This post was originally posted at FRS Daily Post
As John Madden put it when asked about the Raiders not being able to win the “Big Game”, the Oakland Raiders won a lot of big games. You have to do that just to have the chance to get to the “Big Game”. The teams that play in the “Big Game” aren’t selected by a “committee of experts” but they are selected by the two teams from both conferences that won their championships. What the Raiders weren’t able to do until 1976, other than 1967 be able to get to the one big game the biggest game in the world. If you think about it as far as the amount of people who watch it.
The Super Bowl of course is the biggest television event in the world, but if you look at the teams that they lost to, there were all great teams as far as who they lost to in those AFC Finals that cost them the AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. They lost to the Baltimore Colts in 1970 that won that Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins in 1973 that won that Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers their arch-rival in the 1970s in both 1974 and 75 that won both of those Super Bowls. So the Raiders problem was that they didn’t choke or get it done, they just lost to the best team in football all of those years.
The Raiders had to be the best team in the NFL not just have the best record in the AFC and host the AFC Final at Oakland Coliseum better known as “the Black Hole” as they did in 1974, but they had to have the best team in the AFC both regular and postseason. So when 1976 came around having lost four of the last six AFC Finals, including one at home, the sole-mission of the 1976 Raiders was to go to and win the Super Bowl and meant getting past the Steelers and running through anyone else who got in their way.
The Raiders knew they had the players and they had the talent on both sides of the ball. One of the best offenses in the NFL if not the best, with their vertical spread offense (as I call it) always looking to throw deep to Cliff Branch from quarterback Ken Stabler. But working the whole field, to tight end Dave Casper and wide receiver Fred Belitninkoff both who are in the Hall of Fame.
And with their power running game with the best offensive line in the NFL, with Hall of Famers offensive tackle Art Shell and offensive guard Gene Upshaw arguably the best players who ever played their positions. With center Dave Dalby another Pro Bowler and their power running game with their man-on-man blocking where you literally try to destroy the man in front of you.
And with tailback Clarence Davis and fullback Mark Van Egan and their kick ass defense (for lack of a better word) with defensive tackle John Mutuzak and defensive tackle Dave Rowe up front and others. Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks arguably the best outside linebacker of all- time and Pro Bowler Phil Viliapano. With two bump-and-run cover corners in Mike Haynes and Willy Brown. And perhaps the two hardest hitting safety’s in football George Atkinson and Jack Tatum.
The Oakland Raiders by the time 1976 came around were already a very good team with a lot of talent. You would have to be to just be in six AFC Finals even though they lost all of them going into 1976. But they weren’t a great team yet and being a great team and having great talent are two different things. The trick is to have both of them at the same time which is something the 1976 Raiders were finally able to learn and most of that credit goes to John Madden a Hall of Fame head coach. He figured out how to get these great players to play together at the same time.