Were the Oakland Raiders the Best Team of the 1970s?

David WilsonCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2010

9 Dec 1979:  Quarterback Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders prepares to pass the ball during a game against the Cleveland Browns at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Raiders won the game 19-14. Mandatory Credit: Allsport  /A
Getty Images/Getty Images

The best team of the 70’s?  That was the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t it? 

Like everything else, that opinion is subjective, and one Oakland Raider fan begs to differ.

The 70’s was the Golden Age of Raider football, and no other team in the AFC went the whole decade without a losing season.  In the NFC only Dallas achieved this feat. But the league was different then, not full of "parity" as it is now, and some teams were dominant year in, year out. So it was with the Raiders.

There were no personal conduct policies, no fines for helmet-to-helmet contact on receivers and quarterbacks, and the "hook" was still legal.  Back then the Raiders had a strong identity, they were the renegades of the NFL and whilst they all lived hard, they played like hell on Sunday.

The team everyone loved to hate.

Oakland went to six AFC Championship games between 1971 and 1979. More than Miami and the same as Pittsburgh.

But I hear you, they only went to one Superbowl (which they won), and Pittsburgh won four.

That may be, but let’s examine that a little more closely.

In a 1972 AFC playoff game, Franco Harris picked a last second desperation pass by Terry Bradshaw off his toes after it was deflected by the Steelers Frenchy Farqua, and rumbled 35 yards for the winning score as time expired.

Questions over the legality of the reception (if it hit Farqua then it wasn’t legal), whether Harris caught it before it touched the ground (no camera shot actually shows an angle on which that can be judged), and whether or not Steelers tight end John McMakin illegally blocked Phil Villapiano in pursuit, remain.

In any event, it must be considered an all time freak play whether it was legal or not.  Without it, the Raiders had a good shot to go on and win the Superbowl that year.

A similar story in 1978 AFC Championship game. On Denver’s winning touchdown, Broncos running back Rob Lytle was hit in mid-air on the 2-yard-line by Raiders safety Jack Tatum , and fumbled the ball.

Raiders nose tackle Mike McCoy recovered the loose ball and would have returned it for an easy touchdown, but the play was blown dead by an official on the opposite side of the field. The officials ruled that Lytle was stopped before he fumbled, even though replays clearly showed the ball was knocked free while the play was still live.

Sometime later the NFL admitted its mistake and apologized to the Raiders, but that really means nothing compared to the chance to compete for a championship when your team was at its peak.    

Another Superbowl that Oakland should have been in, and weren’t.

We remember the disgraceful state of the frozen turf at Three Rivers Stadium in 1974 when the league took no action.

Why?  Because the league hated Al Davis and his Raiders, and hates them still.

We know that Kenny Stabler belongs in the Hall of Fame.  He led the Raiders to five consecutive AFC Championship games (and one with the Oilers), and had a far better career percentage of completed passes than Terry Bradshaw did.  Stabler was not just a great quarterback, but a true leader of men.

We know Cliff Branch belongs there too.  He had far more receptions and as many touchdowns as Bob Hayes and Lynn Swann.  He won three Super Bowls and caught touchdowns in two of them.

We know Jack Tatum hit harder than any other safety ever to play the game.  What is defensive football about if not hitting?  He also intercepted 37 passes in his 10 years in the league and was an underrated pass defender.

But they won’t let Jack Tatum in the Hall of Fame because of a legal hit he made on Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley.

We had other great players who never received the credit they deserved, like Phil Villapiano and Clarence Davis.

The Raiders of the 70’s were a team that performed to the highest level every year.

We know all these things, and while the history books might not show that the Raiders won as many Championships as the Steelers or the Dolphins, we know which team was the best.

We know, and we remember, because we are the Raider Nation

Silver and Black forever