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.”
a person, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
My father once said that the hardest part about aging is watching people around you; including family, friends, athletes and celebrities; slowly pass away as the years go by. As NFL fans it’s also hard for us to watch the iconic fans of our youth slowly leave us with the passing of time. Another great one has left us in Ron “The General” Rickard. “Raider Ron” was a Hall of Fame fan, and so much more.
We all have a story, and Ron’s was one of fun, determination, struggle, pain and joy. That’s why fans from all over the country have been saddened by his death at the tender age of 54 due to liver failure. He had been battling for over 6 years. He was hoping for a liver transplant but it wasn’t to be. He had contracted Hepatitis C which eventually damaged his liver. Sadly the liver that he long waited for came 12 hours after his passing.
Ron was a cherished member of the exclusive NFL Pro Football Ultimate Fan Association and his brothers and sisters from this group are hurting from his passing.
“Raider Ron’s” story is an amazing one. What made Ron’s story amazing is that he went to 246 straight games for the Raiders; HOME and AWAY! He even got to go to the game in Wembley to keep the streak alive after winning the “One Nation, Your Story” contest.
After his 200th game his friends that he competed with (mostly as a leader) at The Bad Boys of BBQ threw him a tailgate party in his honor. “Kingsford” Kirk Bronsord, the leader of the Bad Boys of BBQ stated in an article from the Raiders website, “I’m proud and honored to be able to say that this is a great friend of mine. He has done something that few people get to do. That’s 12 ½ years of never missing a game”.
Ron said of the streak, “one year I told my wife, you know, I want to go to every game and do it just one time. So I did it and everything went pretty smooth so I did it again the next year.”
After his 246th game in 2014, the Raiders honored him, and Lincoln Kennedy interviewed Ron on the field. He was thrilled to be able to light the Al Davis memorial torch.
Ron’s story doesn’t end there by a long shot. He began to create friendships with Raider fans from all over the country. He also created great friendships with fans of other teams. From Tampa Bay, to San Diego to anywhere there was an NFL stadium, people grew to love Rickard. That love was shown when at times fans would help him financially including getting him tickets and other items to keep the streak alive.
Fast friend and a person I enjoyed talking to; Ron’s Fellow Hall of Fame icon Tim Young; (The Famous Tampa Bay Fan known as “The Captain”) said he once came to a game in Oakland knowing no one. “I walked into the parking lot and I told Ron I was looking for a tailgate to adopt me. Ron quickly took me in and added me to the fold. A long friendship ensued”. (I will be featuring Tim’s story during the season hopefully with an amazing podcast!)
Friendship was important to Ron and people reciprocated that feeling. Ron said in an interview, “70 or 80 people; many of them Raider fans; have even offered to serve as living donors for me”.
Tim said that Ron grew up in Kentucky. He came to California and started a car wash which he later sold.
Ron’s personality was refreshing. Friends described him as blunt and to the point but also compassionate and caring. He had a goofy, fun side and even when he went through hardships he always had a smile to give to whoever needed it.
“He was very smart” Tim exclaimed, “but he never was arrogant and he never name dropped. He was extremely kind and humble. He showed great sportsmanship. Ron and his wife couldn’t have kids but he adored them. He mentored many people showing them the ropes of life, of being a good fan and of being a good person. He did so much for so many”.
Ron and his lovely wife Janet were true soulmates with years of devotion. He was loyal, appreciative, kind and strong. He was given a rotten hand, but he smiled and fought hard with all he had to the end. Ron enjoyed being a Raider fan but most of all he enjoyed just being. He inspired and touched so many, and he put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.
The Commodores have a song called Heroes and here are some of the lyrics:
Heroes make the sun rise in the mornin’ Heroes make the moon shine bright at night Heroes make our lives a little stronger All our fears go away when he’s around
Whoa, heroes make our lives a little stronger If you look you’ll surely see they’re you and me
I am lucky in life. I had heroes. My mom and dad; my grandparents; uncles and aunts and great friends. Ron was a hero too. Heroes are not some of the popular dysfunctional celebrities who are famous for being famous. They are not boy band members or coaches that make risky play calls. Heroes are every day people living through the ups and downs of life. Heroes are soldiers fighting for our freedom. Heroes are teachers and janitors and wait staff.
A hero loves their family, shows kindness and love to others, and they don’t look down on people. And during their darkest hour they still think of those around them and how they can make things better for them. They are our partners, parents and grandparents who fight a disease with dignity and grace. They are those that give of themselves with no care or desire to worry about what they get in return. They are the ones that inspire others to do good with little to no fanfare. They are us. Ron was one of those heroes. The simplest of things.
