Five Best NFL Teams of the Energy Crisis Era: 1976-1981

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Five Best NFL Teams of the Energy Crisis Era: 1976-1981

 

In my first two or three years of college (beer and poker...I think I lost a semester), I studied psychology, hoping someday to become a counselor. 

Yeah, right.

After seriously evaluating my life, I determined I should be on the weird side of that desk.

Seeing a counselor was the route to go after I decided drop out of psych (easy) and become an engineer (masochistic).  Engineering jobs were not difficult to find then, but to get that job I would have to subject my brain and body to the most difficult four-year course of study at any university.

Considering that I had trouble with simpler courses of study, this engineering thing was crazy.

Crazy, but maybe good crazy.  In the Energy Crisis Era of 1976-1981 the prospects for engineering careers grew exponentially as the price of gasoline jumped up.  I couldn't pay to fill up my ride in 1979, but by May 1981, I would be looking for a solution to the crisis.  That's a couple of years of supreme sacrifice, then I get to save the world.

Speaking of sacrifice, President Jimmy Carter (pictured, looking solemn, as always) tried to convince us we were in a state of malaise (his word for “I’m whining”) that had warped our lives.  To urge us to move on, he told us to fight a "moral equivalent of war" against high crude oil prices.

Say what?

Iranians and Soviets and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow flummoxed him enough, so what’s with this war thing?  With his brand of paranoia, Carter was just about as Nixonian as any president can get. 

No way he should have been in the job.

It's not healthy for one's political future to demand sacrifice from Americans.  This is the land of plenty, we said to the peanut farmer, and you, sir, not us, but you fix the buck fifty we're paying for a gallon of gasoline ($4 in 2010 dollars).  Fixing things, that's why you told us you ran for president.

While you're at it, stop using phrases like "crisis of confidence."  You're frightening us.

So, there you go again, Mr. President, and there you go out of the White House because you've grossly mismanaged energy and the hostages in Iran, especially the doomed-from-the-start hostage rescue.  That's not to mention the boycott of the peaceful summer Olympics.  Tell me in 20 words or less why that made sense. 

You've been replaced by a Hollywood actor who can’t even spell malaise.  He urged us to be confident, and enjoy life.  Everything will be fine.  We're winners, the actor said, and winners win.

It's morning in America, said Ronald Reagan, and if you don't believe him, go up to his shining city on the hill and you'll see it.

*****

Dealing with these mixed messages required more entertainment and much more catharsis.  In the years 1976 through 1981, I gave the NFL the best Sundays of my life.  I enjoyed the Steelers and the Raiders and the Cowboys and the 49ers, transforming from just a dude making late night beer runs to a magna cum laude dude making late night beer runs.

I got married in that energy crisis with a lot of confidence.   I was good at school after all.  And there I was, convincing my new bride that we will be more than comfortable since I was going to make engineering buku US dollars.  It most certainly was morning in my America.

The five best NFL teams in the Energy Crisis Era are:

 

5. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers - 11-5

It is Pittsburgh Steelers franchise lore, backed up by a couple of Internet articles I've read on the Steelers' web site and by word of mouth, that the 1976 Steelers are among many fans', as well as the Rooney family's, favorite Steelers teams in the over 75 year history.

On the surface, that has to be difficult to say because:

The '76 team began the season at 1-4.

They were pummeled by the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship game.

The 1976 Steelers thereby did not play in the Super Bowl as seven Pittsburgh teams have.

The '76 squad failed at their mission to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. 

Most Americans think the objective of the game is to win.  That's the way I always heard it should be, and...

The 1976 Steelers lost five games.  Doesn't that suck?

Well, losing five games does suck, if your team is just an ordinary 11-5 NFL team trying to play NFL championship football.  But, the '76 Steelers lost five games in a very special way.

First, there was that 1-4 start.  That's a big hole to dig yourself into.  Additionally, the fifth game was against the evil Browns in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  Tough room, especially when Browns' defensive lineman Joe "Turkey" Jones breaks free, grabs Terry Bradshaw like a spear, and impales the turf with his head. 

