John Madden is carried off the field as the Raiders celebrate their first Super Bowl win.
A Silver and
January 9, 1977
In the Oakland Raiders' locker room, muscular athletes clad in the club's distinctive silver and black watched with suppressed emotion as Pete Rozelle presented the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy to Al Davis, managing general partner, and Coach John Madden.
"I'm sorry the trophy isn't silver and black, but it's close," equipped the commissioner. "Your victory was one of the most impressive in Super Bowl history."
More than just a symbol of professional football's supreme accomplishment, the trophy represented to the Raiders the culmination of years of frustration, seasons of building and the death of one of the game's most vile canards: "They can't win the big one."
Oakland had just won "the big one," thrashing the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in a suprisingly effortless demonstration before 103,438 on the sunny, 58-degree afternoon of January 9, 1977.
The moment of triumph was particularly exhilarating to those who could remember the early years of the American Football League when the Raiders drew only curiosity seekers to nondescript Frank Youell Field, named for an undertaker and which was nothing more, one writer maintained, than "an urban playground with portable stands."
The Raiders had lost 25 of their previous 28 games when Al Davis, an assistant coach of the San Diego Chargers, assumed the coaching chores in 1963, proclaiming that "I've always gone into everything with the confidence that I could do the job."
Later, Davis recalled, "I was never concerned that we could get this thing off the ground. It was only a matter of how quickly."
At 36, Davis engineered an instant transformation on the rag-tag Raiders, who had been selected to finish last in the Western Division. The team finished second, missing the title by one game. Not surprisingly, Davis was selected AFL Coach of the Year in virtually every poll.
After laying the foundation for Raider success, Davis moved on to more prestigious chairs, turning the coaching reins over to John Rauch, who guided the Raiders to the AFL title in 1967 and into Super Bowl II. Then came John Madden, who won division titles in six of his first seven seasons as coach. In five of those championship years, the Raiders advanced to the American Football Conference title game, only to lose the big one.
But 1976 was a different story. The Raiders started off with victories over Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Houston before suffering a 48-17 wipeout at New England.
Injuries to key personnel forced the Raiders to adopt a 3-4 defense for the Patriots game and inexperience took a heavy toll.
"Everything New England did was right and everything we did was wrong," philosophized quarterback Ken Stabler. "There are some games you can't really get upset about because there is nothing you can do about it.
"New England uses the same defense we use and they knew how to take advantage of our people. Our guy in the middle had to take on their center, maybe a guard double-teaming him, and then the running back. He didn't have much chance."
After the Foxboro fiasco, it was all smooth sailing for the Raiders, the only close call a 28-27 squeaker in Chicago.
The Raiders eliminated the Patriots in the first round of the triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, their conquerors in the two previous AEC title games.
The Oakland offense was spearheaded by Mark van Eeghen, who gained 1,012 yards, fifth highest in the conference, and Stabler, who led AFC quarterbacks with 194 pass completions in 291 attempts and accounted for 2,737 yards.
The Minnesota Vikings cakewalked to the championship of the NFC Central Division with an 11-2-1 record. Their only defeats came at the hands of the Chicago Bears, 14-13, and the San Francisco 49ers, 20-16. Los Angeles accounted for the 10-10 tie.
In the playoffs, the Vikings eliminated the Washington Redskins, 35-20, and Los Angeles, 24-13, to gain a shot at a Super Bowl championship that had eluded them three times.
As in recent seasons, the Minnesota offense revolved around Chuck Foreman (1,155 yards in 277 carries) and Fran Tarkenton, the No. 3 rated quarterback in the conference (255 completions in 412 attempts) and Fred Cox, the third highest NFC scorer among kickers with 89 points.
One of the brightest new members of the Vikings cast was Sammy White, a wide receiver out of Grambling. The swift deep threat caught 51 passes, sixth highest total in the NFC, and gained 906 yards, more than any other receiver, and averaged 17.8 yards per catch. His 10 touchdowns also led the NFC.
The fact that the game would be played in the Rose Bowl was, in itself, historic. For years directors of the Pasadena stadium had remained aloof of the professional game, preferring to limit the facility to one major football event annually, the New Year's Day extravaganza.
