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“Over 5.2 Million NFL Fans Vote The 1976 Oakland Raiders the Best Team Of All Time”

davis madden

In 2012 over 5.2 million NFL fans voted in the NFL.com tournament picking the greatest NFL team in history.  The winner was the 1976 Oakland Raiders.  Little was made of the vote in the media, so I will expand on it.

In my mind it’s hard to pick just one.  The Bill Walsh 49ers, the Tom Landry Cowboys, Vince Lombardi’s machines in Green Bay, the great dynasty in Pittsburgh & Miami and so many others.  It did make me happy though that fans from all over the country showed respect to a team that is often overlooked for its’ greatness, ESPECIALLY on the east coast.  Some east coast media people know little of what happens west of the Mississippi.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d827fc2d9/article/1976-raiders-edge-2000-ravens-for-title-of-greatest-team-ever

Most young fans today seem to only really know things that happen in their own era but usually the smartest people are those that know a lot about history.  It’s important for us all to appreciate history, especially in sports.  The funniest post I saw lately was a young guy that said he knew a lot about the Raiders and that he had been a long suffering Oakland fan since 2007.  Why can’t life have a “slap someone in the back of the head” button?

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens?:

I got into a battle with a Baltimore Raven fan last year who argued that the 2000 Ravens were the greatest team in history.  They aren’t even in my top ten.  Here is a team that didn’t even win their division and they lost 3 games in a row during the middle of the year.  During those three losses, they only scored 15 points in 12 quarters.

http://espn.go.com/blog/afcwest/post/_/id/13842/best-raiders-team-ever-1976

The 1970’s teams were so much better than today because of several reasons.  They didn’t have to deal with high salaries, guaranteed money or the salary cap.  That’s why they were loaded with talent.  Many backups could start on other teams.

Many teams had backup quarterbacks that were as good as many of the starters on bad teams.  Ken Stabler was a backup until Daryle Lamonica got hurt.  Earl Morrall was a backup until HOF QB Bob Greise broke his ankle in week 5, and all Morrall did was lead the Dolphins to the only unbeaten season in NFL history.  I don’t see ANY NFL backup today; or most of the starters to be honest; doing anywhere near that any time soon.

Why the 1976 Raiders?:

The 1976 Raiders had 11; YES ELEVEN; future hall of fame players and front office people on it.  Add Cliff Branch and Jack Tatum who should both be in it and that’s 13.  Name a team in todays’ NFL that has 11 Hall of Famers.  In the 1970’s there were many teams with 7-10 future HOF players.

With the passing of Kenny Stabler, many fans, media and ex players began to finally really appreciate just how great this Raiders team was.  I’ve been lucky on the last few radio interviews that I’ve done to have followed nationally syndicated sports people who knew their stuff and who ended up saying the same things I was saying in regards to this amazing era of the 1970’s and it’s greatness.

Almost all NFL historians agree that the 1970’s was the greatest era of modern professional football.  In that decade the Raiders won more games than any other team.  They had the best quarterback, the best offensive line, and the best defensive backfield.  Add amazing hall of famers and a defense that could get to the quarterback, and you had an all-time great team.

Offensive Line:

The 1976 Oakland Raiders are considered to have the greatest offensive line of all time.  The line of Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Dave Dalby, George Buehler, and John Vella, was probably the most physical of all time as well.  At 6’ 5”, Gene Upshaw talked trash and intimidated from the minute he walked on the field until the game was over.  Gene Upshaw is still the only player in NFL history to play in 3 Super Bowls in 3 different decades with the same team.  Sporting News ranked Gene Upshaw as the 62nd greatest NFL player of all time.

Art Shell was a quiet giant but a physical specimen at 6’ 5” who decimated defenders.  Sporting News voted Shell the 55th greatest football player of all time.  Yes they were that good.

Dave Dalby was one of the more beloved Raiders of all time, as well as one of the more unsung ones.  He was a rock at Center following the great career of Jim Otto.  At 6’ 3”, he was considered the smallest Raider offensive linemen.  He never missed a game in 14 years and was voted on the UCLA all century team.  He tragically died @ the age of 51 after struggling to adjust to life after football.  There are still Christian websites that have stories about how kind and supportive he was to so many people.

George Buehler was a rock at guard for the Raiders.  He was another unsung player who shined in the post season.  His domination of Vikings defensive tackle Doug Southerland in the Super Bowl is a part of NFL lore.

John Vella was quiet and easy going but had a volatile temper when angered which fit right into the Raiders physical play.

The Soul Patrol:

There is no cooler group of NFL players than the Soul Patrol.  I’ve written about them often and I’ve included one of my articles on them below which now is one of the most popular articles on the internet about them.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/the-greatest-defensive-backfield-of-all-time-the-oakland-raiders-soul-patrol/

“Dr. Death” Skip Thomas; The Assassin Jack Tatum; George “Butch” Atkinson and Willie Brown were the greatest of all time.  “The 5 yard chuck rule was actually created because of them”, said Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton.  “It was almost unfair to try and get off the line with these guys”.  In the 1970’s DB’s could pretty much do what they wanted to a wide receiver as long as the ball wasn’t in the air.  That’s why people need to give WR of the 1970’s much more credit.  The pinball numbers of today doesn’t mean that these WR are great.  If you were good against the Soul Patrol then you were great.