The best way to honor Ron is to be that hero. To be the one that leads and encourages and inspires. Live with ethics and grace and be inspired by right and wrong. Be kind when others aren’t, and be level headed and open minded when anger fills the air. In a country that has lost it’s way with violence, anger and a lack of compromise, be a hero like Ron. In this way his legacy will live on. A good General mentors and inspires even after they are gone.
So in remembrance of Ron and in support of his amazing wife Janet, I would love for fans from all over the country to donate to help them financially during this tragic time. Healthcare costs have drained them (sadly) and if everyone donated just a little, they could reach their modest goal quickly.
I would also encourage those to go to his memorial this Saturday. Here is a website with the information, and an RSVP. A celebration tailgate party will include food, drink, music and dancing. I’m sure stories of Ron will be a plenty.
I have and always will support good fans from all of the NFL teams in their causes, hardships and triumphs. We are not gang members. We are people who are part of one team; the human race; who just want a chance to live a good, fun life in peace. Just like Ron, support one another and let’s never forget to live life to the fullest while never taking ourselves too seriously. And as Ron “The General” Rickard taught people; wear your colors proud, but wear your heart prouder.
Friday it was released that several former Oakland Raiders had agreed to have their brains studied upon their death. They did this through the encouragement of Ken’s longtime partner, Kim Ross-Bush. They wanted to follow him in helping to further the study of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the hopes of helping future players. Still today, Ken still is the leader of the dynasty that was the 1970’s Oakland Raiders.
The Stabler Family Tells Their Story:
Kim Ross-Bush, the partner of Ken Stabler for over 16 years; tells the story of how Ken deteriorated over time. His daughter Marissa also talks about the changes in her father. ESPN’s Outside the Lines is a great show and I really enjoyed the piece it did a while back on Ken and his struggles with CTE.
You are already seeing players starting to retire at earlier ages in fear of the long term damage football may have on them.
In a groundbreaking move, the Ivy League coaches voted to eliminate tackling in practices. Instead they use tackling dummies, bags, and even use tackling robots. Coaches from around the country are limiting contact in College football. What’s interesting is the Ivy league now says their tackling techniques are much better and more fundamentally sound and the list of injuries have dropped dramatically.
I remember in 2009 being asked to do a house call to check up on a patient who was really struggling with his sleep equipment and his quality of sleep. I immediately remembered the name. I’m a huge history guy and I did a check and found out it was the former NFL player that I thought it was.
When I walked into their house his wife was as kind as could be. She offered me a piece of cake and coffee and I loved it. Her husband was a little shocked I knew so much about him and it obviously made him feel good. When I left his wife walked me out. At the door she gave me a bottle of wine and was near tears. “Thank you so much; you made him smile and that hasn’t happened much. Please come visit again soon”. I told her I would be by next week.
A week later I showed up and it was like a light turned off. He sat in a somewhat dark room looking out a window; something he did for hours sometimes. He was rude, irritable and he couldn’t remember a thing we discussed. I laughed at the start because I thought he was teasing me but he wasn’t. He talked about his headaches and his sleep being so intermittent that he would be exhausted all the time. It was hinted he knew he was damaged and he didn’t want to know the truth. CTE was barely known publicly in 2009.
His wife explained this was their life. A tornado of emotions with little joy and hope at times. I tried calling them once but their number had changed & was unlisted, so I never heard from them again and found out they moved. Even today the picture of him sitting in a darkened room alone can bring me to tears.
Owners Still Don’t Get It:
Jerry Jones was quoted last week that he was not convinced there was a link between CTE and concussions. I’m sure many owners have their doubts especially when it may cost them money to take care of the problem. Jerry Jones needs to read research and stop acting like a fool. Another “my opinion is greater than facts” guy. Money doesn’t make you smart. It’s the same callousness the NFL showed during the 2009 concussion hearings at Congress.
In the 2014 settlement against the NFL, in a rare action, the Judge was so appalled at the NFL’s offer that he overturned it. The NFL said to trust their math. Most of what the NFL has done, they were made to do.
What Has the NFL Done to Help With CTE’s:
Many say I’m too hard on the NFL. They bring up the 88 plan championed by CTE legend Gay Culverhouse, former President of Tampa Bay. It’s true; it gives $130,000 a year to players that qualify but read the fine print because I did; the one disorder it DOESN’T cover? CTE.
The Alumni Association is also working with corporations to set up retirement places catered to NFL players. In the medical field the dirty secret is that many feel this is going to be a huge money maker in the future with so many NFL players having to deal with brain issues. Soccer players are now having issues with CTE. Brandi Chastain has agreed to donate her brain as well.
The owners have given money for research and also changed the rules protecting players more. It has changed the game drastically allowing for huge numbers by quarterbacks and wide receivers but it had to be done.
