely get into twitter wars but I got into 2 of them yesterday. Two clueless east coast writers said Stabler wasn’t all that talented. Are you kidding me? Bear Bryant, the Alabama coaching Icon called Stabler the greatest quarterback he ever coached. John Madden said the same thing and said even today if he needed to have one quarterback for one drive, he’d pick Ken Stabler to run that drive. Raider hater and Denver Bronco great Tom Jackson said Stabler was as good as any QB to ever play the game.
We fans are too young but what about the 1967 “Run in the Mud” Stabler did to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl when he was at Alabama? His 53 yard run was the longest of the season and is a Crimson Tide legend. The Sea of Hands game; the Holy Roller; Ghost to the Post and the countless other games that he lead comebacks in. In fact if the call were reversed, Stabler would have won the game in the Immaculate Reception fiasco with his long run for a touchdown against the Steelers.
Some say Snake didn’t have the numbers but it was a different game then. The rules allowed defenders to do anything they wanted to quarterbacks and wide receivers and passing wasn’t a huge part of the game. It got so crazy with the violence that Chuck Knoll once called the Oakland Police Department to arrest Jack Tatum and George Atkinson for assault. It isn’t like today where Wide Receivers roam free skipping over the middle like school kids while QB’s can’t be touched. The numbers you see now are comical and the passing game is much easier.
Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton reiterated that yesterday on KNBR. “In fact a rule change changed the NFL. After the 1979 Season, the NFL stopped allowing players to hit Wide Receivers after 5 yards down the field. This literally was directly attributed to George Atkinson and Jack Tatum. This made the game much more wide open and easier for quarterbacks.”
The 70’s also was the most talented era of all time. The Steel Curtain; the Doomsday Defense; The Orange Crush; the Purple People Eaters; the No Name Defense; no era was dominated with so much talent in NFL history. There was no salary cap and teams were loaded with talent. In one game in the 70’s between the Steelers and Raiders there were 21 future hall of fame players, owners and coaches on the field. Try naming 10 hall of famers in a game today. I usually don’t hold grudges but I will always hold a grudge against the Hall of Fame Voting Committee for not voting the Snake in while he was still alive.
Someone close to my heart; my friend Mike Yokum; has lead a valiant effort to try and get Kenny Stabler into the Hall of Fame. Anyone reading this article hopefully will take one minute to sign his petition.
“It may sound corny”, Mike said, “but Kenny’s effect on my childhood was profound. Just this week I received some signed merchandise from him. He thought of me even though he was dying. I didn’t even know he was sick. He was so giving. A man’s man to the end.”
Tim Casto also gave light on what he thought would happen in regards to the hall of fame. “He was born to be a Raider. I think this finally will be the year that he gets into the Hall of Fame. People forget that Ken was the 3rd fastest to get to 100 wins taking only 150 games. If you look only at his statistics as a Raider, they are pretty amazing. People also overlook what a kind man he was. He was very giving and did a lot through his great foundation and many other charities that he helped. The Steelers and Rooney family; the Raiders hated rivals; are actually pushing for Ken to be in the hall of fame and they have a lot of pull”.
After I sat for a few hours and just kind of wondered about things I thought to myself, what would the Snake tell me now if he were here. I then imagined Ken Stabler’s voice; a cool guy with his smooth southern accent say,
“Jim I’ve had a wonderful life; I had 3 amazing daughters that are the light of my eye and the beat of my heart; I have grandkids that make me proud every minute of the day; I played for the greatest organization and college in sports in front of the greatest fans in the world. I have loved and lived hard. I had fun every step of my life and now I’m with my maker with no more pain or worries. So get up and go live life to the fullest and don’t worry about me. Live it with a wink in one eye and a twinkle in the other. I’m fine.”
All of a sudden I smiled broadly, quickly got up and I felt like a million bucks. I walked half way up the hill, stopped and then looked up into the sky into the lights across the water. For some reason I took a picture although it was pitch black, and said out loud, “Thanks Kenny. For everything.”
Like I said. A leader and true southern gentleman to the end.
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