This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
‘The Autumn Wind is a Pirate…’
‘His face is weather beaten’
‘He wears a hooded sash’
‘Pillaging just for fun’
‘He’ll knock you around and upside down’
‘And laugh when he’s conquered and won’
Yes, the Oakland Raiders have helped make NFL Films compelling over the years. And the Raiders make for the most intriguing edition of all for Ultimate Franchise Player.
Out of the NFL Network’s All-Time Top 100 list, no less than seven involve players who spent the majority of their careers with the Raiders.
They are ranked #49, #56, #63, #66, #78, #83, and #85. The list includes three offensive lineman, a running back, an outside linebacker, and two defensive backs.
The stunner is no Raiders are ranked within the top-48. There is not that single signature player who is the true all-time face of the franchise.
True, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson, Ronnie Lott, and Roger Craig all spent time with the Raiders late in their careers, and Randy Moss is all-time 100 as well, but they are not included among the Raiders’ lifers.
What is amazing is the all-time Raiders greats and Hall of Famers who are not on the NFL’s top 100 list.
Over the decades, the Raiders have come to represent an image even more than the Oakland area, though they were religiously followed even during the franchise’s 13-year hiatus in Los Angeles.
Incidentally, it was amazing how many announcers slipped and said Oakland during Raiders games at that time. When the team returned to Oakland, no one slipped with ‘Los Angeles’ on-air.
You will not see many current or recent Raiders on the upcoming list considering how far (4-12, 5-11, 4-12, 2-14, 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 8-8, 8-8, 4-12) the franchise has fallen in the last decade.
It’s time to start the countdown, until I throw the final six candidates into my personal ‘elimination chamber’…
40. Pete Banaszak (RB 1966-78)
When discussing Raiders history, is there anywhere better to discuss than the event of September 10, 1978?
The San Diego Chargers were about to announce themselves as a new factor in the AFC West and send the Raiders to an 0-2 start. On the final play of the game, QB Kenny Stabler was in the process of being sacked when the ball magically fumbled ten yards forward.
Stabler, Banaszak, and Dave Casper wound up parlaying three knock-ons to 25 yards of forward progress, with Casper ultimately covering the ball in the end zone for a game-winning Raiders touchdown.
‘(Madden) wants to know if it’s real?? They said yes, get your big fat butt out of here, he does!!’
‘There’s nothing real in the world anymore. The Raiders have won this football game. This one will be relived…FOREVER!!!’
Did I ever say Bill King was the best radio broadcaster … ever?
As for Banaszak, he played 13 seasons in the league and was born in Crivitz, Wisconsin, part of a surprising Wisconsin representation in Raiders lore.
39. John Matuszak (DE 1976-82)
Combine 6’8” 280 lbs with a ferocious personality and you have one of the most intimidating presences in NFL history, and the all-time poster child of the Raiders hell-raising image.
The Milwaukee-born ‘Tooz” actually bounced around several organizations before landing with the Raiders. He was drafted by the Houston Oilers, but he breached his contract trying to moonlight with a short-lived WFL team that was in town at the time.
Matuszak is remembered as one of the all-time ‘bad boys’ in league history, but he was also part of two Super Bowl champions. Tooz was known for his partying and drug use, and he died at age 38 after what was determined as an accidental overdose.
One of the greatest NFL games ever played was the 1974 AFC Divisional playoff between the Dolphins and Raiders at the Alameda County Coliseum.
The game started with a Dolphins opening kickoff return for a touchdown, and it ended with Ken Stabler shot-putting a pass while halfway down, going through a million hands, and being caught for a touchdown by Clarence Davis.
The images of that game, including someone with a sideline pass celebrating on the sideline (right), remain embedded in NFL Films lore, along with the NBC call of Curt Goudy and Al DeRogatis.
At the time, this was considered the game that would determine the Super Bowl champion that year, although no one told the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won in Oakland the following week.
37. Ray Guy (P 1973-86)
I feel shortchanged not putting Ray Guy higher on this list.
Nearly two generations later, Guy is still talked about in culture. There may be current punters that are statistically every bit as good, but Guy defined the position as the lone first round punter in NFL Draft history.
