I hope everyone is enjoying their Easter Sunday. The spirit of the holiday is to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, so what better way to mark to occasion 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 for the Jewish readers among us, just think of these players as those who were "passed over" by their former teams.
If you don't celebrate either holiday (or any holidays at all for that matter) just enjoy the article with no religious holiday context.
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.
RT 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.
QB Rich Gannon
The ultimate journeyman success story. How else would you refer to a guy who spent 11 years on four different teams as an NFL backup before going on to win league MVP and take a team to the Super Bowl?
The Delaware Blue Hen was originally a fourth round pick by the New England Patriots in 1987 but never play a game for them. And over the next 12 years he would bounce around to five different teams, spending six years with the Vikings, a year in Washington, and four years with the Chiefs before finally landing in Oakland in ‘99.
It was a long road for Gannon who could never quite get his shot until Jon Gruden asked him to come in and run his West Coast offense in Oakland.
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.
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 15th overall selection in the 1995 draft by the New York Giants. After four seasons of unspectacular play in New York he was considered a bust and was released.
Just as Gruden has done with Gannon, he scooped up Wheatley and rode him to success. He was splitting carries with Napoleon Kaufman throughout his first season and still had nearly a thousand yards. Then in 2000 he would be the given the feature back job and he went over the thousand yard plateau (1046) for the first time in his career.
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.
FB Hewritt Dixon
Was drafted in the eighth round by the Denver Broncos in 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.
K/QB George Blanda
Blanda had 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. As an every down quarterback, his career was over. But he would be switched primarily to kicker for the Raiders and play another nine seasons. 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 it was surpassed by Sebastian Janikowski a few years back.
LT Donald Penn
The Buccaneers’ stupidity saved the Raiders and their shiny new rookie QB from disaster. The team had just blown the chance to bring back left tackle Jared Veldheer and headed in to free agency with no prospects for a replacement. They didn’t count on the Bucs being boneheaded enough to think Donald Penn was the reason for their statuesque QB Mike Glennon getting sacked as often as he did. They cut the 31-year-old left tackle and he enthusiastically signed on with his childhood favorite team. He would play five seasons for the Raiders, heading to two Pro Bowls as part of one of the best lines in football. The Raiders released the soon-t0-be 36-year-old this offseason following an injury-shortened season. But he gave the Raiders four of the best years of his career after his former team gave up on him.