But NFL blandishments, plus pressure from other points, weakened the resistance and the Rose Bowl became the fifth site for football's premier attraction.
Rental for the Rose Bowl was announced as $112,000, while the City of Pasadena realized an additional $8,000 from concessions sales.
Other NFL expenses included $75,000 for the cocktail party, dinner and entertainment on the Friday night preceding the game, $25,000 for halftime entertainment, $130,000 for each club's hotels, food, practice field and security and the cash equivalent of 80 round-trip tickets to Los Angeles.
Each player, who received one-fourteenth of his annual salary for the first playoff game and $8,500 for the conference championship game, would receive $15,000 or $7,500 for the Super Bowl, depending on the outcome.
The game was not only witnessed by the first Super Bowl crowd to surpass 100,000, but approximately 78 million who watched on NBC television on 224 American channels as well as outlets in Canada, France, England, Mexico, Latin America and Japan.
To accommodate visitors from afar, two major airlines scheduled additional flights from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and the No. 1 rental car agency increased its rolling stock by 20 percent.
Tourism officials estimated that more than $31 million would be poured into the city's economy by free-spending visitors.
As the two contestants engaged in Super Week drills, ripples of discontent emanated from the Viking base at Costa Mesa. Foreman was unhappy because the club refused to renegotiate his contract as he had requested before the start of the season.
"This may be the wrong time to make this public," conceded the three-year veteran, "but I'm not happy with my contract and won't play with the club again. I think I've proved myself and want to be paid as the best."
Tarkenton, among others, agreed with Foreman. "We don't give Foreman the ball to set records like Buffalo does with O.J. Simpson," declared the quarterback. "Foreman is the most valuable player on this team. In fact, he's the most valuable player in the league."
The addition of Brent McClanahan, a running back, and wide receivers Ahmad Rashad and White created, continued Tarkenton, "an obsession on this team to win the Super Bowl. It started last year in the Dallas game. This team is on fire to play the game."
Comparing the present Vikings with the model of a year earlier, Coach Bud Grant announced, "This team has a new dimension -- emotion. It may have been dormant all the while. It's the kind of spirit players need to build themselves up. It can't come from the outside."
Jim Finks, general manager of the Vikes from 1964 to '73, cast a pre-game vote of confidence for the NFC champions, declaring, "I'm not convinced that Dave Rowe, Otis Sistrunk and John Matuszak (Raider front three) strike fear into the hearts of anyone. They have played all season, but I don't think they are in the same class as Carl Eller, Alan Page, Doug Sutherland and Jim Marshall (Minnesota front four).
"I believe Minnesota is the better team from player No. 1 through No. 43. Minnesota's linebackers are just as good, their front four are better and their secondary just as good.
"Minnesota also has more ways of scoring. I don't think Oakland can break a play for any distance. Foreman has that ability."
Washington Redskins Coach George Allen said he had never seen a stronger
Viking team, but gave a possible edge to Oakland because of its depth. "That counts in a game that figures to be so close," said Allen.
"Oakland's big threat is the bomb. Stabler can go deep and nobody has been able to stop him. The only way is with a great rush or lay off and give away the short stuff underneath. Stabler gets the best protection in football. He has time to find the open man and his receivers have the speed and knowledge to get open."
A free spirit with full appreciation of the unfettered lifestyle, Stabler was eminently qualified for distinction as a professional quarterback.
"In the NFL," he once remarked, "I bet there are 25 quarterbacks who can throw better than I can. But I can make guys win. I can motivate players and they'll tell you that. It's part of my job. Winning is what we're all here for. It cures colds, heals fever blisters, whatever's wrong with you.
"The worst thing I could do would be to let my guys see me with a worried look. I'm not a worrier anyway. I'm really relaxed and loose on the field, no matter how tense things are.
"Sometimes I think of all the things that could go wrong if I screw up. But then I know that I'm not going to, so it ain't no big deal."
Approaching his first Super Bowl, Stabler confessed that "I'd like to think that this is nothing more than a sandlot game and all we had to do is go out there and have some fun. But I can't, the game is just too big. It means too much to too many people for me to say it's just another game. It means money and job security.