That's not your ordinary sack, considering Bradshaw laid on the ground twitching uncontrollably.  Those who watched it live, including me, feared for the damage Turkey did to the quarterback's head, brain, neck, and spine.

Bradshaw was out six weeks recovering as backup QB Mike Kruczek filled in admirably.  The rookie led the Steelers to a 6-0 record working a conservative passing attack behind the strong running of Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris.

In 14 games, Bleier and Harris both rushed for over 1,000 yards, the second pair of backs from the same team in history to hit that number, with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris of the 1972 Miami Dolphins doing it first.

A bruising ground game has always been and always will be the backbone of Pittsburgh Steelers football.  So is a crushing defense.  That passion for big D could be the reason '76 Pittsburgh is held in high esteem.

The 1976 Steelers defense is best judged by looking at points allowed.  Over that season, Pittsburgh held their opponents to less than 10 points per game.  Now, that's awesome by itself, but when you look at the opening 1-4 stretch during which the Steelers were playing like really bad, Pittsburgh gave up 22 points per game.

The significance of that is in the remaining nine games, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Joe Greene, and company throttled their opponents for an amazing total of 28 points, just over three points per game.

It doesn't get much more incredible than that, but you also must consider how these really frightening men did it. 

Like this: during the 9-0 run Pittsburgh pulled off, the defense laid down 22 consecutive quarters in which they did not allow a touchdown.

But, wait. It gets better.  Within that no-TDs-allowed streak, the 1976 Steelers defense played 15 straight quarters of shutout ball. 

Five games of the nine were shutouts.  In three others, no Steelers' foe crossed the goal line. I know the league offices prefer points, but give me Steel Curtain defense any day.

Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris were injured in the Divisional Playoff victory against the Baltimore Colts.  With that very important aspect of the Steeler gameplan taken away, 1976 Pittsburgh didn't have a prayer against the 14-1 Oakland Raiders.

They fought with determination and grit and helmet-cracking hard hitting.  In the end, the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't overcome injuries and just didn't make it happen.

Maybe now we can see that in the Bicentennial year, the Rooneys fielded a Steelers team that honored the soldiers of the American Revolution.  

It is difficult not to like the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

4. 1981 San Francisco 49ers - 16-3

They're the 49ers team that began the calendar year 1981 precariously by losing two on the road out of the first three games.  Then the second game of calendar year 1982 the Niners finished of the NFC famously with a fourth-quarter winning drive for the history books at Candlestick...against the mighty Dallas Cowboys. 

It was the drive that ended with The Catch.  The Catch, a six-yarder from first-year starting quarterback Joe Montana to receiver Dwight Clark, wasn't a catch quite like those made by acrobats Lynn Swann or Paul Warfield.  But, the use here of the phrase The Catch is definitely not a misnomer and is most appropriate.

The Catch was a jumping grab with fingertip control, as Clark found a way to stop a Montana pass the quarterback threw off his back foot, looking as if it had been just pitched through the end zone. 

I’d say Joe Montana would never throw a third down pass anywhere near through the end zone. Doesn’t matter.  The Catch will forever be The Catch.   

That's the technical discussion of The Catch.

The real significance of The Catch is that it signified The Changing of The Guard.  It was like John F. Kennedy getting elected, Vatican II, Neil Armstrong on the moon, the Beatles splitting up, and US ice hockey beating the Soviet Union team at Lake Placid.

Okay.  Maybe The Catch was not as important as all those events, unless you're a diehard Bay Area 49ers fan.  At least call it US ice hockey and possibly as earthshaking as the Pope telling you it is no longer necessary to fast before the sacrament of communion.

Regardless, this Changing was out with the old—America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys—that during the 1970s ruled the NFL and the hearts of the football fans from sea to shining sea.  Ten Super Bowls were played in that decade. Dallas played tight in three losses, and winning two by a large margin.

The Changing also was in with the new—the Niners, the San Francisco 49ers—with the handsome, magical quarterback Joe Montana, receivers such as the possession artist Dwight Clark and downfield specialist Freddie Solomon, and a hard-nosed defense with linebacker "Hacksaw" Reynolds, sack man Fred Dean, and two rookie defensive backs, hitman Ronnie Lott and coverman Eric Wright.