The Greatest 2 Minute QB of All Time:

John Madden said that if he had to pick one QB to do one last minute drive he’d pick Ken Stabler.  Joe Montana said he emulated his game after him.  The Holy Roller, the Sea of Hands, the Ghost to the Post; the game was never over if Ken Stabler was on the field.

I still propose that ALL Hall of Fame voters votes be made public.  It’s really a shame to not have Ken enjoy his special day due to petty biases.  It’s time to start calling out writers because of their ridiculous biases; but that’s for another day.

Stabler was one of a kind.  He wouldn’t see the trainers as long as players were in the locker room; he constantly took blame when his team failed, and spread the credit when they won.  He was a great leader, friend and man.  He partied like a rock star, but always showed up on game day.  He was pure Raider.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/the-passing-of-legendary-raider-ken-stabler-shocks-a-nation/

Ground and Pound:

When you think of the 1976 Oakland Raiders, you think of Stabler throwing to Casper or Fred Biletnikoff or Cliff Branch.  You see Stabler tossing passes to his running backs or hitting Mike Siani in the end zone.  But in reality the Raiders were also a power running, physical team.  They were consistently a top 10 rushing team in the 1970’s and occasionally was the best running team.  In the Playoffs they decimated the Steal Curtain for 157 rushing yards in the AFC Championship game and had an amazing 237 yards against the Purple People Eaters of the Vikings in the Super Bowl.

Mark Van Eeghen was a do it all Fullback.  He was the replacement for Marv Hubbard.  Mark could block, run, and catch the ball.  He rushed for 1012 yards in a 14 game season.

Clarence Davis was the speed half back of the group.  Even though he didn’t have great hands, he managed to catch 27 passes and dominated in the post season, especially the Super Bowl.  His miracle catch in the Sea Of Hands game is eternally etched in the minds of all football fans.

The Raiders were one of the first teams to use situational players.  Running Back Pete Banaszak was their short yardage back and he usually was a leader for the Raiders in rushing touchdowns.

With solid RB’s and a great OL with tight ends that could block, the Raiders ground game was second to none.

Speed & Precision:

Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff may be the greatest WR tandom of all time.  In each end zone a “speed kills” sign was always seen in Oakland.  As Ken Stabler once said, “Cliff could outrun half of the cars in the parking lot”.  He was track star fast up until the day he retired.  In many of the biggest games, Branch caught key passes.  He was an amazing part of the “throw deep” mentality of the Raiders.  They could score from any where at any time.

Fred Biletnikoff had the greatest hands of all time.  If it was near him, he’d catch it.  He was a ballerina on the football field with perfect route running skills.  He could position his body perfectly to make sure he had the best chance to catch a ball.  He was a true artist on the football field.  Add quality backup Mike Siani who could start for many teams; and you had one heck of a WR core.

Then there was HOF Tight End Dave Casper and short yardage & goal line TE Warren Bankston in the mix.  They also had the greatest punter of all time in HOF Ray Guy.

The Defense:

Along with the Soul Patrol, you had some of the toughest and craziest players of all time.  Some called Oakland the Island of Misfit Toys.  Wildman John Matuszak, Otis Sistrunk from the University of Mars.  Prankster and stud LB Phil Villapiano.  The Mad Stork Ted Hendricks who was as crazy as all of them.  The Raiders defense straight up dominated in the post season wreaking havoc whenever a quarterback went back to pass.

Coaching & Front Office:

Al Davis was one of the greatest owners of all time.  He was a rebel that hated anything that wasn’t silver & black.  He took a chance on a linebacker coach named John Madden.  A HOF coach who had 3 simple rules; be on time, pay attention, and play like hell when I tell you.  Helping call the shots for Al Davis was Hall of Fame player personnel director Ron Wolf; maybe the greatest player evaluator in the modern era.

To top it off you have the Oakland Coliseum; “The House Of Thrills” that was as loud as any stadium in history with some of the most loyal and rowdy fans which created pure magic.  And the icing on the cake was Bill King; NFL Films Steve Sabol’s favorite announcer; the greatest radio sports broadcaster of all time, waxing poetically.  How he isn’t in at least 2 HOF’s is a miscarriage of sports justice.

So there you have it.  A trip down memory lane.  What a fun and amazing history. One of the greatest teams of all time……I’m sorry; THE greatest team of all time. Pillaging just for fun.

