After having just put out an article outlining those Raider players who went off to other teams to have their success, it stands to reason that that door swings both ways.
Historically the Raiders have been the Ellis Island of the National Football League – where other teams’ castoffs come to flourish. Some of these players became truly legendary and some are simply legendary to Raider fans who recognize the accomplishments and contributions each player made to “The Greatness of the Raiders”.
When comparing the list of players who “got away” and the players that Al Davis and company have brought to the Raiders to discover their greatness, there is good news and bad news.
I will give you the bad news first (as usual). The bad news is that the majority of the players who have left for greener pastures are more recent while the opposite is true for the reclamation players.
The good news is that the list of those players who resurrected their careers as a Raider is nearly TWICE as long. Not only that but it is filled with players whom I don’t think many will question whether they belong on this list. The other list was a bit more controversial.
In fact this list is so long that I had to split it into two parts – offense and defense. Criteria is whether their success was equal or greater than their previous team. In other words, if someone from the other team were to chronicle that team’s “Ones that got away”, this player would be on that list.
So for those of you who are tired of hearing negative press about the Raiders, you will like this one. Sit back, relax. and reminisce about some of the great Raider acquisitions over the long and storied history of the franchise as the 2009 Raiders begin their first day of training camp and hope springs eternal.
QB Rich Gannon
Was the ultimate journeyman. How else would you refer to a guy that spent 11 years on four different teams as an NFL backup? He was originally a fourth round pick by the New England Patriots in 1987. And over the next 12 years he would bounce around to five different teams. He would never play a game for the Patriots but he went on to the Vikings for six years, the Redskins for a year, and the Chiefs for four years before finally landing in Oakland in ‘99. It was a long road for Gannon who could never quite get his shot until Raider coach John Gruden asked him to come in a run his west coast offense. Gannon’s first four seasons in Oakland were seasons for the ages. He went to Pro bowls every season and his passing numbers were 3840, 3430, 3828, 4689! He never threw less than 24 tds and the Raiders never had a single losing season during that time. In his NFL MVP and Super Bowl season of 2002, he averaged almost 300 yds a game! Who knew this kind of talent could finally be found after eleven years of futility in the NFL?
LG Lincoln Kennedy
Was drafted ninth overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1993. He started his entire rookie season at LG for Atlanta but was relinquished to spot duty for the following two seasons. He was being labeled a bust when the Raiders grabbed him off of the scrap heap. Kennedy went from a bust at guard to grabbing the starting right tackle position for the Raiders and not letting go until he retired eight years later in 2003. He is the shining example for every offensive lineman rehab attempt since then. Kwame Harris was last year’s failed attempt and Khalif Barnes is next up. They all have big shoes to fill. I have shaken Lincoln’s hand, or should I say, he shook my arm so rather I should say they have some enormous gloves to fill.
TE Todd Christensen
Came into the NFL as a fullback. After being drafted by the Cowboys in round two of 1978 draft, he broke his foot in the preseason and was cut. The next season, the New York Giants came calling but he appeared in a total of one game that season. He then went on to the Raiders where they asked him to convert to tight end. And was that ever a smart move. It took a couple of years for him to catch on as a tight end but he really began to break out in 1982 when he was on pace to go over a thousand yards before the strike hit mid season. The next season, he picked up where he left off as he became the second tight end in NFL history (Kellen Winslow was the other) to lead the league in catches (92) and had 1247 yards receiving. He would play ten seasons for the Raiders- racking up five Pro Bowls, two All Pros, and two Super Bowl rings. He was the Raiders number one Receiver for 4 straight years from 83-86 and averaged over 1100 yards per season during that span. He remains one of the best tight ends in Raider history. He was a key piece to the Raiders winning their third Super Bowl and he remains a topic in some Hall of Fame discussions.
QB Daryle Lamonica
Given the nickname “The Mad Bomber” as Al Davis’ launcher of the long ball. He was drafted in round 24 by Buffalo in 1963. He spent four seasons with the Bills which included a trip to the AFL All Star game in 1965. Then after his fourth season, Al Davis decided Lamonica was his guy so he traded Art Powell and Tom Flores to acquire him. He would spend eight seasons in Oakland where he was a four time AFL All Star and a two time AFL MVP- including his very first season with the team. With Lamonica at the helm, the Raiders would win three straight Western Division titles and one AFL Championship. The Raiders would ultimately lose to the Packers in Super Bowl II but it was just the beginning of long run of greatness for the Raiders.