A perennial All-Pro throughout the 70s and into the 80s, Guy gave berth to the term ‘hang time’ in judging NFL punters. One of his more iconic moments was hitting the six-sided video boards that hung over the Louisiana Superdome during a Pro Bowl game.
On the list of players who have been snubbed for Hall of Fame election to this point, Guy remains near the top of the list. When the NFL had patches on players’ uniforms commemorating the 50th anniversary of the HOF during the 2012 season, controversial Vikings punter Chris Kluwe put masking tape over that patch with the message ‘Vote Ray Guy in.’ Well played on Kluwe’s part.
36. George Blanda (QB/K 1968-75, HOF)
More memorable Bill King lines…
‘The odds against this have to be 63 million to a half…’
‘GEORGE BLANDA HAS JUST BEEN ELECTED KING OF THE WORLD!!!’
One of my fondest memories as a child was opening up a pack of trading cards and coming across George Blanda. I flipped over to the back to see nearly 25 years of statistics in VERY small font, dating all the way back to 1949.
‘Geez, he was playing before they even wore facemasks!!’, I thought in sheer wonder.
Blanda had a nice initial ten-year run with the Chicago Bears. He started at QB for a while, played some linebacker, and handled the placekicking. When George Halas sent him his walking papers, it appeared to mark the end of a modest but decent decade-long career.
Then the American Football League was formed, and Blanda found a team in need of a quarterback with the Houston Oilers. He lasted there for seven years while putting up some prolific early-AFL passing numbers.
At age 40, it appeared time for Blanda to call it a nice lengthy career when the Raiders came calling, and his status suddenly became legendary.
Blanda was actually cut during training camp in 1970, but he was brought back. During an amazing five-game run that season, he led the Raiders to four victories and a tie, either rallying the team replacing an injured Daryle Lamonica at quarterback, and/or with the last-second field goal, including a game-tying 48-yarder at Kansas City and a 53-yarder a couple weeks later. Blanda wound up seeing action at QB in the AFC Championship game that year, where he performed reasonably well.
Blanda stayed with the team through 1975, when he was age 48.
In all, his career lasted 27 seasons and his marriage lasted 60+ years until his passing in 2010.
35. Don Mosebar (C 1983-95)
For the first 35+ years of team history, the Raiders were set at center with only three men: Mosebar; Dave Dalby (1972-85), the original Raiders center who comes later in the countdown; and also don’t forget Barrett Robbins later on, who also performed at an elite level before falling to mental health issues.
34. Otis Sistrunk (DE 1972-78)
Yet another Raider with Wisconsin-ties.
The ‘University of Mars’ label always seemed much degrading to him. Sistrunk enlisted with the United States Marines after graduating from high school, before going to work at a Milwaukee meat-packing plant. Playing for a semi-pro team in West Allis, Sistrunk was discovered by the Los Angeles Rams and the shaven-head lineman eventually matriculated to the Raiders.
A team program listed his university as ‘U.S. Mars’ (short for Marines), which led to Alex Karras forever coining his ‘alma mater’ during a Monday Night telecast.
33. Chester McGlockton (DT 1992-97)
Weighing in at nearly 350 lbs, McGlockton was a 16th overall pick in the NFL Draft and controlled the middle of the defensive line, earning three All-Pro selections during his time with the Raiders.
Post-career, McGlockton became an assistant under David Shaw at the University of Stanford until he passed away unexpectedly in 2011.
32. Matt Millen (ILB 1980-89)
Much of his legacy now centers around his current broadcasting work and his infamous run as Detroit Lions general manager. But also realize Matt Millen was a pretty decent linebacker.
In all, Millen was part of Super Bowl Champions in four different cities during his career: the Oakland Raiders, the Los Angeles Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Washington Redskins.
31. Nnamdi Asomugha (CB 2003-10)
The most current Raider on the list, Nnamdi reached Pro Bowl-level in his final three years with the team before signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Opposing teams rarely challenged him after picking off eight passes in 2006.
30. Greg Townsend (DE 1983-93, 1997)
He gets lost in the shuffle in the team’s annals. Townsend’s 11-year tenure covered most of the team’s L.A. Coliseum era.