Niners head coach Bill Walsh showed up in the very hip city of San Francisco a couple years earlier with an offense that would soon be given the cool moniker West Coast Offense.  As hip and cool as anything called West Coast sounds, it's rather rich irony that Walsh developed the philosophy in a most dullsville Midwestern town called Cincinnati.

Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson was the first laboratory animal on whom Walsh tried the system.  It is interesting that a QB who honed his skills at the evangelical Augustana College in Illinois was the prototype for the West Coast Offense. 

I mean, Walsh should have taken one look at Joe Montana and said, "Son, let's get together and make the West Coast Offense!"

That's what the world thinks happened, and a Walsh/Montana "ah-ha!" moment makes for better Hollywood, so…well…

The West Coast Offense as Bill Walsh applied it is a ball control offense.  As you well know, traditional professional football ball control thought uses the run between the ends to set up the pass. 

Walsh passed to obtain ball control, using high-probability outs, a la Kansas City in Super Bowl IV, and other horizontal plays to spread the defense, making that unit defend all 54 yards of width. 

From there, the West Coast Offense can run and pass vertically.  If that West Coast Offense has Joe Montana as the triggerman, it can do anything horizontally and vertically and really piss off the 49ers hater in you.

In Super Bowl XVI, San Francisco met the Cincinnati Bengals, a 12-4 team that like the 49ers in 1980 launched from last place in their division.  The game was played in Pontiac, Michigan, which like the football teams of the 49ers and the Bengals was also trying to find its way back from last place as an automobile town in the 1981 recession.

Pontiac, a suburb of Detroit and a town that harbors snow most of the winter, was the first cold weather location to host the NFL’s big showcase.  Those attending got their frozen money’s worth.

Joe Montana put the Niners in the lead 20-0 at the half, running for one TD, passing to fullback Earl Cooper for another, and setting kicker Ray Wersching up for two chip shots.

Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson, Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense protégé, ran a touchdown in from the five in the third quarter and threw two touchdown passes to tight end Dan Ross to match two Wersching field goals in the fourth.

Forget all the running and passing.  Here’s what was significant.  At 20-7 San Francisco late in the third, the 49ers held on to its lead as the defense stopped the Bengals offense four times on the San Francisco goal line.  That goal line stand spelled the difference between Lombardi and no Lombardi for San Francisco.

As the Super Bowl is often offense-dominated, the 49ers matched the 1971 VI Cowboys, the 1972 VII Dolphins and the 1968 III Jets in their ability to force turnovers (five total takeaways against Cincinnati) as well as build the wall when it counted.

One can only look back to when a dynasty was created after the dynasty has been going for some time.  With the win in XIX over Miami, the victory in XXIII again against Cincinnati, and XXIV’s demolition of Denver, one would think The Catch got the 49ers going.

It did, in part.  But, I’m the defense guy.  Offense sells tickets.  Defense wins championships. San Francisco—even with all the vital contributions from Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon, and Randy Cross and the o-line—has a 49er dynasty that was also built by the goal line stand in XVI.

 

3. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers - 17-2

 

After the injury-plagued almosts of the 1976 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers redoubled their efforts in 1977. They finished with a barely acceptable 9-5 record, albeit falling on the road to eventual Super Bowl loser Denver. The Broncos beat the Steelers decisively, then got spanked by an outstanding Dallas Cowboys team.

That’s not a good way to end the season, for either AFC team. The men in gold and black were longing for the halcyon days before the Bicentennial. That nectar of winning Pittsburgh tasted in 1974 and 1975 still lined their pallets. After the disappointments of ’76 and ’77, the year 1978 was the season to get it back.

And did they ever.

It was the first year in which the NFL lengthened the season to 16 games. The 1978 Steelers took full advantage of that by winning 14 games, losing only two. The deeply hated division rival Houston Oilers won by a touchdown 24-17 at Three Rivers and the Los Angeles Rams pulled it out in a 10-7 low scoring affair at the Coliseum.