The NFL also has adopted a much stricter concussion protocol but it’s already seen failures. Rams QB Case Keenum hit his head on the turf against Baltimore last year and staggered off the field. After talking to the trainer, he was shockingly let back in the game to finish it. Afterwards he was diagnosed with a concussion. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to his credit admitted they made a mistake. Damage done though.
I remember watching film of the 1976 Raiders year in review. In week 9 the Raiders played at Chicago. The astroturf there was like cement especially when it was cold. Ken Stabler got a concussion and wobbled off the field. Eventually he came back into the game leading the Raiders to victory. You wonder how many times since he was a kid did that happen to Ken.
Breakthrough in CTE Testing?
The problem with CTE is that you can’t diagnose it while the player is alive. When UCLA lead researcher Dr. Julian Bailes said they had a test that could diagnose CTE in living people, many questioned his findings. The problem with anything in medicine is greed. If this is true, they stand to make millions. Some say that within 3-5 years it will be able to be done. The controversy continues but when they can test players, it can give them a better option into getting out of the game or staying in it.
Should Kid’s Play Football:
One of the key factors with CTE is the duration you take hits. Usually the longer you play, the worse it is. Ken Stabler; like many NFL athletes; played as a kid. You have to limit the length, and the severity of the damage. Some think teaching good fundamental tackling is the answer but it’s not. When you hit the ground or get hit; good tackle or not; your head is going to jar. Its’ like having a minor car accident several times a day.
I think that kids should not play organized tackle football until they are 13 years old. I also believe that at the most, teams need to have only 1 contact day of practice per week; or 90 minutes.
The State of Texas that brought you “Friday Night Lights” and built a 60 million dollar stadium in the city of Allen, is surprisingly the leader in protecting players. In 2013, the University Interscholastic League in Texas; the group that makes the rules for high school football; voted to limit contact in practices to 90 minutes a week. Some said this would ruin Texas football but it hasn’t changed their dominance in any way.
Between 2005 and 2014, 92 high school football players died. Some by direct contact, and others by things associated with football. What’s shocking though is that almost ALL states have NO medical regulations mandating high school football teams to have ANY trained medical staff on the field at any time. Some parents have sued school districts for having their kids lying on a field waiting long periods of time for qualified people to help their kids. That HAS to change. They don’t have to have an ambulance on staff, or a doctor or EMT’s or professional trainers. Epic fail. This has to change.
I remember in football crazy Napa, California where I grew up, (who ESPN voted had the #2 high school stadium in the country 6 years ago) they always had an ambulance in one of the end zones at Memorial Stadium and EMT professionals at the games. It helped save one of my friends who actually broke his neck during a game. He wasn’t paralyzed but he fractured his neck and the quality care on the field saved him. I hope they still have that same support there now.
The sad part is, we need to have a sure way of diagnosing players while they are alive, and we need to know how better to protect them. Even if helmets evolved, the jarring of the brain from the hits and hitting the ground are still going to cause damage so it’s a difficult thing to fix.
What also is scary, is that ALS; or Lou Gehrigs disease has also been linked to long term head trauma seen in sports like football. University of Alabama player Kevin Turner just passed away at the age of 46; of ALS. He played 8 years in the NFL.
CTE is the scary ghost hiding in the closet that players and their families fear. Fans and the media need to get involved. Some didn’t support the cheerleaders fight to get minimum wage. Many fans didn’t support referees wanting better training and to be full time employees. The NFL said both were too expensive. Add the lack of support to retired players by some as well. In my mind it’s disrespecting the game and those that are associated with it by not respecting everyone that was in it.
All fans and media people associated with the NFL who really care about this wonderful game and the people in it need to act. Some in the NFL media won’t because they feel backlash from their networks. We need the NFL to know the lack of support is unacceptable. The 88 plan needs to include CTE. Support research and retired players rights. Show compassion and kindness instead of saying, “well if they don’t want to die early then don’t play”. The players gave their all; now we need to give ours.
The NFL has shown they will NOT do the right thing unless they are made to. It’s time that fans now become the voices of the voiceless. Ken Stabler and all of the players that suffered in silence; along with their families that experienced it; deserve our support. No more Dave Duerson stories. A man that texted family to let them know he wanted his brain studied after he shot himself in the chest. He didn’t want others to go through the torment he did. No more retired players holding their heads in pain or looking out windows in darkened rooms wondering in sadness what was happening to them. We can’t expect the NFL to do the right thing to these fathers, son’s, grandfathers and brothers, if we don’t. The NFL has shown it will listen but we have to speak.
The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
The last 2 weeks I read 14 articles from 2015 on Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie. They were from professional writers to homer Raider bloggers to ESPN and NFL.com. Only ONE said keep Reggie McKenzie as a GM. Oh how the seasons have changed.