Townsend earned Pro Bowl recognition four times. He also finished his career with 109.5 sacks. His son is currently in the USC football program.
29. Lincoln Kennedy (OT 1996-2003)
A highly touted top-ten overall pick, Kennedy bombed out with the Atlanta Falcons before becoming a classic Oakland reclamation project. Lincoln became a three-time Pro Bowl selection by the time his career was through.
28. Ben Davidson (DE 1964-71)
Another of the more intimidating players in pro football history, Ben Davidson checked in at 6’8”, 275 lbs, with a handlebar mustache. It was Davidson’s late hit on Len Dawson during a 1970 game that sparked a ‘free for all’ and resulted in off-setting penalties (under rules of the day it was not a post-play foul), which ultimately affected the outcome of the game and the AFC West race for that year.
27. Dave Casper (TE 1974-80, HOF)
Ghost to the post – a 42-yard catch late in regulation time that led to a game-tying field goal in a playoff game in Baltimore in 1977. Casper eventually ended the game with a 10-yard TD catch in double OT. And yes, Casper also had Wisconsin ties, as he played his high school ball up north in Chilton.
I was fully expecting Casper to be ranked much higher, as he was one of the top tight ends in the game at his peak and a Pro Bowler from 1976-80. But his tenure with the team was relatively short. He eventually was traded to the Oilers during the 1980 season, and his career production waned after that.
26. Daryle Lamonica (QB 1967-74)
What Al Davis would famously refer to as the ‘vertical game’ started with Lamonica’s tenure with the club. His number 3 would be reprised by future Raider QBs Jeff George and Carson Palmer (in a unique twist, the organization does not retire numbers).
In his first year in Oakland, Lamonica threw 30 TD passes, leading the Raiders to its lone AFL Championship.
25. Charles Woodson (CB 1998-2004)
Woodson has to be slotted somewhere.
The 1997 Heisman winner earned Pro Bowl honors in each of his first four years in the NFL, and he and Tom Brady will forever be frozen in pro football history. Woodson’s play slipped his final couple years with the Raiders due to injury and clashing with coach Bill Callahan.
24. George Atkinson (SS 1968-77)
Google up ‘criminal element of pro football’, and you will see Atkinson’s name, which was coined by Steelers coach Chuck Noll after George twice knocked Lynn Swann out of games during the midst of the mid-1970s Steelers-Raiders rivalry.
23. Henry Lawrence (OT 1974-86)
Gets overshadowed by some of the other O-line greats in franchise history, but Lawrence had a solid 13-year career that included two Pro Bowls.
22. Terry McDaniel (CB 1988-97)
An original top-ten overall pick, McDaniel earned four consecutive All-Pro selections at the height of his career. He took six of his 35 career interceptions to the house.
21. Phil Villapiano (ILB 1971-79)
Villapiano was a fixture on the Raiders defense throughout the 1970s, earning four Pro Bowl selections at his career peak.
20. Jack Tatum (S 1971-79)
Tatum himself was once quoted as saying that he felt that his best hits bordered on ‘felonious assault’.
In no particular order, Jack is best remembered for:
- Paralyzing Darryl Stingley in a pre-season game and the aftermath (reportedly never visiting or apologizing to Stingley)
- His near-decapitation of Sammy White in Super Bowl XI
- His involvement on the wrong end of the Immaculate Recpetion, where he may or may not have made contact with the football while colliding with Frenchy Fuqua
- Getting plowed over by Earl Campbell on the goal line on Monday Night football in what is still one of the most vicious collisions in history.
My first memory of Tatum was returning a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown in Green Bay in 1972, which still stands as a league record.
19. Rich Gannon (QB 1999-2004)
Gannon had a nice journeyman-like tenure with the Vikings and Chiefs, but he totally blew up late in his career with the Raiders. A perfect fit for Jon Gruden’s West Coast Offense, Gannon was named All-Pro three times and was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for 2002 after throwing for nearly 4,700 yards.