In the season including the playoffs, ‘78 Pittsburgh put together two impressive winning streaks. They took off on the slate with a 7-0 record before losing on Monday night to Houston. Coming back after dropping the road game to the Rams, the Steelers won five straight, then two in the playoffs and the Super Bowl to finish with an 8-0 rally.

One has to give much credit to the Steel Curtain defense for the 17 wins. Linebacker Jack Ham was named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press . Mel Blount on the corner was an AP Second Team selection.

In addition, the Steelers defense was represented in the Pro Bowl by d-linemen “Mean” Joe Greene and LC Greenwood, linebacker Jack Lambert (what complete badass beat him out for All-Pro?), and safety Donnie Shell.

Pittsburgh’s 1978 defense allowed only 12.2 points per game. They registered four games during the season in which the opponent was denied a touchdown. In the two playoff games, the Steel Curtain allowed only one TD and 15 total points.

The only offenses to really run up the tally on The Curtain were Bum Phillip’s Houston Oilers (24 points in the Steelers loss), the following week in Pittsburgh with the Kansas City Chiefs (24 points in a Steelers win), and Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl opponent, the Dallas Cowboys (24 offensive points).

The 1978 season’s Super Bowl, designated Super Bowl XIII, is considered by some football writers and maybe more fans as the first Super Bowl Sunday that was a national holiday. For the first time, the game had the feel of a battle of Roman gladiators.

Very few football fans didn’t have an opinion (thumbs up or thumbs down), as even the most casual sports fan was attracted to the game.

Certainly, sports bookmakers watched this Super Bowl with great interest. The line for the game opened up at Pittsburgh minus 3-1/2, then moved to Pittsburgh minus 4-1/2. That means if the Steelers were to win by four, which of course is now dramatic irony, the bookies would have to dig deep (read: lose a lot of money) to pay all the winners.

When you include all that plus the fact that both Pittsburgh and Dallas are two-time Super Bowl winners, NBC could count on a lot of folks tuning in sure to get a good one.

They did. Terry Bradshaw opened up with a 28 yard touchdown pass to wideout John Stallworth. The Cowboys’ Roger Staubach struck back with a 39 yarder to receiver Tony Hill.

At 7-7 in the second, Bradshaw uncharacteristically lost the handle on the ball while dropping back to pass. He seemed lucky as he but picked it up and continued to backpedal while looking for the open man. Steelers’ fans least favorite Cowboy, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, rushed in to strip the ball from Bradshaw. Dallas’ Mike Hegman, then Pittsburgh’s second least favorite Cowboy, scooped it up and ran it back 37 yards for a TD.

Bradshaw’s troubles were mollified somewhat by two touchdown passes before the half, a 75 yard catch and run by Stallworth and a seven yarder to fullback Rocky Bleier.

It was 21-14 at intermission, but Pittsburgh did not feel like they had the lead, any comfort, or any advantage.

Nor did Dallas.

Defenses took over in the third, forcing the respective offenses to trade punts a couple of times. At 7:31 remaining in the third on the Steelers 42 , Staubach began a drive through Pittsburgh territory.

Staubach overthrew tight end Billy Joe DuPree on first down at the Steelers 17. Tony Dorsett burst through the middle to the 10, setting up one of the most infamous, heartwrenching plays in Super Bowl history.

Tight end Jackie Smith, a former St. Louis Cardinal and a future Hall of Famer, was coaxed out of retirement by Dallas for the playoffs to alleviate injury issues. On third down, Smith ran his route and was wide, wide open over the middle in the end zone.

Staubach hummed the pass, to Smith, somewhat low.

Smith had it, and had it, and then he didn’t have it, a touchdown reception dropped. The Cowboys had to settle for a 27-yard field goal and a four-point deficit that could have been a tie with a different tone.

Jackie Smith was vilified and ridiculed, but true football fans have to say that Roger Staubach’s pass was probably too low for comfort.

Franco Harris dashed with an angry touchdown run over “Hollywood” Henderson to start off the fourth, and Lynn Swann performed one of his levitating leaps for a TD catch, making it 35-17 Steelers with 6:57 left in the fourth. Pittsburgh looked entirely too strong to stop or score upon.

