Los Angeles Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett (16) in action against the Denver Broncos
Sunday is Easter. So what more fitting way to celebrate the holiday which celebrates the resurrection of Christ than to list the greatest resurrection stories in Raider history. There have been quite a few on both sides of the ball. We start with offense.
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".
So between your egg-coloring and little kids running around with candy filled baskets, sit back and reminisce about some of the great Raider acquisitions over the long and storied history of the franchise. And if those Jewish readers among us are feeling left out, think of these players as those who were "passed over" by their former teams.
If you don't celebrate either holiday (or any holidays if you're a Jehovah's witness) just enjoy the article with no religious holiday significance.
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 traded him away to his hometown 49ers who looked for him to try and resurrect his career. But after just two lackluster 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. He had just two seasons 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. That is probably not a coincidence. He remains the only eligible NFL quarterback to start and win two Super Bowls who is not in the Hall of Fame.
LG Lincoln Kennedy
The man who would never be president, was drafted ninth overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1993. He started his entire rookie season at left guard for Atlanta but was relegated 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 and Khalif Barnes chief among them). 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.
QB Rich Gannon
Was the ultimate journeyman. How else would you refer to a guy who 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 and 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, and 4689. He never threw less than 24 TD's and the Raiders didn't have a single losing season during that time. In his NFL MVP and Super Bowl season of 2002, he averaged almost 300 yards per game. Who knew this kind of talent could finally be found after eleven years of futility in the NFL? Well, Gruden did. And perhaps Al Davis as well.
TE Todd Christensen
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 and NFL 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.
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 Al Davis, in his signature style, nabbed him with the hope that he could live up to his potential after all. 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 had almost 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 as the thunder to Garner's lightening. The Raiders would ride that combo all the way to the Super Bowl.
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.
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 handful 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 Biletnikoff, there was Warren Wells. In fact, in the four seasons he played for the Raiders, he had more yardage than Biletnikoff 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 leader 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
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 up another coup 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 Super Bowl 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. With the world watching, he lead Raiders to a come-from-behind win over the hated Steelers. And the Raiders would ride that momentum the rest of the season.
King spent a total of six years with the Raiders, starting nearly every game his first five seasons. He was the Raiders leading rusher in 1981 prior to the team drafting future Hall of Famer, Marcus Allen. With Allen on board, Kenny replaced Mark Van Eeghan as the starting fullback when he left the team in 82. King helped block the way for Marcus Allen as the Raiders won their third Super Bowl.
K/QB George Blanda
Blanda doesn't really fit the criteria for this list as originally intended. Right off the top, he was a kicker for the Raiders, first and foremost. He had also already played an entire career prior to joining the Raiders and he could have retired and no one would have thought that strange. He was 40 years old before he ever put on a Raider uniform. Which, I suppose in it's own way IS a resurrection because as an every down quarterback, his career was over. But he would be switched primarily to kicker and play another nine seasons in the NFL for the Raiders. He would head to the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Raiders. He was also the team's backup quarterback and came on in relief of an injured Daryle Lamonica quite a few times. He threw for 23 touchdowns for the Raiders all while being the Raiders leading scorer as the kicker. His nine seasons in Oakland were the "kicker" in his Hall of Fame career. He was the Raiders all time leading scorer up until recently when surpassed by Sebastian Janikowski.