Gannon’s career ended with a neck injury after colliding with Tampa Bay’s Derrick Brooks in 2004. Gannon goes down as the second-best University of Delaware QB in history (the top ever Blue Hens quarterback just got an enormous contract from the Baltimore Ravens).
18. Todd Christensen (TE 1979-88)
TC bounced around a couple of NFL rosters before landing a special teams slot on the Raiders, a role in which he appeared in Super Bowl XV. By the mid-1980s Todd was catching 90+ passes per season and went over 1,000 yards receiving three times.
Then it was on to American Gladiators and working alongside Charlie Jones and other post-football ventures.
17. Rod Martin (OLB 1977-88)
Just what he did on football’s biggest stage in Super Bowl XV (three picks, but NOT game’s MVP) is enough to get Rod high on this list. But his overall body of work over 12 seasons was also strong, and he also had a huge game in the Raiders Super Bowl XVIII win.
16. Lester Hayes (CB 1977-86)
Lester seemed like such a mystery, between the stickum fetish and the speech problem that made him seem quiet to teammates and the media for much of his career.
His 13 interceptions in 1980 led the NFL to put a league-wide ban on stickum. Even without the goo, Hayes was very much effective, and the work between he and Mike Haynes left the high-powered Washington offense a non-factor in SB18.
15. Bo Jackson (RB 1987-90)
He only played 39 games in his career, but I’m putting Bo this high on the list.
That’s just how damn good he was.
There is virtually no video footage of Jim Thorpe, so no one can really judge how good he was. But in the last 50 years there is no doubt that Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete in sports.
As a part-timer playing pro football as a ‘hobby’ (after choosing the Kansas City Royals over being sentenced to the Tampa Bay Bucs), Bo had runs of 88, 91, and 92 yards. His career ending knee injury in a 1990 playoff games remains one of the most heartbreaking moments in sports.
Between his football and baseball exploits (breaking the bat over his head, climbing up the outfield wall), Bo remains one of the most fascinating subjects of most people’s lifetime.
How great a legacy would be talking about if it wasn’t for this fateful day, when no one had a clue on just how serious his injury was.
14. Jim Plunkett (QB 1978-86)
He was supposed to be the savior of the New England Patriots franchise as the top overall pick of the 1971 Draft. After washing out with both the Pats and later San Francisco 49ers, Plunkett would prove what he could do with talent surrounding him, leading the Raiders to their Super Bowl 15 and 18 Championships.
With Plunkett as QB, the Raiders had a 38-19 regular season record.
13. Cliff Branch (WR 1973-86)
Branch was one of the fastest receivers in the game and a member of all three Raiders World Championship teams. He caught a 99-yard TD pass against the Redskins in the teams’ 1983 regular season meeting.
So what keeps Branch from even cracking my top-10? Well, he made the Pro Bowl ‘only’ four times (in the mid-70s) and was only a two-time HOF semi-finalist. That leaves Cliff short of mixing it up with the big boys on this star-studded list, despite a Donald Driver-like lengthy career.
12. Steve Wisniewski (OG 1989-2001)
An eight-time Pro Bowler and an all-1990s selection who started 206 of a possible games for the Silver and Black during his 13 seasons. And he’s not in the top ten??
Lone knock is lack of a yellow jacket for one of the Raiders more recent stars.
11. Howie Long (DE 1981-93, HOF)
Eight Pro Bowl selections and a Hall of Famer, and Howie hits the rails at number 11?? Long only gets dinged by his relatively low #295 RPI on the Pro Football Reference EloRater. He also only had three double-digit sack years, the last of which in his fifth year in the league.
I realize I’m being way too picky here.
10. Ken Stabler (QB 1970-79)
His time as Raiders starter was not all that long, only from 1973-79. But during that time he became the most accurate passer in the game, completing exactly two-thirds of his passes on the Raiders team that finished 16-1 in 1976.
His running ability was under-rated. He scored a would-be winning touchdown in the 1972 Divisional Playoff game in Pittsburgh that put the Raiders ahead 7-6. Old fans of the Alabama/Auburn rivalry also remember him scoring a famous TD run in the mud during the mid 1960s.
Stabler would throw 25+ TDs on three occasions during his Oakland career.