The celebrations began in South Florida…too early.

Dallas, led by Staubach, showed why the Cowboys will be called “America’s Team” in the highlight film for that 1978 season. At around 6:30 in the fourth, Staubach marched his Cowboys to a touchdown, taking only four minutes off the clock.

Dallas then recovered an onsides kick and drove to score a TD with under a minute left. However, the second onsides kick and the comeback failed as the ball fell into the hands of Rocky Bleier.

1978 Pittsburgh resembled the 1975 unit in level of outstanding talent, tendency to command a game, and resiliency after a stretch of bad play.

They were both dangerous and frustrating, with the ability to crush the spirit of the team that thinks they can always hold a lead and come back when they don’t.

The years 1975, 1976, and 1978…disco was very, very good to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

2.  1977 Dallas Cowboys - 15-2

 

It seems the Dallas Cowboys have been “America’s Team” since the inception of football.  That’s just about right.  Although NFL Films didn’t use the nickname until the production of its 1978 Cowboys highlight film, the concept was cast in stone after the team’s 24-3 Super Bowl VI victory over the Miami Dolphins after the 1971 season.

I went to a mid-sized high school in West Virginia.  As a sophomore attending my school’s All Sports Banquet in the spring of 1972, I, the Dolphins fan, had to endure the honored guest for the event.  A Dallas Cowboys assistant coach was a native of an equally small town maybe an hour up the road.  He had accepted an invitation to speak to us that day.

The coach’s talk was most interesting, as for an hour that seemed like minutes he shared with us the ins and outs of NFL football.  After that, he wowed us further by cuing up, hot from the video room, the official NFL 30 minute highlight film for Super Bowl VI.

After making us privy to such a film, he closed by giving us big, shiny Cowboy stickers.

Every athlete in attendance had applied the sticker on a notebook or a locker door, except my friend and fellow Miami fan Dirk Cline, who affixed his to the inside of a trash can.

Not all of us have fallen for the “America’s Team” tripe, but enough have and that makes it true.

Allow me to put some numbers behind Dallas’ claim.  Take the eight seasons since the 1970 season.  Look at the five best teams with regard to regular season victories in that eight year period.  Victories only; ties are counted as losses.  Those teams are:

Minnesota  84 wins

Miami  83 wins

Dallas  82 wins

Oakland  82 wins

Los Angeles  77 wins

The Cowboys are tied for third.  Now, factoring in Super Bowls, consider games played and games won:

Dallas  4 Super Bowls, 2 championships

Miami  3 Super Bowls, 2 championships

Minnesota  3 Super Bowls, no championships

Oakland   1 Super Bowl, 1 championship

Los Angeles  no Super Bowls

The Cowboys are ahead in the Super Bowl category since they played the most games and are tied with the Dolphins with two wins.  Now, finally, look at the number of 10-win seasons in the eight years of 1970-1977:

Dallas  7

Miami   7

Minnesota  6

Oakland  5

Los Angeles  5

When you run the numbers from the first eight years of the post-merger NFL, it looks like the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins are going head-to-head for the right to use the “America’s Team” mark.

Then, why is Dallas “America’s Team” and Miami just the Dolphins?

Americans may visit Florida more often, but we identify with the rugged individualism of Texas.

We like stars on our helmets, more than a fish jumping through a hoop.

We would rather be a cowboy than own an aquarium.

In Texas, men make deals by a handshake.

Dealing with oil and cattle is manly.

In Texas, men are men and women are tough.

In Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys manhandled the Dolphins 24-3.

Finally, the Dallas Cowboys earned the moniker “America’s Team” the same month and year the hit television series “Dallas” began its 14 year run.

The 1977 edition of the Dallas Cowboys ran through 12 wins in the final 14 game schedule before the league increased the number of games to 16.  After producing an 8-0 streak to open the season, the team’s only losses were back-to-back defeats in Weeks Nine and 10 at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dallas finish the season 4-for-4 in wins, getting three of those victories on the road and defeating 14-6 the team with the best record in the AFC, the 12-1 Denver Broncos.  You of course know there was a rematch of this game.