The Ron Wolf Effect:
When most fans and many writers wanted Reggie McKenzie fired, I said to give him time. I ripped on his poor moves as well but I also trust success. The reason I said don’t fire Reggie was NOT because of Reggie McKenzie. It was because of Ron Wolf. Ron Wolf taught and mentored Reggie when he was at Green Bay.
When I wrote an article on the greatest Raider of all time, ¾ of the fans that read it didn’t even know who Ron Wolf was. I remember my dad raving about him when I was a kid and beyond. Wolf was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Tim Brown. Wolf continues to be excited about McKenzie as a GM.
On a frigid day right before Christmas in 1967, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Joe Kuharich was asked about the angry boo’s in the stands after a tough loss. “I pay little attention to the 60,000 assistants in the stands each Sunday. If you listen to the fans, eventually you’ll be sitting with them”.
Reggie didn’t listen to fans and the media when they ripped him and he’s not listening to them now when they are praising him. If you read your own press clippings you’ll start to believe them. He smartly always limited his interaction with everyone just like Ron Wolf did. Something most coaches and athletes should do more.
The Changing Atmosphere Surrounding Him:
We all do it; we are emotional about something and then we write or post something on social media that we later regret. Either it was too harsh or nasty. We didn’t really feel that way but it was just a knee jerk reaction out of disappointment or anger.
It’s funny to see many of the “strongest” we’ll say detractors of Reggie McKenzie now turning the other way. People wonder why most “experts”, “insiders”, mock draft gurus, NFL draft gurus, (and many fans and social media masters for that matter); rarely talk about their past predictions unless it’s the ones they got right. It’s because they don’t want the accountability and they are often wrong. You hear them on radio talk shows, online, and social media. They are often wrong but never in doubt. Again, it’s ok to be wrong sometimes but if you are wrong most of the time; then use your inside voice.
I say this because many of his early detractors forgot that Reggie McKenzie had to fix a train wreck and he’s done pretty well so far. I said it years ago when McKenzie was hired and fans were telling me how good the Raiders were. No they were wrong; this wasn’t a good team for a long time. No,they didn’t have a lot of talent. No, giving these draft picks time was not going to make them good. The Raiders were a mess and I said this would be a 4-5 year process; that’s how bad this organization was and I think the Raiders are right on schedule.
The Al Davis Effect; Reggie Fixes the Mess:
The teams of the 1970’s especially were loaded. In the greatest era of the NFL, the players didn’t make much money. Many had outside ventures. The teams could spend as much money as they wanted and many teams had backups that could start for other teams. Running a team was easier.
With a financial mess, Reggie McKenzie had a very difficult job. In the new era of the NFL, there is the salary cap, partially guaranteed contracts and some players are making a lot of money. Reggie McKenzie had to fix the bad situation the Raiders were in and rebuild. You then have to fight the media and the fans that have no patience. In today’s internet age, patience is waiting for lunch time when it’s 10 a.m. in the morning.
Mr. Davis was overpaying underachieving players, and he drafted very poorly. Al Davis became obsessed with NFL combine numbers and size; especially 40 times; and it destroyed the Raiders. Their list of bad draft picks; ESPECIALLY most of their Defensive Back Picks with the fast 40 times; are of legend. When you don’t watch game films and pass up on the Calvin Johnsons’, Adrian Peterson’s and Aaron Rodgers, you are failing.
McKenzie was not in denial though. He didn’t have Al Davis’ new mentality. Mr. Davis was in denial like some of the fans were every year; “we are really good and we just need 1-2 key players.” In reality for a long time the Raiders were NOT really good and they needed to rebuild. It was like building a house but denying you have a bad foundation. You were constantly adding floors or making over a room to make it look better when in reality it didn’t change a thing. Reggie McKenzie got that you have to destroy the foundation and build a new one. Let’s look at how he has done that in Oakland.
Reggie McKenzie’s Draft History:
Just like his signings, overall his drafts have improved with time. The DJ Hayden pick made no sense especially when DT Star Lotulelei had fallen in their lap. Hayden was another athlete playing football. Some of the “experts” had Hayden as the best CB in the draft. I watched Houston play a few times and was shocked. What were they watching? To see Lotulelei starting for the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl was painful. McKenzie improved with time though and he’s picked up their QB and other key members along the way.
The 2014 draft was the start of the rejuvenating of the Raiders. Five of the draft choices ended up being starters who mostly excelled. Last year’s draft shows a lot of promise as well. It’s a far cry from where the Raiders were in his first 2 years and it’s the core of their success.