RB Clem Daniels
The first great Raider runner, he came into the league with the Dallas Texans in 1960. He played just one season for the Texans before coming to the Raiders in 1961. At which point, he would spend seven seasons with the team; the final six as the Raiders leading rusher every season. Among those six great years, he was a four time AFL All-Star and two time All-AFL selection.
RB Tyrone Wheatley
A highly touted pick out of Michigan, he was taken with the fifteenth overall selection by the New York Giants. After four seasons of unspectacular play in New York he was considered a bust and was released. Then the Al Davis in his signature style, nabbed him with the hope that he could live up to his potential afterall. It didn’t take long before the Raiders discovered what a find Wheatley was. He was splitting carries with Napoleon Kaufman throughout his first season and still almost had a thousand yards. Then in 2000 he would be the given the feature back job and he went over the thousand yard plateau. When the Raiders acquired Charlie Garner in 2001, Wheatley was again forced to split carries but he was the perfect change up back to be the thunder to Garner’s lightening. The Raiders eventually rode that combo all the way to the Super Bowl.
QB Jim Plunkett
He was the hottest prospect in the ‘71 draft coming out of Stanford, prompting the Patriots to take him first overall. But after a good start to his career, injuries started to pile up and after five seasons with the team, they opted not to re-sign him. Then his hometown 49ers asked him to try and resurrect his career with them. But after just two seasons in San Francisco, he was let go. At which time, he was considered a bust. Cue Al Davis “What? Former hot prospect? Bay Area guy? Get him in here!” To be honest, Plunkett’s numbers were never great while with the Raiders. Afterall, he only had two seasons while with the team in which he had more touchdowns than interceptions. He also never started a complete season for the Raiders. But he proved his entire college and NFL career that come crunch time, he could get it done. By the way, can you guess which seasons he had more TD than INT? That’s right, it was 1980 and 1983- the two years the Raiders won the Super Bowl. I would say that is no coincidence. He remains the only retired NFL quarterback to start and win two Superbowls that is not in the Hall of Fame.
FL(WR) Art Powell
Powell was drafted a year before the Raiders even existed. He played for the Eagles for one season and then spent three seasons with the New York Titans before becoming a Raider. He only played four seasons for the Raiders but they were great ones. He was a Pro Bowler every single season with the team including one season as All Pro. After his fourth year he was packaged with Tom Flores to bring QB Daryle Lamonica to the Raiders. Powell was the first, and still, one of only a handfull of great Raider receivers.
FB Hewritt Dixon
Was drafted in the eighth round by the Denver Broncos is 1963, where he spent the first three seasons of his NFL career. But when Oakland got ahold of him is when he really took off. He would play five seasons for the Raiders and four of those seasons saw him headed to the AFL All Star game. One of those seasons he was an all AFL selection. He cleared the way for Raider legend Clem Daniels to make four AFL All Star appearances himself as well as a couple all AFL selections.
SE(WR) Warren Wells
Before there was Cliff Branch lining up across from Fred Billetnikoff, there was Warren Wells. In fact, in the four seasons he played for the Raiders, he had more yardage than Billetnikoff in three of them (’68-’70). He went to two AFL All Star games and had two seasons over a thousand yards while with the Raiders. Wells remains the all-time leading player in yards per catch (23 ypc) among NFL and AFL players. Pretty impressive for a guy who was drafted in round 12 by the Lions, played just one season for them and then served in the Army for two years before returning to play for the Raiders.
RB/FB Kenny King
Was a third round pick by the Houston Oilers in 1979. He only played one season in Houston before Al Davis grabbed him in a draft day trade. Chalk another coup up for Big Al because, Kenny’s first season in the Silver and Black, he made the Pro Bowl and the Raiders won the Super Bowl. King was instrumental in the Raiders road to the Superbowl in 1980. He had 138 yards rushing against San Diego in week six (Jim Plunkett’s first start as a Raider) to help the Raiders to a 3-3 record going into a big Monday night contest against the defending Super Bowl champion, Steelers. King also helped lead Raiders to a come-from-behind win in that Monday night game against the hated Steelers. The Raiders rode that momentum the rest of the season. King spent a total of six years with the Raiders and started nearly every game in his first five years. He was the Raiders leading rusher in 1981 before the team drafted future Hall of Famer Marcus Allen. At that point Kenny took over at fullback for Mark Van Eeghan when he left the team in 82. King helped block the way for Marcus Allen as the Raiders won their third Super Bowl.