In a sprawling piece by Sports Illustrated, they have decided to look at the NFL over its first 100 years and pick out the most influential figures. It’s an ambitious endeavor, but they were able to narrow it down to 100 people. As one of the most influential franchises of the Super Bowl-era days, the Oakland Raiders had quite a few figures within the organization make the list.
Though the Raiders have had a tough go of things over the last two decades, there’s no denying that they were one of the best teams in the NFL during the 70s and the 80s. Those team had swagger for days. From 1960-2002, the Raiders won more games than any other team in the NFL. They translated those regular-season wins into three Super Bowl championships. Through 1983, only the Pittsburgh Steelers had won more Super Bowls. The 2000s haven’t been great for the silver and black, but that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished in the early years of the NFL.
Al Davis, John Madden & Ken Stabler Among Raider Legends to Make the List
The list that Sports Illustrated compiled is littered with Raiders legends. From the golden-era of Raider football, Al Davis, John Madden, Ken Stabler and Lyle Alzado represent the silver and black. Without Davis, there may not be a Raiders franchise and there may not be an AFL. He was one of the most controversial figures in the NFL during his career, but he was also one of the most important.
Also without Al Davis, there may not be a John Madden. In the modern football era, no coach had a better win percentage than Madden. Not even Vince Lombardi or Bill Belicheck. His career didn’t have the longevity as a lot of other legendary coaches, but he was one of the best football minds of the 70s.
“John Madden could make this list of influential figures three separate times,” says Sports Illustrated. “Truly. His life in the NFL spotlight began as the animated 33-year-old coach of the Raiders, with whom he won an NFL-record 75.9% of his games and, in the 1976 season, a Super Bowl.”
We couldn’t talk about the Raiders of the 70s without mention Ken Stabler. As one of the NFL’s biggest personalities, Stabler was the perfect man to lead Davis’ Raiders. The highlight of his Hall-of-Fame career was leading the silver and black to a Super Bowl victory in 1976 against the Minnesota Vikings.
“He was known as a hard-living, fun-loving character—the perfect face for the swashbuckling Raiders of the 1970s, a gang of misfits and castoffs,” said Sports Illustrated. “Stabler was also one of the most electrifying players in the league, never one to play it safe, either with his arm or his legs.”
One surprising addition at the top of the list was former defensive lineman Lyle Alzado.
“Lyle Alzado terrorized opposing quarterbacks during his 15 seasons (1971-85) with the Broncos, Browns and Raiders,” Sports Illustrated said. “The defensive end was not only one of the most feared players in the league—a two-time All-Pro and AFC Defensive Player of the Year in ’77—but he was also one of the fiercest and most violent, prone to random outbursts of anger.”
These facts made Alzado a perfect fit for the Raiders of the 80s. His best years were with the Broncos and the Browns, but he did win Comeback Player of the Year in 1982 while with the Raiders. What made Alzado so influential was his steroid use and subsequent advocacy against it. He was only 43 when he died of brain cancer and he blamed it on the steroid use.
We also can’t talk about influential Raiders without mentioning Amy Trask, who also made the list. “The Princess of Darkness” was the first female CEO of an NFL team. While she wasn’t involved with the football side of things, she was influential in the further inclusion of women in the NFL.
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JaMarcus Russell Makes List for Wrong Reasons
JaMarcus Russell might be happy to get the spotlight back on him, but he probably would’ve rather avoided being mentioned in this article. What makes Russell influential is how his poor play led to the rookie wage scale, according to Sports Illustrated:
Russell just wasn’t very good. He struggled with accuracy and weight, and eventually [Al] Davis cut him. One year later the collective bargaining agreement was up, and thus began the rookie wage scale. No longer are top college prospects paid through negotiation of their (relative) market value. No. Their cash for the next four years is preordained—thanks in large part of Russell’s failures.
Arguably the biggest draft bust in NFL history, the Raiders gave Russell a massive contract as a rookie. He took that money and didn’t do the work necessary to live up to it. If young players like Ezekiel Elliott are mad about their low pay coming out of college, a lot of the blame can be placed at Russell’s feet.