Some fans are now going the other way making McKenzie out to be a genius but as I always say, let’s deal with the facts. The bad signings McKenzie has made are in abundance. Matt Schaub, Matt Flynn, LaMarr Woodley, Curtis Lofton, Nate Allen, Shawntae Spencer, Andre Hardy, Antonio Smith, Tarell Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Roy Helu Jr., Carlos Rogers, Pat Lee, Mike Brisiel, Kevin Boothe, Ron Bartell, Colin Miller, and Dave Tollefson were just some of the epic fails the Raiders had in free agency.
Even with a couple of good pick-ups, his first 2 years of free agency was a nightmare for Reggie McKenzie. Fast forwarding to 2014 the Raiders had an ok free agent class with more misses than hits. The big miss was Lamar Woodley who much was expected of. Donald Penn though was a key contributor with this class.
In 2015 the Raiders overall did a good job in free agency. Dan Williams and Rodney Hudson were great additions and Lee Smith was a bulldozer as a run blocking tight end that also caught some passes. Malcolm Smith had his first year as a starter go fairly well. He tailed off late in the year especially against the run.
On the bad side, Roy Helu Jr. was never used properly and was a waste of a signing. Curtis Lofton struggled mightily against the pass and Trent Richardson didn’t last long. A lot was given to Nate Allen but he struggled tackling all year; and that was when he wasn’t injured.
The 2016 free agent class is already a very good one and there still are signings that are ahead. This has already been the Raiders best free agent signing period; at least on paper; that they have had since Reggie was hired. The longer Reggie has the job, the better he gets.
How Reggie McKenzie Grew Into a Good GM:
McKenzie is humble; and as a good leader you take the blame and admit your mistakes. Many in sports; and life for that matter; don’t do that. When you admit a mistake you can fix it. His signing of players which are salary cap friendly and dropping them if they don’t work out is often greatly overlooked.
A huge mistake Reggie fixed was that in the early part of his career he would wait way too long to sign players. He would say they weren’t going to be hasty in their signings but sometimes the Raiders got stuck with slim pickings in free agency because they were just too slow to sign players.
He also improved his draft. After talking to Ron Wolf, he went back to getting football players. The defensive line has always been the second most important part of your team behind a QB and they’ve spent lots of money and energy into the DL. The Quarterback must go down, and go down hard was Ron Wolf & Al Davis’ motto.
What’s Next For Reggie and the Raiders:
As Reggie said last month, there is still much work for the Raiders to do and they haven’t won anything yet. The Raiders don’t have the DL or the pass rush to win at a high level in the NFL yet, but the off season is still young. Bruce Irvin has 14 sacks in the last 3 years and Mario Edwards is not a great pass rusher; and that’s if he comes back at all. Aldon Smith is out for most of the year too. It doesn’t matter who your DB’s are if you don’t have a pass rush. I now have trust that McKenzie will not be in denial and the draft will yield another quality DL. I would love to see either AShawn Robinson or Shaq Lawson drafted in the first round. Mock drafts are all over the place so as always, they don’t know what players the teams are going to draft and neither do we. If you get either one of these players, now you have something special. Both have great work ethics and are hard workers.
The Raiders also need a safety and other bits and pieces. They are not done in free agency yet and the NFL draft is also ahead. The salary cap limits how good you can be; that’s the design; to create parity. So the drafts are a key to success.
Overall though as time passes, Reggie McKenzie has improved every year he has been a GM. Reggie McKenzie is definitely old school and as long as he doesn’t change and he keeps being humble and open minded, he will be fine. Not everything works out so admitting mistakes and learning from them are huge keys to his success. The nightmare of 13 straight non-winning seasons may finally be over and success seems to now be a probability and not just a hope.
This article is for the fans of the AFL especially the AFC West. If you are a fan of these great teams, some of these players may be household names to you. It’s so important 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 the AFL.
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. I love the powder blue. What also can’t be argued is their dominating win in the AFL Championship game in 1963 sealing their argument as one of the great teams of the AFL era. Their innovative passing game was nixed for a power running game, and it worked to perfection as the Chargers beat the Boston Patriots 51-10.
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.
Paul Lowe & Keith Lincoln:
With Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln in the backfield, San Diego had one of the greatest 1-2 punches in pro football history. They helped lead the Chargers to their only championship in 1963. Lowe is the 2nd all time leader in rushing yards for the Chargers. He was the 1965 UPI AFL MVP, 2 times AFL All Star, and 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.