The ’77 Cowboys were led in all respects by the venerable quarterback, Roger Staubach.  In addition to providing direction for an entire state, Roger the Dodger threw for over 2,600 yards with 18 touchdowns versus a remarkable eight interceptions.

Staubach’s favorite targets were wideout Drew Pearson and the tight end with the very Texas name, Billy Joe DuPree.  Also, rookie running back Tony Dorsett rushed for 1,000 yards despite not starting until the 10th game.  Dorsett was escorted by fullback Robert Newhouse and an outstanding offensive line led by Rayfield Wright.

“Doomsday” was back.  Ed “Too Tall” Jones and a defensive lineman with another very Texas name, Jethro Pugh, built the wall up front.  In addition, d-linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White played such a remarkable game in Super Bowl XII that they were named co-MVPs.  “Hollywood” Henderson audaciously manned his position at linebacker and hitmen Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris patrolled as safeties.

In the playoffs and the Super Bowl, the “Doomsday Defense” allowed their opponents to cross the goal line only twice.  Denver’s quarterback was Craig Morton, ex-signal caller of the Cowboys.  Morton’s results in Super Bowl XII (four interceptions, three fumbles lost) were actually worse than those in his pathetic outing for Dallas in Super Bowl V. 

Surely Doomsday wreaked havoc on the aging QB’s psyche.

So, take Dallas’ Doomsday of that year.  Combine that complete defensive supremacy with the Staubach’s domination and guidance at the helm.  Look at the way the Cowboys dismantled the 14-2 Broncos. 

The scores were 27-10 by 15-2 Dallas over 14-3 Denver and, if you don't mind the comparison to Super Bowl XIII, 35-31 by 17-2 Pittsburgh over a 14-5 Dallas.

Total domination defined by high scoring margins is why I rank the 1977 Cowboys No. 2 and the 1978 Steelers No. 3.

Total, complete domination.

 

1. 1976 Oakland Raiders - 16-1

A good deal of the time it has been exasperating to be a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan.

I’m talking the real, honest-to-God die-hards, represented by a) members of the Raider Nation spread around the globe, and b) those who dress the part at Oakland games home and on the road with spiked shoulder pads, silver and black face paint, and battleaxes on the end of truck chains.

Include the citizens of The Nation who would give their next 12 mortgage payments to carry the battleaxe, even in the local sports bar, and you have fans who don’t really care how fat their quarterback is…just win, baby!

Let’s go back to exasperating, especially the exasperation faced by fans following the Raiders in the John Madden era. Look particularly at Madden, one of the NFL’s greatest coaches, during the eight seasons of years 1969 – 1976.

Raider Nation: you may want to avert your eyes.

Oakland team was eliminated in five of the six years between 1970 and 1976 they made the AFC playoffs (they lost the AFL championship in 1969).

In the years 1969, 1970, and 1973 through 1975, the Raiders lost the AFC championship game.

In 1972, it was an AFC divisional game.

They lost to:

1969 Kansas City

1970 Baltimore

1971 missed playoffs

1972 Pittsburgh – the Immaculate Reception game.

1973 Miami

1974 Pittsburgh

1975 Pittsburgh

Worse, Kansas City, Baltimore, Miami, and Pittsburgh ’74 and ’75 all won their respective Super Bowl.

So close…

However, it must be equally wonderful to be a Member. There are the overall 83 wins record between 1969 and 1976, the best in professional football during that time.

There are also the memories of the players: Defensive lineman Otis Sistrunk, whose college listed in the program as U.S. Mars (he actually came from the U.S. Marines; imagine being the enemy in that man-to-man combat).

Safety George Atkinson, the scourge of Joe Namath, Lynn Swann (twice), and New England tight end Russ Francis.

Safety Jack Tatum, dropping the hammer on Frenchy Fuqua (leading to the Immaculate Reception, a play of which Raiders’ fans still say Frenchy’s shoulder pad hit the ball) and Minnesota’s Sammy White on a slant he’ll remember only if he pulls up YouTube.

