A few days ago, I layed out my Ballers and Busters for the offense in this game so now it is time to focus on the defensive side of the ball and on Special Teams.
I mentioned that the offense of this squad was a “who’s who” list of Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers. Well, the defense is no different. These guys struck fear in everyone who played against them. That fear may not show up in the stats as interceptions or tackles but it always showed in the opponents’ eyes and in the score at the end of the game.
If stats were kept of concussions given, bones broken and blood lost, this team would have had the all-time record. These guys gave up one touchdown in the game and no field goals. The second TD of the game was in the final minutes when the Raiders had the game well in hand and were playing their backups. This corps completely neutralized the talents of the Vikings all pro quarterback Fran Tarkenton as well as the rest of that vaunted Viking offense. And here are the guys that were the most responsible for it:
Another guy for whom it can be all too easy to forget how good he really was. But he was a ball carrier magnet with fire and energy for days. He finished the game with 8 tackles on the day, 6 of which were for little or no gain or a loss of yardage. The first big series for Villapiano came on the Vikings second drive of the game. One in which he nearly single handedly stopped them. He tackled the runner up the middle for a a short gain on first down and then on second down he cut off the right side, forcing the running into the middle and then made the tackle anyway. The next play was a third and long that fell incomplete. On the Raiders ensuing possession they were forced to punt and it was blocked which set up the Vikings on the Raiders three yard line. After a one yard run to the Raiders two yard line, the next play Villapiano shot into the backfield to tackle the runner for a loss and force a fumble which was recovered by the Raiders. The very next possession for the Vikings, they were in yet another third and long and tried a reverse. Villapiano sniffed it out and turned it inside where John Matuzak was waiting with open arms to cause the Vikes to go three and out. The Vikings had the ball coming out of the half but after just one first down, they were in a third down and short and tried a short pass which Villapiano knocked down, forcing them to punt yet again. On top of all that, he had a quarterback sack as well. Not hard to see why the defense was so dominating with this guy running around like his hair was on fire.
Talk about a black hole. He swallowed up anything and everything that came through the middle of the field. Running backs, offensive lineman, full backs, tight ends, it didn’t matter. The other Raider defenders felt pretty comfortable that all they really needed to do was funnel the runner to him and he would take care of the rest. The Vikings were hopeless when attempting to run the ball…especially up the middle where Sistrunk and Dave Rowe held the line. They Vikings had a total of 23 yards when trying the middle and they only had two runs that were over 3 yards (4 and 6 yards and Sistrunk made the tackle on the 6 yarder too). He didn’t just hang around clogging up the middle either. He had two quarterback pressures and a sack in which Fran Tarkenton nearly fumbled the ball.
As is usually the case, when a DB does his job, there is not much to say about him. Brown didn’t give up a single catch on his man on the day. He only even had the ball thrown to his man two times. The first one, he knocked down. The second one became one of the most exciting and memorable moments in Superbowl history. With the Raiders up 26-7 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were making their last gasp at a come back. They were on the Raiders 28 yard line and looking to score. Tarkenton threw a pass to the left flat intended for Sammy White when “Old Man Willie” broke on the pass, intercepted it and returned in 75 yards for a touchdown. Most of us have seen the video of him running toward the camera in slow motion with a look of fierce determination as he headed for the end zone and the all time return TD record in Superbowl history at that time. While Willie Brown and his Raider teammates celebrated in the end zone, Don Meredith sang his patented “Turn out the lights, the parties over”. But for the Raiders and their fans, the party had just begun.
What he did best was strike fear in his opponents. In the AFC championship game in which the Raiders beat the Steelers 24-7 (just thought I would add the result) he gave Lynn Swan a concussion for the second time. He gave him one in the previous season’s AFC championship game as well. These hits are what prompted Chuck Noll to complain about the Raiders “criminal element” which this Raiders team have always taken a great deal of pride in. In this game, the first time Atkinson could be spotted was on a pass that sailed wide of the receiver he was covering. The receiver ran out of bounds on the Vikings sideline after attempting to catch to it. Atkinson stood on the edge of the field pointing at the receiver and barking at him. The referee came over to lead Atkinson away from the sideline and he threw the refs hand off of his shoulder and barked at him as well.
Atkinson stood just 6′ tall and was a slight 185 pounds but he played much bigger than that. He terrified his opponents even more than the likes of Jack Tatum and Skip Thomas. Every tackle he had he looked as if he was trying to take the other player’s head off, literally. He only gave up one short catch on the day. The only other times he saw the ball was when he came up to help in run defense. At one point, he had two blockers on him and he still managed to fight through them to tackle the runner. I am not sure there was anything on defense that Atkinson didn’t do well. And I bet most of you thought he was a lot bigger than 6′ and 185 lbs. It’s ok if you did.
Ted Hendricks and John Matuszak
These guys were two of the toughest, toothless sons-a-bitches you ever could meet. Hendricks is widely considered the best Raider linebacker of all time and ‘Tuszak was a journeyman prior to being picked up by the Raiders. These two were a match made in heaven at the linebacker spot. They combined for three QB pressures and three run stuffing tackles. But the real reason they should be honored is for what happened after the game. These two were the unfortunate souls to be given the “honor” of carrying John Madden off the field. Well, half way across the field before they couldn’t bear his weight any longer. Bravo fellas. There is a place in Raider legend for a brave (albeit unwise) act such as that.
The Raiders marched down the field on their first drive and Mann missed the field goal. Then on the second TD of the game, he missed the extra point. Then on the final TD of the game which came via Willie Brown’s 75 yard interception return, Mann missed the extra point AGAIN. If it weren’t for the complete and total dominance of the Raiders otherwise, those misses could have been a real problem.
Now it’s time to list the group of legendary defensive and special teams players that dawned the Silver and Black for that masterfull Super Bowl squad back in 1977.
DT Otis Sistrunk- Anchored the Oakland defensive line as good as any ever has.
DE John Matuszak- Became a star in Oakland. Later starred as Sloth in Goonies
LB Phil Villapiano- Outspoken leader who is a Hall of Fame nominee
LB Ted Hendricks- Hall of Famer. Greatest Raider linebacker ever
DB Jack Tatum- Hall of Fame nominee. His game inspired the likes of Hall of Fame DB’s Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott
DB Skip Thomas- aka “Doctor Death”, every hit was a decleating/beheading.
CB Willie Brown- Hall of Famer. Current Raiders Cornerbacks coach
CB George Atkinson- One of the greatest CB in Raider history, potential Hall of Famer
P Ray Guy- Hall of Famer (whether they induct him or not) Best punter EVER. Invented hang time. Pioneer of what a punter is by modern NFL standards.
This defense and special teams had two Hall of Famers and four players that should be in the Hall of Fame.
So let’s review the entire list of Hall of Famers on this team:
G Gene Upshaw
WR Fred Biletnikoff
T Art Shell
TE Dave Casper
LB Ted Hendricks
CB Willie Brown
HC John Madden
MGP Al Davis
P Ray Guy
QB Ken Stabler
DB Jack Tatum
C Dave Dalby
WR Cliff Branch
LB Phil Villapiano
CB George Atkinson
It almost doesn’t seem fair to have all of these players on one team, but the Raiders did. And it is worth remembering just how dominating they were and how they made history as one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
For the comprehensive B&B list, visit the Ballers & Busters Index.