And oh by the way they had Keith Lincoln. He went to high school in Monrovia California and went to Washington St. Originally he was a QB, and he was so good that he got two awesome nicknames; the Monrovia Meteor and the Moose of the Palouse. He was a 5 time AFL All-Star, 2 time All AFL player, and is in the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
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 ever 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 coach to wear a microphone. Stram was innovative and brought in the triple stack defense to hide his linebackers. When he had several WR’s injured against the Raiders powerful pass rush and great DB’s; he used the T formation and ran 60 times for over 300 yards leading KC to a stunning 24-10 victory over Oakland. In that game, Len Dawson completed 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 and boy was he fun.
If you would allow me an exception, I wanted to add a player that didn’t play in the AFL days, but someone who isn’t remembered enough. Just the mention of this players name can still bring a smile and a tear to some ex-players, coaches 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 never got out of the water and died. He could not swim but he could not sit by and watch them die and do nothing. Only 1 of the boys made it. Joe received the US Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan and should always be remembered as being a real man, and a person that the NFL and their fans can be proud of.
If you are a big fan of the AFL or a Chiefs fan, you are saying how come Ed’s on this list? Well outside of KC many of today’s fans are clueless to how great of a player Podolak was. His occasional wildness off the field after his playing days 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, return kicks, and block. He was an all purpose back that could do it all.
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 that made many clutch kick returns. His wars against the Raiders and their bulldozer RB Marv Hubbard were must see tv and some of the most physical games ever played.
Nicknamed Thunderfoot, Jerrel Wilson was flat out one of the greatest punters of all time. Often overshadowed in the all time punter conversation 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. He also did it in the clutch. To punt when your team isn’t very good or if nothing is at stake is one thing but to do in when it counts is another. 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 ever a few years ago, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were voted the greatest team of all time by over 5.5 million NFL fans.
In QB Daryle Lamonica’s first 45 games as a Raider (after a trade from Buffalo) the Raiders were an unreal 40-4-1. His successor; Ken Stabler; was 56-13 in his first 69 games.
For 3 decades 2 teams were almost always on top of the television 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 and 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. No team in history was more crazy, wild, talented, and colorful as the Oakland Raiders.
(below is the article on the 1976 Raiders chosen as the greatest NFL team of all time)
(please support and follow the AFL Godfather on twitter @NFLMAVERICK I got this video from his public page but I’d really appreciate if you’d support him. He has great stuff from the past! Thank you!)
“The greatest player I ever coached was Warren Wells. I never saw anyone that gifted and that fast”.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Madden
On December 6, 1970, Warren Wells made an unreal catch on the last field play of the game to beat the Jets 14-13. His catch against 2 Jet defenders would make Houdini applaud. Wells was that good.
This is still one of Ronnie Lott’s favorite all-time 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 unfortunately was one of only 2 NFL players who were drafted and made to go to the Vietnam war in 1965.
He was as fast as lightning and just as gifted. Before the NFL changed the statistic criteria, Warren Wells was the all time leader in yards per catch at an inhuman 23.3 yards a reception. In one year he caught 47 balls for an incredible 27 yards per reception. 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 after doing prison time during his younger days, and last year was honored by lighting the Al Davis torch at one of the Raiders home games.
He was the anchor of the famous “11 Angry Men” Oakland Raiders defense and was a key player 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 member. He played so hard that a story was written about him 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 greatest and 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.
There are many that feel Dave Grayson is a Hall of Famer. Dave played for Oakland between 1965-1970. He played for the Dallas Texans/Chiefs before that, and was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Grayson was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oregon. Tom Landry felt he was too small and not physical enough so he was let got and Hank Stram gave him a shot and he stuck.
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.”
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 to start with. The Broncos first uniforms were actually mustard yellow and brown. Why was that you say? 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. It saved them thousands of dollars. Wyoming were upgrading their uniforms so they were available. They then got a designer to make a new uniform the following season.
One of the many crazy and memorable stories of the AFL is the one about Bronco great Frank Tribucka. Tribucka was the father of Notre Dame and NBA player Kelly Tribucka. Frank was a Notre Dame legend. At 33 years old he had played for several teams in the NFL, Canada, and AFL and he came to the expansion Broncos to be a coach after retiring. During the last pre-season game they asked him to play to sell a few tickets. He then started the next week as the Broncos QB and played for the next 3 years.
In his first year he threw for 34 interceptions (still a Denver Bronco’s record) but also became the first QB in NFL or AFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season. Against the Bills he threw for over 447 yards in a game; a Bronco record that stood for over 38 years. Frank had a great personality and was very popular and will always be a part of the AFL lore.
Goose was as tough as nails. In a day and age where the game was so physical, he played in an amazing 61 straight games for the Broncos. He is third all time in the AFL for interceptions with 43 and has the AFL record for most interceptions in a game with 4. Gonsoulin is also still 2nd all time in Denver Broncos history in interceptions only 1 behind leader Steve Foley. He was a 6 time AFL all star and was voted on the AFL’s all time 2nd team.