"We've showed that we don't have to establish the running game before we pass. We can pass anytime we want to as long as we have good protection. Cliff Branch is our home run guy. Freddie Biletnikoff is a great clutch guy and Dave Casper is a real smart, strong guy who outmuscles people. They're very difficult to cover. People say that the zone defense has taken away the long ball, but I've seen Branch run right away from zones."
Biletnikoff did not possess the blazing speed of Branch, a world-class sprinter, but the 12-year veteran whose 43 receptions had accounted for 551 yards had developed a technique that made him one of the game's most feared wide receivers.
"I try to give the defensive back the impression that I'm on a deep pattern," he explained. "As soon as he turns his back and starts running, I plant my foot and go either back toward the line of scrimmage, or toward the middle or out toward the sideline. That gives me two chances to beat him, either by forcing him to turn and start running before I plant my foot or by coming back toward scrimmage.
"Success often depends on knowing what your own backs are doing on a certain pattern. If I'm running a hook, for instance, I know that the outside linebacker will follow our backs coming out of the backfield. So I'll slide over a few yards toward the vacated spot."
Despite his pre-eminence as a pass catcher, Biletnikoff tried continually to add refinements to his act. "I still get to the same point where I plan to break either left or right," he explained. "But getting to the spot can be done several different ways. If I run an out pattern, I can line up a lot wider so my first move is to the inside, then back outside. I get to the same spot I originally planned to go to, but I give the defender a different view from what he's accustomed to."
Unlike nine years earlier when the Raiders made their only previous Super Bowl appearance, against Green Bay, their veteran players were no longer in awe of the opposition.
Pete Banaszak capsulized the Raiders' feelings of an earlier era when he recalled: "On our first offensive play, I came out of the huddle and looked across the line at Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Henry Jordan, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, guys whose bubble gum cards I had collected as a kid. I was supposed to block Robinson and Hewritt Dixon carried the ball. I never touched Robinson. Nitschke came over to get Dixon for no gain. I had cleat marks all over my back."
Slack-jawed admiration was gone the second time around. The Raiders exuded confidence, a mood detected by Len Dawson, former Kansas City quarterback, who predicted, "The Raiders will kill 'em."
If the Raiders had a killer instinct, it was not readily apparent. After Carl Garrett returned the opening kickoff to the Oakland 34, Stabler guided the Raiders to the Minnesota 32, with Clarence Davis picking up 20 yards on a left end sweep.
"The only play I second-guessed myself on came just after that," Stabler disclosed. "We lost a yard on first down and then I missed on a pass on second down. Everybody in the stadium expected a pass on third down, but I decided to get fancy and call a running play. I knew everyone would be looking for a pass.
"I thought maybe I could pop a run in there and surprise the Vikings and make a good gain. But we didn't fool them. They may have been looking for a pass, but they stopped Banaszak on a running play after two yards. That made it fourth down and we went for a field goal and missed. I figured it was my fault we didn't score because of the play I called on third down."
On their third possession, the Raiders' premier punter, Ray Guy, dropped back to kick. Guy never before had had a punt blocked in his four years in the NFL, but this time he kicked the football squarely into linebacker Fred McNeill, who recovered on the Oakland 3-yard line.
"The snap was low," reported Guy. "Then I had to take steps, extra time to get the kick away. I thought I got the kick off, then I saw it in the air over my head. That's when I knew it had been blocked. McNeill got to the ball because the snap was low and we missed a blocking assignment."
The Vikings failed to capitalize on the break. On second down from the 2, McClanahan fumbled and linebacker Willie Hall recovered for Oakland.
In 12 plays, the Raiders thundered from their 3 to the Viking 7, and, with 48 seconds gone in the second quarter, Errol Mann booted a 24-yard field goal.
Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano described McClanahan's fumble:
"On the preceding play I went in high and was sandwiched by Ron Yary and Stu Voigt. On the second down, I went in low and when I came up there was McClanahan getting the ball. I hit the ball with my helmet."