9. Mike Haynes (CB 1983-89, HOF)
The first of the NFL Top 100 players to go here. Haynes is actually the highest ranked player who spent a significant portion of his career with the Raiders, being ranked 49.
Haynes doesn’t get ranked higher here only because he spent just seven of his 14 years with the Raiders, and he was actually slightly better in his New England days.
8. Fred Belitnikoff (WR 1965-78, HOF)
The tattered jersey and the stickum hands remain iconic in Raiders history. He never caught more than 61 passes in a season, but he does have the Super Bowl 11 MVP trophy.
His legacy remains in the college football world as the top receiver wins the ‘Belitnikoff Award’ on an annual basis.
7. Tim Brown (WR 1988-2003)
Despite catching over 1,000 passes as a Raider after winning the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame, Tim Brown is amazingly not only not one of my six finalists, but he does not have a Hall of Fame nomination as of yet, although he has been a four-time finalist in 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13.
Brown recently ruffled some feathers with some allegations towards former coach Bill Callahan regarding his ill-fated game plan for Super Bowl 37.
The Raiders UFP Elimination Chamber
Six Raiders greats battle it out. They are…
Ted Hendricks (OLB 1975-83, HOF)
The man with all the masks, who had more knowledge on the opposition while wasted than most players stone cold sober. Ranked #82 on the NFL Network list and #16 on the Pro Football Reference EloRater.
Art Shell (OT 1968-82, HOF)
Not only earned eight Pro Bowl selections in nine years, but he also had two tours of duty as Head Coach of the Raiders. Ranked #76 on the NFL Network list.
Willie Brown (CB 1967-78, HOF)
The close-up zooming in on Brown returning the dagger Pick-6 in the late afternoon sun at the Rose Bowl in Super Bowl 11 remains one of NFL Films’ most timeless clips. You may not know Willie actually played the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos.
The NFL Network list has him at #66, while the 1999 Sporting News all-time list has Brown at #50, the highest ranking of a Raiders player.
Marcus Allen (RB 1982-92, HOF)
He only had one enormous season, accounting for over 2,300 yards from scrimmage in 1985. But that incredible performance in Super Bowl 18 must be factored in as well. Marcus was ranked #85 on the NFL Top 100 list.
Jim Otto (C 1960-74, HOF)
If the face on the Raiders helmet was Otto himself I would not be surprised. Otto is the lone Original Raider of my top-40, going all the way back to when the team wore non-descript black and gold (yup, it wasn’t always silver and black).
Born and raised in Wausau, WI, Otto remains iconic with his perennially broken nose playing the brutal position of center with just a double-barred facemask. Otto paid the price, ultimately needing close to 40 surgeries during and after his playing days. Otto ultimately had several knee replacements before having a leg amputated. Fittingly, he now sports a silver/black prosthetic.
Ranked #63 on the NFL Network list, Otto arguably remains Mr. Raider.
Gene Upshaw (OG 1967-81)
More recently remembered for leading the NFL Players Association, Upshaw is one of only three players in league history to play in Super Bowls in three different decades,. He was an intimidating figure with his arms bandaged like a mummy, complete with a taped thumb he used as a weapon. Upshaw is ranked #56 on the NFL Top 100 list.
Raiders Ultimate Franchise Player Selection
Ted Hendricks is first to be kicked out of the elimination chamber, only because he just spent nine of his 15 years as a Raider. Art Shell gets kicked out only because he takes a very slight backseat to Gene Upshaw.
Willie Brown is not quite #1 material, and I have Jim Otto hitting the rails at number three.
That leaves Gene Upshaw and Marcus Allen.
Upshaw would be the safe pick as number one, and he is considered the franchises best by many.
I’m going to slot GU a close second.
Even though Al Davis sabotaged the end of his Oakland career (along with the presence of Bo Jackson), I am going to go with the player who ultimately ended his career sixth on the all-time list with 145 touchdowns.
My feeling is that if I don’t get this player in with an automatic bid as the Raiders UFP, I may not be able to get him into my final UFP field as an at-large player.
For that reason, my selection as Raiders Ultimate Franchise Player is…