Reflecting on the Pre-NFL Forgotten AFL Greats

The Las Vegas Raiders' history is rooted in a foundation poured long before they entered the NFL, and we take time to reflect on many AFL greats.

The American Football League, which existed from 1960-69, changed the face of professional football

Before that, most teams in the National Football League existed on a three-yard-and-a-cloud of dust offensive philosophy, but then the AFL came along and filled the air with footballs in its wide-open passing games that looked a lot like the NFL these days.

It didn’t happen right away after the AFL-NFL merger, especially when Coach Vince Lombardi’s last two Green Bay Packers team defeated the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders with power football in the first two Super Bowls to cap the 1966 and 1967 seasons.

However, when quarterback Joe Namath and the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, things started to change.

The AFL ceased to exist after the merger became complete in 1970, but 27 players from the league wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Namath, Dawson, wide receiver Lance Alworth and tackle Ron Mix of the San Diego Chargers, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan and linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell of the Chiefs, running back O.J. Simpson and guard Billy Shaw of the Buffalo Bills, running back Larry Csonka and quarterback Bob Griese of the Miami Dolphins, running back Floyd Little of the Denver Broncos, and defensive end Elvin Bethea, wide receiver Charlie Joiner and safety Ken Houston of the Houston Oilers.

Oakland Raiders who played in the NFL and wound up in the HOF in Canton, Ohio, include center Jim Otto, quarterback-kicker George Blanda, tackle Art Shell, guard Gene Upshaw, and wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff.

However, fans of the AFL believe there are many other former AFL stars who belong in the Hall of Fame, but more than 50 years later they have been long forgotten and probably never will get there.

They include wide receiver Otis Taylor, guard Ed Budde, defensive end Jerry Mays, tackle Jim Tyrer, running back Mike Garrett, linebacker E.J. Holub and punter Jerrel Wilson of the Chiefs, wide receiver George Sauer, linebacker Larry Grantham, and kicker Jim Turner of the Jets, wide receiver Charlie Hennigan and guard Bob Talamini of the Oilers, running back Paul Lowe, quarterback John Hadl and guard Walt Sweeney of the Chargers, running back Cookie Gilchrist, cornerback Butch Beard and defensive tackle Tom Sestak of the Bills, wide receiver Lionel Taylor and safety Goose Gonsoulin of the Broncos, and running back Jim Nance and center Jon Morris of the Boston Patriots.

Among others.

Raiders on that list include quarterback Daryle Lamonica, running back Clem Daniels, wide receiver Art Powell, tight end Billy Cannon, defensive tackle Tom Keating, and defensive back Dave Grayson.

Lamonica, nicknamed “The Mad Bomber,” was shared time at quarterback with Jack Kemp of the Bills before coming to Oakland in a trade, in 1967 and led the Raiders to 13-1 regular-season record and Super Bowl II in his first season in Silver and Black.

In 12 seasons, the 6-3, 215-pound Lamonica had a 66–16–4 record as a starter for a .791 percentage, second in NFL history to Otto Graham’s .810.

Lamonica, who was the AFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1967 and 1969, a three-time AFL All-Star in addition to playing in two Pro Bowls after the merger, completed 1,288-of-2,601 passes for 19,154 and 164 touchdowns in his career and added 1,928 yards and 19 TDs in the playoffs. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns in his career.

The 6-1, 220-pound Daniels started his career as a defensive back with the Dallas Texans in 1960, before switching to running back. He came to the Raiders in 1961 and two seasons later was the AFL’s leading rusher with 1,099 yards en route to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Daniels rushed for 5,138 yards and 30 touchdowns in addition to catching 203 passes for 3,314 yards, a 16.3-yard average, and 24 touchdowns before sustaining a knee injury in 1967 that kept him out of Super Bowl II and eventually cut short his career. He was a four-time AFL All-Star and was selected to the AFL All-Time Team.

The 6-3, 210-pound Powell played four of his 10 seasons with the Raiders, having his best season in 1963 with Oakland, when he caught 73 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Powell made 479 catches for 8,046 yards, a 16.8-yard average, and 81 touchdowns, was an eight-time AFL All-Star, and was selected to the AFL’s All-Time Team.

The 6-1, 207-pound Cannon won the 1959 Heisman Trophy at LSU, was Cannon was drafted in the first round by the Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL in 1960 and made headlines when he signed with the AFL team.

In his career, Cannon rushed 602 times for 2,455 yards and 17 touchdowns in addition to catching 236 passes for 3,656 yards, a 15.5-yard average, and 47 touchdowns while being named All-AFL four times.

The 6-2, 247-pound Keating was a cat-quick defensive tackle who was one of the leaders of the Raiders defense known as “The 11 Angry Men.” He made All-AFL twice and later was selected All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl.

Individual defensive statistics were not kept at the time, but Keating contributed greatly to the 1967 Raiders, who had 67 sacks for 666 yards of losses, and allowed the fewest yards rushing and fewest rushing yards per attempt in the AFL, were third in fewest passing yards and second-fewest points allowed.

The 5-10, 187-pound Grayson, who played cornerback and safety, came to the Raiders in a trade with the Chiefs and played the last six seasons of his career in Oakland. He was the AFL’s all-time interception leader with 48 picks, returning them for 993 yards and five touchdowns.

Grayson, who was a six-time All-AFL selection and was named to the AFL’s All-Time team, had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown in 1961 that tied the AFL’s all-time record. He returned the opening kickoff of the 1967 AFL Championship Game 47 yards, starting the Raiders off in a 40-7 victory over the Oilers.

All six of these Raiders were brought to Oakland by Al Davis—coach, general manager, and eventually, owner Al Davis, who is in the Hall of Fame along with 23 of his former players.

Perhaps the Pro Football Hall of Fame needs to open an AFL wing to recognize these other forgotten greats.

Diehard AFL fans believe many of them should have been there a long time ago but were intentionally overlooked by the NFL powers that be who control the HOF.

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