Al Davis always talks about the Raiders having the “Greatest Players.” The media guide lists 18 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that does not include Jerry Rice who is going to be inducted in August. We put together a top 15 list of the greatest Raiders.
When Levi and I were discussing how to attack this list, we decided on a few criteria:
- They had to wear Silver and Black for a good portion of their career. Rod Woodson, for example was a great safety and a Hall of Fame selection, but was only a Raider for two years.
- They had to be integral to the “story” of the Oakland Raiders. Just being great wasn’t enough, they had to be part of what made the Raiders the Raiders. There may be some who were better on the field than the guys we have listed, but these guys were more integral to the story of the Raiders.
Without further ado, here is the list:
15) Ben Davidson (1964-71) was big, mean and intimidating. He was a key part of the Raiders’ 11 angry men defense of the late 60s. At 6’8″ he stood head and shoulders over his opposition, he took full advantage and punished opponents. His most notorious hit was a spearing of Len Dawson that led to a classic brawl. Following his playing career, he did some acting where he was known for his stature, as well as his handlebar mustache and gravelly voice.
14) Ted Hendricks (1975-83) was a key part of the Raiders three Super Bowl wins. the “Mad Stork” used his size to go over would be blockers and knock passes down. He also had a knack for getting at the quarterback on blitzes. He is one of the classic Raider stories in that his personality did not fit in with his previous teams, but fit perfectly with the Raiders.
13) Howie Long (1981-1993) He was the Raiders 2nd round draft choice the year following the Raiders win in Super Bowl XV. He would have a career in which he was one of the most feared sack masters in the history of the game. This earned him being named an All-Pro three straight times from 83-85 culminating in being named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 85. He was a Pro Bowler 8 times in his 13 year career including his final two seasons. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He retired in 1993 and is still considered as that last great Raider defensive end.
12) Ray Guy (1973-86) Guy was the template for which all other punters aspired to become. It was Guy’s booming kicks that led the NFL talking heads to start discussing “hang time.” He was also, at one point, accused of putting helium in the ball so it would stay up longer.
11) Gene Upshaw (1967-81) was a wall of a blocker and kept Stabler and Plunkett upright to win two Super Bowls. He was the Highway 63 that running backs ran behind. He was named to the Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility.
10) Rich Gannon (1998-2004) Gannon came into a Raider franchise that was in sore need of a leader. He teamed with Jon Gruden to fuel the Raiders rebirth of the turn of the millenium. His play at quarterback was critical to the Raiders rising out of mediocrity to have their run of three straight AFC West Championships in 2000-3
7) Marcus Allen (1982-92) was the best running back in Raider history. He was the centerpoint of the Raiders offense through the 1980s, and the MVP of their win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. As the Raiders ran through a series of second tier quarterbacks, he kept the Raiders competitive.
8) Jim Plunkett (1978-86) was the classic Raider reclamation project. After being declared a bust in New England and San Francisco, he signed on with the Raiders where he waited on the bench for his chance.When he got that chance, he led the Raiders to their second and third Super Bowl wins and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XV.
7) Cliff Branch (1972-1985) was the quintessential deep threat receiver. When Ken Stabler or Jim Plunkett needed to get the downfield in a hurry, they would call on Branch. Early in the game he would tell Stabler that he could beat the defensive back deep, and he would.
6) Tim Brown (1988-2003) ended his career as the leading receiver in Raider history. The most remarkable aspect of that fact is that he accomplished that feat by catching balls from a rogues gallery of quarterbacks for the bulk of his career.
5) Jack Tatum (1971-79) was the personification of the intensity of the Raiders defense. His desire to obliterate receivers earned him the nickname “The Assassin.” His punishing hits became the template by which all hard hitting safeties have been judged. As he said, “my best hits border on felonious assault.”
4) Fred Biletnikoff (1965-78) defined the term “possession” receiver. He would catch anything thrown in his general direction. He was known for using generous amounts of “stickum” on his hands. He retired as the leading receiver in Raider history and the MVP of Super Bowl XI.
3) Art Shell (1968-82) was part of the Raiders dominant offensive line where he teamed with Upshaw to form an impenetrable wall. In Super Bowl XI he teamed with Upshaw to keep the Vikings’ All Pro defensive lineman Jim Marshall from recording a single tackle. After playing, he went on to become an offensive line coach and head coach for the Raiders.
2) Ken Stabler (1968-79) led the Raiders through bulk of their period of sustained dominance. He had the reputation for late drives to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Other teams feared leaving too much time on the clock with a late score, because they knew that the Snake was going to bring the Raiders back. He was known for his partying off the field. He famously said, “you can study the playbook just as well by the light of the jukebox.”
1) Jim Otto (1960-74) The face in the shield may as well be Mr Otto’s face. He was selected by the Raiders in the inaugural draft and started every game at center for the next 15 years. He was the only All-AFL center the AFL ever knew. After the merger, he was named All-Pro for the next three years. Ultimately he was selected for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Since his retirement he has undergone countless surgeries to correct lingering issues from his playing days including the amputation of one of his legs.
Best of the Rest:
George Blanda (1967-75) although he didn’t play the bulk of his 17 year career with the Raiders, he was integral to the story of the Raiders on the basis of his 1970 miracle season. He joined the Raiders in 67 as a placekicker and back-up quarterback. In ’70 he led the Raiders to five straight last minute come from behind wins or ties. He would go on to win the Associated Press athlete of the year, despite being 43 years old.
Nnamdi Asomugha (2003-present) has the potential to be on this list at some point in the future if he continues his career trajectory. However, as it stands now it is too early to grant him full consideration.
John Matuszak (1976-81) was the embodiment of the 70s Raiders. His disappearance prior to Super Bowl XV coupled with his high level of play in the game was a Tooz signature moment.
Dave Dalby (1972-1985) took over for a legend and didn’t miss a beat. When he retired in 1985, the Raiders had only had two men start at center.
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