As with every team, the offensive skill-players get most of the pub, most of the ink, and most of the girls. The Oakland Raiders are no different in that aspect. But what good does it do if your offense is a juggernaut scoring at a clip of 40 points a game or more, but your defense gives up 50?
Can you say 1980’s San Diego Chargers and Don Coryell? The offense was known as “Air Coryell” for the head coach’s love of the passing game. The defense was known as just air. As in “we couldn’t score against air”, a common phrase in the lingo of “coach-speak”. However, few coaches could have said that about the Chargers’ defenses in that era.
The Raiders, on the other hand, have a long and proud tradition on that side of the ball. In the Silver and Blacks’ last Super-Bowl-winning season, '83-'84, while the offense was explosive at times, the defense was downright nasty.
Somehow, in the discussions of the great NFL defenses,—the ‘85 Bears, the 2000 Ravens, and so on—no one talks about that Raider defense. All they did in the Super Bowl was hold the NFL’s highest scoring regular-season team, the Redskins, to a paltry nine points.
The ‘Skins were the defending champs at that. The Oakland defense trashed that high-powered offense to the extent that Joe Gibbs and Joe Theismann still have trouble talking about that game. (Hint: There are a few members of that gang on this honorary squad.)
DE: Otis Sistrunk
DE: Otis SistrunkWhile Sistrunk did not enjoy that long a career, the man made his mark while he was around. One of the few impact players in NFL history who never played a down of college football, Sistrunk was from the “University of Mars,” according to Alex Karras, then a commentator on Monday night Football.
DE: Greg Townsend
DE: Greg TownsendOne of the most underrated pass rushers in NFL history, Townsend is never mentioned with the Derrick Thomases or Lawrence Taylors. Okay, he wasn’t that good. But Townsend’s 109.5 sacks put him in an elite club. Seldom has a guy put up 100+ sacks and been nearly anonymous around the league. He could wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
DT: Chester McGlockton
DT: Chester McGlocktonYeah, if there was an All Pro squad for bitching, holding out for more money, and generally making everyone around him miserable (reportedly), the massive McGlockton would head the defensive line on that team. But he could stuff the run with the best of them, a commodity the Raiders could use now.
Surprisingly nimble for his size, McGlockton could rush the passer from the inside, as well. Not as well as the next player, of course.
DT: Howie Long
DT: Howie LongWhat needs to be said? Long was relentless, durable, and pretty much a prototype for an NFL defensive interior lineman. The first of a few Hall of Famers in this group. If his son Chris turns out half as good as the old man, the Rams will be happy.
OLB: Ted Hendricks
The 6'7" Hendricks could rush the passer, drop into coverage, bat down passes at the line, and was the best kick blocker I ever saw. The best linebacker in Raiders history by far, in my opinion.
MLB: Matt Millen
MLB: Matt MillenThis one wasn’t easy as this is not a position the Raiders are known for. I guess I would have to go with Matt Millen. Even though Millen was an annoying commentator and is a terrible GM (does he have compromising pictures of the Lions’ owner or what?), when Millen patrolled the middle, opposing running backs seldom ran wild the way they have in recent years.
Talk about damning with faint praise, but there were not a lot of guys who stood out at this position in Oakland.
OLB: Rod Martin.
OLB: Rod Martin.At probably under 220 lbs. for most, or all, of his career, Martin was another do-it-all type who could blitz and stop the run, but his forte was dropping back into coverage. Just ask Ron Jaworski. Martins’ three interceptions in Super Bowl XV made a believer of Jaws.
CB: Willie Brown.
CB: Willie Brown.Willie Brown was one of the first big stars out of Grambling U. Thus, he opened the doors for a host of others who followed. The Raiders co-leader in career interceptions with 39, Brown’s touchdown in Super Bowl XI is one of the all-time most memorable Raider highlights, as the play clinched the franchises’ first Super Bowl victory.
CB: Lester Hayes.
CB: Lester Hayes."Lester the Molester” was a nickname that would have protesters lining the streets in these days of “political correctness.” Hayes dogged receivers all over the field and had an incredible season in 1980 with 13 interceptions.
Not bad for a guy who played linebacker for Texas A&M the first half of his collegiate career. The number that Hayes and Mike Haynes did on the Redskins’ “smurf” receivers in that ‘84 Super Bowl was probably the greatest single-game performance by two corner backs in Super Bowl history.
Hayes tied Willie Brown for the Oakland career interception record with 39 grabs.
S: George Atkinson.
S: George Atkinson.This was one of the tougher selections, but Lynn Swann is enshrined in Canton and Swann seemed afraid to go over the middle against the guy. Pound for pound, Atkinson was one of the hardest hitters in Raider history and one of the leading interceptors.
Atkinson sued Chuck Noll for calling him a “criminal element.” Noll was forced to admit he would include some of his own players in the same category from the witness stand.
S: Jack Tatum
S: Jack TatumTatum has been unfairly characterized by some for the Darryl Stingley injury, which is unfortunate, because he was one of the best safeties in NFL history. Many other NFL safeties have made similar hits but because theirs did not result in such a catastrophic injury, they are not remembered as a “dirty“ player.
The play was within the rules at that time and it always appeared to me that Tatum had no way of knowing whether Stingley touched the ball or not. Every Raider fan should read Tatum’s biography, They Call Me Assassin. There are some great Woody Hayes stories from Tatum’s college days at Ohio State, and of course, many great Raider stories.
P: Ray Guy
P: Ray GuyThere was at least one comment on my all-time offensive team about Guy being left off the offensive team. With that offensive crew, Guy, the second-most famous Southern Miss. grad, wouldn’t have had anything to do except maybe hold for extra points. So I put him with the defense. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Guy should be in the Hall of Fame, end of story.
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