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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.