Fellow linebacker Hall "saw the ball roll through somebody's legs and I dived for it. I was lucky nobody else saw it and beat me to it."
When Stabler trotted off the field after Mann's field goal had given the Raiders their 3-0 lead, he found Madden screaming.
"He thought the score should have been 14-0," said Stabler. "He thought we should have gone in for a touchdown just as we should have done earlier. I told him, 'Don't worry, Coach, we'll get a lot more points.'"
Stabler gained almost instant stature as a prophet. The Vikings failed to make a first down and Neil Clabo punted to the Oakland 36.
In 10 plays, Stabler directed the Raiders to a touchdown, with 19 yards consumed by a pass to tight end Casper. Another toss to Casper, for one yard, completed the drive and Mann's extra point put Oakland on top, 10-0, with 7:50 elapsed in the period.
Again the Vikings failed to register a first down and again Clabo punted, Neal Colzie returning the ball 25 yards to the Minnesota 35.
Three line smashes and a 17-yard pass to Biletnikoff placed the ball on the 1-yard line, from where Banaszak plunged across. Mann's PAT attempt sailed wide to the right and it was 16-0.
The Vikings advanced no farther than the Oakland 48 the remainder of the quarter, although they did register their only third-down conversion in six tries before halftime. The Raiders' first-half record on third-down conversions was 7 of 12.
Other first-half statistics were predominantly in the Raiders' favor. First downs: 16 to 4; total net yards, 288 to 86; offensive plays, 48 to 22; net yards rushing, 166 to 27; net yards passing, 122 to 59.
With nearly 10 minutes gone in the third quarter, a 40-yard Mann field goal sent the Raiders ahead, 19-0. That score endured about five minutes, or until Tarkenton could move the Vikings 68 yards on 12 plays. Aided by a roughing the passer penalty against Ted Hendricks and a holding penalty against Colzie in the Oakland secondary, the Vikings marched from their 32 to the Oakland 8 from where Tarkenton connected with White for six points. Fred Cox' conversion gave Minnesota partisans a breath of hope, but only briefly. Early in the fourth quarter, having moved from their 22 to the Oakland 37, the Vikings were brought up short when Hall intercepted a Tarkenton pass and returned it 16 yards to the Oakland 46.
From that point Stabler needed only four plays, including a 48-yard pass-run with Biletnikoff, to travel the 54 yards. Banaszak plunged the final two yards and, as he had done on his earlier TD, heaved the football into the stands in a gesture of unrestrained delight. Mann's conversion gave the Raiders a 26-7 lead.
The quarter was now seven minutes and 21 seconds old, and before another two minutes had expired, the Raiders had scored again, raising the count to 32-7. The last Oakland TD was a lightning thrust, resulting from veteran cornerback Willie Brown's interception of a Tarkenton pass at the Oakland 25 and a 75-yard sprint to the end zone. For the second time, Mann's extra-point attempt was wide right.
Brown had no doubts that Tarkenton was planning to pass. "When they lined up without a huddle, I knew they were going to pass," said the cornerback. "I've been around 13 years, so I usually know what a team is likely to do in certain situations. We were ahead, 26-7, so they didn't have much choice.
"I could tell the way Sammy White looked at me and the way Tarkenton looked over my way. When Tarkenton was two steps back in the drop, I knew for sure and made my move."
After an Oakland drive bogged down on the 44-yard line at the two-minute mark, Bob Lee, who had replaced Tarkenton, completed six of seven passes, the last to Voigt, to produce the second Minnesota TD.
Biletnikoff, with four catches good for 79 yards, was named the game's most valuable player, a selection that met with almost universal approval. One complaint was filed by the wide receiver himself.
"A stick of gum would have been reward enough," he observed. "I was surprised to hear that I had won it. It's like all the rest of the guys got cheated. That makes me feel bad. The thing that makes me feel happy is that we won."
Stabler, for one, endorsed the selection of Biletnikoff, recalling that Freddie was trotting off the field as the announcement was being made to the crowd.
"Freddie started to cry," reported Stabler. "He's a very emotional fellow. The other players were hugging him and shaking his hand. Photographers were snapping his picture and the game was still going on. It really was a great experience to see something like that because he deserved it so much."