In his first 6 years with Denver, he had an amazing 43 interceptions, 542 return yards with 2 brought back for touchdowns. A fun loving, true great of the AFL era.
Rich “Tombstone” Jackson:
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. Just another of the all time great players that never got his due. He was way before his time and mastered the head slap and many other moves to the dismay of the NFL.
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. While Deacon Jones got all of the publicity, Jackson quietly tormented opponents. It’s sad he’s never mentioned more.
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. These are players from the AFC West but obviously the AFL had amazing teams and athletes from New York and Buffalo to San Diego. My father talked to me often about the greatness of the AFL. From the Titans and Texans, to the Bills and Raiders, AFL lore has so many amazing players and stories. I hope that we never forget the greatness of the AFL and more and more groups are created to discuss such amazing memories that we enjoyed with our parents and grandparents.
On a warm summer day in Canton, Ohio after the enshrinement ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Oakland Raider owner Al Davis was doing one of his last interviews in public. Looking fragile and using a walker, Mr. Davis was talking to an ESPN reporter when Jerry Jones walked by to say hi and tell people how great Al is. It was obvious that both men could see that time was not an ally of Mr. Davis and they talked accordingly.
“If I have any regrets in life, one of them is not doing enough to get the great Raiders of the past into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We had so many good ones and that has to be fixed. We need to do a better job.”
Let’s face it. Every team has a long list of players that fans want in the Hall of Fame. I think I was reading yesterday that Denver only has 4 players in the HOF. That’s amazing.
I’ve always had the ability to be unbiased about things. Whether it’s politics or sports teams or anything. I’ll be honest about it and be secure in the answer. Let’s face it though; most are very biased and they see what they want. I need to be objective when I look at things to have integrity.
So without further ado, lets do an unbiased look at Raiders that may or may not make the NFL HOF. Let’s first look at the coach and the offense today. Tomorrow we will look at defense.
“If Bill King was in New York, Chicago, or Boston, they would have a statue built of him already”.
Gary Radnich, KNBR Radio
(Please Click on watch on You Tube to watch the above video)
Above is Bill King’s amazingly funny call of the Holy Roller. One of the great calls of all time. I’m going to write an article on Bill King in the future but he really deserves to be in at least 2 Hall of Fames; NBA and NFL. Another west coast snub. Some east coast sports writers don’t even know who he is. NFL films icon Steve Sabol said Bill was his favorite announcer.
Deserves to be in the HOF: YES; A huge one!
Will be Voted into HOF: Doubtful; absolute outrage.
The Raiders didn’t need the Rooney rule. If Al Davis thought you could do the job, he’d hire you. That’s what he felt when he hired Tom Flores to be his head coach.
Tom Flores was a branch off the amazing Sid Gillman coaching tree which is huge and included Al Davis. He won a Championship as an assistant, player (backup to Len Dawson’s 1969 KC Chiefs team) and a coach.
In 12 years of coaching he had 6 winning seasons and 2 Super Bowl wins and was 97-87. He also was 8-3 in post season. A huge issue with voters is in his last 5 years of coaching the Raiders and the Seahawks, he was only 27-52.
This is a tough one and I think the east coast media bias again is hugely an issue. Weeb Ewbank who was a good coach is 1 game over .500 but is in the HOF. He did win 130 games though. Where was his biggest coaching stint? NY Jets and NY players always have an edge with the east coast media.
I’m on the fence to be honest. Tom Flores doesn’t have a lot of wins and he really didn’t do well the last part of his career, but his post season record is stellar. Tough one.
Deserves to be in the HOF: Still Deciding
Will be Voted into HOF: 50/50; maybe
One of the great deep threats of all time. One of the few players that didn’t lose speed with age. Kenny Stabler said in one interview, “We were great. I had a great offensive line, great running backs and receivers. I mean Cliff Branch could out run half the cars in the parking lot.”
John Madden would laugh and say, “Cliff in the early years would tell me during the 3rd quarter to throw to him because he could beat his guy. In about his 6th year we’d be warming up and he’d tell me that Ken needed to throw to him because he knew he could beat his guy. I’d laugh and say Cliff you don’t even know who your guy is yet!”.
When Washington’s Daryl Green hit Cliff in the first Raider play in the Super Bowl to try and intimidate him, Branch smiled and shook his finger back and forth in front of his face. No one could intimidate him or the Raiders.
He has so many clutch catches in big games you can’t count them. His catch and long run for a touchdown in the Sea of Hands game helped turn the game around. It’s almost embarrassing having to prove he belongs in the HOF.
