The 1970’s Oakland Raiders: Tales from the Dark Side

Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders by Peter Richmond
Harper Collins, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0061834301

Love them or hate them, the 1970’s Oakland Raiders under John Madden were certainly an entertaining cast of misfits in the guise of one the best professional football teams of their era.  Here, Peter Richmond tells the story of this cast of characters, and characters they were.

The distinctive personality of this team that set it apart from all others of the 1970’s was the perception that this was a group of outlaws and rebels who thumbed their noses at convention.  Add to this the fact many were castoffs from other teams for behavioral or other issues, and you had a truly volatile band of misfits.  But somehow the affable John Madden, who was the perfect coach for this team, was able to take this group of irrepressible “adults” and mold them into a feared, championship football team.  Having read this account of the 1970’s Raiders, I almost liken John Madden to Santa Clause trapped on the island for misfit toys trying to using his magic to make them whole.

Many of the players on these teams are ones most football fans will remember in perpetuity.   You had Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, Gene Atkinson, Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas, and Willie Brown, aka The Soul Patrol, one of the  most feared set of defensive backs in the league who relished huge hits, clothesline tackles, and knocking their opponents out of games.  They also had characters like quarterback Ken Stabler, the bad southern Alabama boy, carouser and partier extraordinaire, linebackers Phil Villapiano and Ted Hendricks, and the truly crazy John Matuszak, along with the rest of the team full of similar head cases, creating a volatile mix of testosterone, craziness, and child like desire to have fun, on the field and off.

This was a hard partying team and not an insignificant part of the book talks about Raiders’ training camps that were part hard partying and hard practicing and all the pranks the players pulled while preparing for the season.  It was a fun loving and wild group of men who John Madden somehow molded into winners. Partially he did it by letting them have their fun and treating them like men, but making sure that they practiced and played hard.  While they might have been a wild, fun loving bunch, they also loved football and wanted to win.

This book is clearly told from an unabashed Oakland Raiders fan’s perspective, which really worked well in this case.  The author revels in the outlaw persona of this team, which went all the way up to the owner Al Davis, who also flouted convention and thumbed his nose at the powers that be in the National Football League.

And while they only won one Super Bowl in this era, a 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI after the 1976 season, they were always in the mix.  They built up a strong rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the author draws a clear contrast with.  Had they not had one of the greatest football teams of all time as their nemesis, the Oakland Raiders may have been the team of the 1970’s.

The author starts the book with the “Immaculate Reception,” one of the most famous plays in NFL history.  With the Steelers desperately trying to stage a comeback in the 1972 playoffs against Oakland, down 7-6 with 22 seconds left in the game and hardly a prayer, Bradshaw threw a pass that careened off a receiver and was picked up off his shoe tops by running back Franco Harris who ran it in for the go ahead score.  At that time, if an offensive player touched the ball while it was in the air, another offensive player could not catch it.  Argument ensues to this day whether they ball bounced off “Frenchy” Fuqua, the Pittsburgh running back, or Jack Tatum, who nailed him just as the ball arrived.

The author marks this as the beginning of the rise the Oakland Raiders whose “rebel image, their defiant owner, had stamped them as an enemy of civilized football.”  He contrasts the “staid, old-world NFL Rooney’s franchise” with the “rebels of Al Davis, a man who bowed to no higher power.”  He also throws words around like “benevolent” versus “demonic” and the “dark side.”  That was the Oakland Raiders image, and they came to revel in it.

While this book chronicles the Oakland Raider’s seasons of the 1970’s, it as much about the unusual character of the team as it is their exploits on the field.  The author conducted extensive interviews with players from that era and has crafted a well done and very interesting read, really a must read for Oakland Raiders fans, but one that all football fans can enjoy.  The only real drawback to the book is the author only had a very short and not very illuminating interview with Al Davis, who did seem very cooperative.  But his perspective can be rather easily gleaned from his own actions and public pronouncements, so this has little impact on the completeness of this work.

Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders

Josh McDaniels: Off on the Wrong Foot

mcdanielsNow that Jay Cutler has been traded to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton, two first round draft picks, and a third round pick, the biggest drama of the offseason so far is over.

Regardless of whether you blame Jay Cuter for being immature and petulant (like I do), Josh McDaniels for a lack of communication, or spread the blame around equally, Josh McDaniels has had an inauspicious start to his head coaching career.

When Pat Bowlen fired Mike Shanahan and brought in Josh McDaniels, the Broncos, with Jay Cutler, were poised to continue to improve and make the playoffs. And the one key ingredient Denver had was an emerging elite quarterback in Jay Cutler. There are too few really good quarterbacks in the National Football League today, and while still room for improvement, Cutler already was one and is possibly on his way to being even better.