On the 48-yard pass play, Biletnikoff revealed, "Nate Wright (cornerback) came up to bump me but I went around him on the inside. I took off and he just seemed to sit there. I got to the hole in the middle and nobody was there."
Minnesota safety Krause had this version of the long pass: "I loused up the coverage. I called one coverage to Wright and played another. It gave Biletnikoff practically the whole field and he doesn't need more than a few inches."
Biletnikoff's talents were not lost on Wright. "He almost never drops a ball," declared the cornerback in wonderment. "He catches everything catchable and some passes that aren't. Stabler throws the ball in such a way to Biletnikoff that it's almost impossible to intercept. He keeps it away. Sometimes only a great catch will keep it in play, but Biletnikoff makes those all the time. I don't think I could play him any better on the two balls he caught near the goal line to set up touchdowns. He went high for one near the sideline, and caught the other one off the ground in the middle of the field. I've never played a man with his combination of moves and catching ability."
Madden assured the victorious Raiders, "We're No. 1. You did a great job. You had a great season. They can't say anymore that we don't win the big one.
"We had tougher games than this in the AFC. I knew last night that we were going to win big. I usually don't feel that way before a game. But I was so sure of it I was even saying it. Everything was perfect."
Madden's gaze shifted to the opposite side of the locker room where Clarence Davis was peeling tape from his legs. "Hooray for Clarence Davis," Madden shouted twice.
Davis had carried the ball 16 times and gained 137 yards for an 8.6-yard average. "Our offensive line just knocked people out of the way," said the six-year veteran from the University of Southern California. "We have three All-Pros up there and the other guys should be, too.
"Maybe because everyone said we'd run on them, they believed it. They didn't expect us to go wide. That may have been part of it, but basically we just blocked them inside and outside."
Davis, who had been plagued by a knee problem for three years, had spurts of 20, 35, 13, 18 and 16 yards.
Banaszak, asked about his throwing the football into the stands after his touchdowns, replied, "The first time, Davis said to me, 'Do something, you scored.' Throwing the ball was the only thing I could think of. The second throw was better than the first, but neither was good. I hurt my arm about five years ago."
Hall, whose fumble recovery and interception earned him recognition as the game's top defensive player, disclosed that he had changed his tactics to make the interception.
"I had been going the other way with a back and was supposed to do it again, but I hid in the traffic and Tarkenton didn't see me."
Minnesota's 71 net yards rushing in 26 carries was the direct result of Oakland's defensive game plan, revealed Villapiano.
"We wanted to prevent their short passes to Foreman, make them throw long and make them run with the ball."
Added linebacker Monte Johnson: "We lid a couple of things differently. When they went to a double wing and put Foreman in the slot we put a strong safety (Jack Tatum) on him. That shut them down."
When Casper commented that he would have gained 40 fewer yards if the Vikings had tackled more effectively, Minnesota linebacker Hilgenberg could only agree.
"Sure, he's right, we didn't tackle well because the defense was on the field almost the entire first quarter, and most of the first half. We should have been able to control them better with our offense. I think if we had better balance in our offense, we would have done it. So Oakland moved on us and scored on us. They did that because the longer we stayed on the field, the more tired we got and the more tired we got, the worse our tackling got."
In the wake of their fourth Super Bowl defeat, the Vikings attempted to be philosophical.
"It's not the end of the world," proclaimed defensive end Carl Eller. "Personally, I don't feel down."
"The Raiders completely dominated us," noted Tarkenton. "We were up. We had the emotion, but you have to make the plays to keep it going. We made one play (the blocked punt) but we couldn't make the others."
After attempting to be analytical, Coach Grant quipped, "We just played them on the wrong day. Next time we'll play them on a Wednesday."
Despite the fact that the Vikings had now earned more Super Bowl money than any other team, Yary was inconsolable.
"It wasn't just the score or the way they ran us around," he moaned. "I don't know how you can play in four of these things and lose them all. Not only lose them all, but play bad football. I don't know how or why it happened, but for the first time in all the years that I've been playing football, I'm embarrassed."