Deserves to be in the HOF: YES, YES, YES
Will be Voted into HOF: Eventually
In a genius move, Al Davis drafted Bo Jackson in the 7th round the year after Bo refused to play for Tampa Bay. He told Bo he could play two sports, something the rest of the league refused to do. Bo Played only 4 years. He never ran for 1000 yards and ended his career with only 2782 yards after a hip injury shortened his career. Although a streaking comet, there isn’t a chance he’s a HOF player.
Deserves to be in the HOF: No Way
Will be Voted into HOF: Not a chance
If you ask someone does Jim Plunkett deserve to be in the HOF and most will say sure, he won two Super Bowls. But lets look at the facts.
Jim Plunkett was NEVER named as an All Pro. He NEVER made a pro bowl and was NEVER considered any where near the best quarterback of his era. In contrast Ken Stabler was voted to the all decade team, was all pro several times, was an MVP and even his competitors say he’s the best QB of that era.
As a starting QB he was only 72-72. He has only 164 touchdowns and 198 interceptions. His lifetime passing % was only 52%. Some like to compare him to Joe Namath and some of the numbers are nearly equal but there are others that aren’t close. Namath was an all pro; 4 time AFL all star; two times Player of the Year; two time MVP and also on the AFL all time team.
Plunkett threw for over 2600 yards in his career only one time and never threw for over 3000 yards. Namath threw for over 2600 yards 6 times; twice throwing for over 3000 yards and once for over 4000 yards which was unheard of at the time.
In the two Super Bowl wins that Jim played in, the defense in 8 quarters allowed only 19 points. Against the Eagles he won the MVP and even he’s admitted Rod Martin; who had the greatest defensive Super Bowl of all time with 3 interceptions; should have been MVP. Plunkett completed only 13 passes for 261 yards with 80 of those yards coming on a short pass and long run by Kenny King. Against Washington, the defense, offensive line and Marcus Allen were the kings of that game. He completed 16 passes for 172 yards in that game. Saying Jim Plunkett won these games isn’t true.
People also forget that he played musical chairs as a starter with Mark Wilson. Both could not hold onto the job sometimes due to injuries and sometimes bad play.
There isn’t a better story than the Plunkett family story and wow is he a great guy. I really like him but he’s not a HOF player in my eyes. You can’t vote someone into the HOF as one of the all time greats when he is not even considered that great in his own era. No pro bowls but a hall of fame? Doesn’t make sense.
Deserves to be in the HOF: No
Will be Voted into HOF: Maybe
Todd Christensen was a son of a scholar and he was extremely smart. Some felt he was arrogant but in reality he was a good guy that just came off as such. Most NFL players didn’t talk like a scholar so he turned people off. It’s sad he’s not remembered more. He died tragically 2 years ago @ the age of 57.
He twice lead the league in catches. In his best year he caught 95 passes for 1153 yards. For a 4 year span he caught 349 catches which at that time was an NFL record. He was the first TE to ever catch 90 passes in 2 consecutive years. Although he may not have played long enough to be a HOF player, he was an excellent Raider and one of the best in the NFL for a 5 year span. RIP.
Deserves to be in the HOF: Maybe
Will be Voted into HOF: Long shot
When you replace a legend like Center Jim Otto, you better be good; Dave Dalby was.
Last year ESPN had a round table talking about who belonged in the Hall of Fame. Two names kept coming up; Jack Tatum and Cliff Branch. Surprisingly another name that came up was Dave Dalby. Tom Jackson especially praised Dalby and said he felt he was a hall of famer.
If you ask Raider players and the fans that he was around, there wasn’t a kinder person. If you are a person of faith, Dave’s story is pretty amazing and you can read below.
He played 14 years without missing a game. He was all pro 1 time and has 3 Super Bowl rings; one as a backup and 2 as a starter. He was the glue of the offensive line of the Raiders after Otto left. Hard to find a more solid center in that period of time.
He died in 2002. He was only 51 and some said he spiraled out of control. Many now feel CTE was partially to blame. He had become addicted to alcohol and struggled a lot after his career. His alcohol level was .15 when he floored his van into a tree. A truly sad ending for a kind Raider who always was willing to help others. I see memories from Raider fans and players online even today. He’s very missed. RIP Dave. And I really mean that.
Deserves to be in the HOF: Maybe
Will be Voted into HOF: Longshot
If there was ever a guy that was born in the wrong decade, it was the “Wiz”. Wisniewski was a rugged player who most considered dirty. He would have fit right into the Raiders of old.
He was an 8 time pro bowler and voted to the 1990’s all decade team. The problem isn’t really with Steve it’s with the era. The Raiders had some lean years during his time and he also played during an era where there were many all time great guards who played. Steve also had a bad reputation for his dirty play which will take a little time to get over. It took a long time for him to even be nominated but I think he’s a HOF player.