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“A Tribute to an Iconic Raider & NFL Fan Azel Grasty Sr.; AKA The Oaktown Pirate”

Azel Grasty kid

“In Honor of Azel’s birthday 10/5; RIP”

Today was just one of those days where not much goes right.  Nothing seemed to work and go well. I came home, opened up an ice cold Bass beer and read the news hoping for a story that would make me smile.  I first found out that one of my favorite Hispanic actresses Elizabeth Pena was dead at 55.  What a great career and what a cool lady.  I then got another shocker.  One of the all time iconic Oakland Raider fans had also passed.  I couldn’t relax before writing a little about him.  His name was Azel Grasty Sr., AKA the Oaktown Pirate (Raider).

The Oakland Coliseum; (I’m not calling it that other name) is the most unique environment in the NFL.  I’ve been to other stadiums and what I love about Oakland is the diversity of the fans.  Let’s be real; if you watch a game in places like New England, Denver, and New York; most of the fans are white.  In Oakland, all walks of life are there.  Black, brown, white, red; and with so many that dress up, silver and grey too.

Raider fans are like no other so when one of the iconic fans passes on, I always remember the glory days.  I love history and the Raiders history is of legend, and in those times there was no place like the Oakland Coliseum.  During the fall the overcast gray skies, the fans dressed in black, and the enclosed stadium made it more like a thunderous tomb than somewhere to play football.  Don Shula and the Dolphins players hated everything Raider; the fans, the players, the colors.  Don Shula once called Oakland hell, and Chiefs head coach Hank Stram said he was going to call the governor of California and make him stop allowing inmates from San Quentin to be released on Sundays so that they couldn’t come to any more games.  Steelers coach Chuck Noll hated the Raiders so much in time he refused to mention them.   He felt the Raiders were the criminal element and evil and so were their fans.  He once called John Madden before a game to complain about rats in their dressing room.  Coach Madden laughed and said, “really?  There are some in our dressing room too!”

In the first 11 years at the Oakland Coliseum the Raiders were 66-9-2.  The House of Thrills was not the place to be for opponents.

I remember many years later being on a business trip in Denver and Cincinnati and wearing a Raider sweater and people by the dozens booing me at the mall.  It was so much fun being hated.  Now I know what Ty Cobb meant.  It was wonderful!

Even though I’m a writer trying to be honest and un-biased, my family’s roots are deep in the tradition of Oakland Raider football.  My father as a young man would go to the Raiders games at Candlestick Park and Frank Youell Field and told me stories of how the Raiders front office staff would go to local restaurants and give away tickets just so people would come.  Their fan base was built from the ground up and in time, the waiting list for tickets was in the thousands.  Many of the players didn’t make a lot of money and most had off season jobs and many became friends with the fans and even work with them.  My dad became friends with a few of them and in his dealings as a Teamster; he had the opportunity to get to know them better.  The bond between Oakland Fan and player was as deep rooted as any sports relationship in history.  The “gatherings” among fans and players in Santa Rosa during training camp still would make a truck driver blush.  It was just a special time.  To many fans the Raiders were their team.  In Oakland they were our family.

No place was louder and more intimidating than the Oakland Coliseum.  As the great George Atkinson once said, “you come into our house you better be prepared to fight, and fight all of us”.  No team had a better fan base.

That’s why every year when I hear the news of a great long time Raider fan passing, it really hurts deep.  As the years go by we are losing more and more of them.  Time can be a cruel mistress.

One of those iconic fans was Azel Grasty Sr. who passed away at the age of 57;  much too young of a man to leave us.

Azel was like most Raider fans that dress up; he was unique.  His Raider fan persona was the Oaktown Pirate, dressed up in full silver and black pirate gear.  He even had contacts that made his pupils look different.  Many major news outlets like ESPN and Yahoo sports did stories about him and other fans and showed photos of them.  Azel enjoyed kids, and fans of all ages, and loved having a good time.  Azel donated a lot of his time to others and was very proud of his involvement in youth football.  There is a sweet video on Youtube of Azel meeting some youth football players at the Oakland Coliseum.  I met him a couple of times and he couldn’t have been nicer and funnier.  He really loved people.  He also served our country and was a U.S Veteran.

I think what is funny too is that the more menacing, evil, and scary some of the Raider fans make themselves up to be, they usually end up being the complete opposite.  Azel was that way too.  When he was dressed up as the Oaktown Pirate, you would think little kids would be scared of him, but every game kids were coming up to give him high fives, or take a picture with him.  His heart was as big as his smile.

There are so many photos of him on Yahoo, ESPN, facebook and Twitter that you could fill a book.  He never took himself too seriously and loved mingling with others.  He was kind, fun, and showed what being a fan is all about.

I was really appreciative of all of the great things people said about Azel on social media.  Even with the frustration, anger and rants of some Raider fans through all of the losing, they still remain some of the kindest, warm hearted and down to earth people you’d ever meet; especially during bad times.  Azel would be touched I’m sure.

One Twitter follower direct messaged me and said that the Coliseum is going to be a little darker with another one of it’s fun bright lights gone. I thought about it and messaged her back and said that she was probably right.  But doesn’t the sky look a little brighter.  Rest in Peace Azel; you were a good Raider fan who made people of all ages smile; but more importantly you were a good man indeed.