The Stork.

Cornerback Willie Wood and his 75 yard Super Bowl XI interception return.

Linebacker Phil Villapiano.

Wideout Cliff Branch and his world-class speed.

Wideout Fred Biletnikoff and The Glue Fingers (literally), and...

The Snake.

The Oakland Raiders won with a lot of characters, most of whom some say are without character.

I don’t agree with that last interjection. The NFL lined up men to play football on the professional level. It is a violent game like no other, a game that takes hombres with unusual personalities willing to risk physical health for fame, fortune, and the entertainment of the millions of us who like to see humans collide at relative high rates of velocity.

To most of those in the NFL, every game is an automobile accident. Their bodies bend, contort, and get slammed around. Name a Super Bowl winning team and I can probably pick out a player on that team who would find it difficult to assimilate in American society.

My point is Oakland is getting a bad rap. The men of silver and black are generally no weirder than those of the rest of the NFL.

They are probably as a team more intimidating than others, but no more unusual. And, considering my status as a b/r correspondent for the Pittsburgh Steelers, this paragraph carries a curious message: it’s okay to be a Raider.

With a 1976 season record of 13-1, the Oakland Raiders were at their most daunting. The defense was demoralizing.

Line, linebackers, and secondary, the Raiders could smack in ’76.

Phil Villapiano said in his discussion of Jack Tatum, “Tatum’s hits sounded different.” Woody Hayes, Jack Tatum’s head coach at Ohio State, once said, “Jack Tatum could hit a man so hard he’d lift both of that man’s feet off the ground.”

There was 6'0", 185 lb safety George Atkinson who specialized in hooking his arm around the receiver’s head. He just wanted to let the man know how it was going to be that day.

Oakland lost big on the road at New England 48-17 in week Four. When hosting the Patriots early in the Divisional Playoffs at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Atkinson took a shot at tight end Russ Francis’s face mask, breaking his nose. Francis bled all day, surely impeding his ability to catch.

Paybacks are a bitch.

Ted “The Stork” Hendricks was a big hitter and, also long armed at 6'7", blocked punts.

Phil Villapiano popped people. John “Tooz” Matuszak was huge and scary. Otis Sistrunk would crack you.

Then, the brutal D got the ball to The Snake. Ken Stabler carried a big time 103.4 quarterback rating that year. With a 66.7 completion percentage and 228 yards passing per game, Stabler’s left arm was one with whipsaw speed and dart-like accuracy.

The “Outrageous Renegade” is not only the title of his autobiography but is also a great description of his leadership style. The Raiders responded to the swashbuckler in The Snake.

In fact, there are lots of different derivations of Stabler’s nickname. My favorite?

At the University of Alabama, The Snake was so handsome and charming he’d woo away your girlfriend.

Oakland could run. Top rusher Clarence Davis rack up 137 yards in just 16 attempts.

Oakland could snare Stabler’s passes. Fred Biletnikoff pulled in four catches for 79 yards, setting up three touchdowns. For those three TD assists, Biletnikoff won the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Oakland could frustrate. Minnesota was 11-2-1 that year with a defense that gave up only 12.6 points per game, second only to Pittsburgh and its five shutouts.

The Raiders rang up 32 on the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.  Minnesota held their opponents to 262 yards per game.  Oakland ran amok for 429 yards.

The Raiders, however, were only four-point favorites in XI. Four points.

Speaking of four, the Vikings had lost in four Super Bowls.

Minnesota went down in flames against Oakland as well as Kansas City in IV, Miami in VIII, and Pittsburgh in IX.

Miami's offensive line dominated.  Kansas City's out-hit the Vikings at its most vulnerable.  Pittsburgh allowed them to be close in score.  I watched the game; Minnesota didn't have a prayer.

Of the four games of Minnesota Vikings futility, the Oakland Raiders put the biggest hurtin' on 'em.  I've spoken with an NFL running back.  "You always feel the NFL the next morning.  When you've played the Raiders, you really feel it the next morning.

 

 

 

Load More Stories

Follow B/R on Facebook

NFL

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.