The whole point of firing Mike Shanahan was to shake up the organization and bring some new thinking and new blood to the organization to get over the hump and into the playoffs now. They were that close. Bowlen must be second guessing that move, and possibly even kicking himself, now. When he made this move, the furthest thing from his mind must have been that he would lose his franchise quarterback and wind up with mediocre talent instead.

While Denver got a great deal with some high draft picks and Kyle Orton, the bottom line is the Denver Broncos will not be a better team than they were last year. Yes, Denver might make out nicely in the draft, and possibly even snag a potential franchise quarterback if they are really lucky, but chances are they are looking at a few years before they see how that pans out. The Broncos could still sneak into the playoffs in the AFC West, but contenders they are not. And that was the whole point of Bowlen’s move.

I don’t mean to disrespect Kyle Orton at all. I like him and he is easy to root for. But frankly, I think he is an average quarterback, with enough smarts and moxie to be a decent starter. But he certainly does not have the arm or potential of Jay Cutler. And Chris Simms has not played in a few years, and his abilities as a starting quarterback in the NFL were already being questioned before he suffered his spleen injury in Tampa Bay.

Only time will tell how this move will pan out. Maybe Denver will bring in some stellar players in the draft and wind up in the thick of the hunt a few years from now. If they don’t, Josh McDaniels’ first head coaching gig will likely be a short lived one.

Jay Cutler Needs to Grow Up

09000d5d80db46b4_gallery_600I wasn’t going to write a post about the Jay Cutler situation in Denver, partially because it has already been talked about a lot, and secondly because I frankly thought it would all blow over by now. But the situation seems to deteriorate on a daily basis. Now, after a meeting with new head coach Josh McDaniels, Cutler has asked to be traded and refuses to attend the team’s voluntary workouts.

Jay Cutler is showing a level of immaturity that is rather appalling in somebody who is supposed be in the adult world and a team leader. He is basically sulking because there were trade talks between Denver and other teams, so his little feelings are hurt. And, to some degree, he is sulking because Mike Shanahan got fired. We’ve seen signs of immaturity on Cutler’s part the past few years. His verbal sparing with Philip Rivers made them both look like spoiled children. His body language when things aren’t going well seem rather immature as well. And boasting that he has a stronger arm than John Elway? That’s beyond childish. But I never expected this level of petulance from Jay Cutler.

There are several things that make the situation in Denver reflect poorly on Cutler and his attitude.

First, the trade talks that Cutler is so upset about involved the New England Patriots and either the Detroit Lions or Tampa Bay Buccaneers that would have sent Cutler to one of those teams, while Denver would get Matt Cassel and likely a lot more from either Detroit or Tampa Bay. Josh McDaniels has stated that all he did was listen to offers.

Doesn’t Cutler realize that every team does this, usually in situations that don’t necessarily make in the public eye? This is speculation but there is no way Denver was going to trade Cutler for Matt Cassel in a straight up deal. That would be dumb. To make a trade they would have had to get Matt Cassel and probably a boatload more in players or draft picks. The fact Denver did not trade Cutler means they were not getting enough for him to make the trade worthwhile, and that they place a high value on him.

Second, when Mike Shanahan and the Vice President of Football Operations, Jim Goodman, was fired (along with his son, an Assistant General Manager) that was a sign from Pat Bowlen that it is time to clean house and retool. Now I am sure that Bowlen didn’t envision this signal meant let’s trade our potential franchise quarterback. But nonetheless, a new regime is in town and Jay Cutler seems to have made little effort to embrace it. In fact, he spent most of the few days after Shanahan got fired carping about it. I can give Cutler a pass on this because it would be a terribly uncomfortable position to be in, but this is the real world, particularly in professional football.

Third, McDaniels’ offense, while requiring precision passing that might grate on Cutler’s gunslinger mentality, is perfect for a quarterback with a strong arm and a solid group of receivers. And like Cassel, to me Cutler seems to perform better in the shotgun than he does under center, which McDaniels could certainly accommodate.

Further, McDaniels has proven he knows how to get the most out of his quarterback’s talents. On the face of it this would seem to be a perfect match between a young quarterback and coach. But of course that would require that Cutler be a more mature person who understood he still has a lot to learn about the game of football to take the next step to becoming great.

I have lost a lot of respect for Cutler and I now question his leadership ability. If he’s traded to another team, at the first sign of duress is going to demand a trade? Turn on his coach? Pout on the sidelines? I think Cutler has a lot of talent and could be an elite player in the league. But it takes more than a strong arm to be winner. It takes leadership and maturity. Cutler lacks both.