Longtime fans of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Las Vegas Raiders are celebrating the 44th anniversary of the Silver and Black’s first Super Bowl victory, which came on Jan. 9, 1977, before more than 103,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
On that day, the Raiders routed the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, but it came long after owner Al Davis’ team was expected to claim pro football’s ultimate prize.
When a relatively young Raiders team lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, in legendary Coach Vince Lombardi’s last game with “The Pack,” it was thought that the Silver and Black would be back often.
And it’s not that they didn’t get close time and again.
However, the Raiders lost six conference championship games over the next nine seasons before dethroning the two-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-7, at the Oakland Coliseum on Dec. 26, 1976, to finally earn another trip to the Super Bowl.
“You want to play the Vikings (who were playing the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game later that day),” Steelers legend Mean Joe Greene told Raiders guard Gene Upshaw as they virtually passed the torch on the way to the locker rooms after the game.
Said Upshaw: “I wasn’t so sure, because the Vikings had been denied several times like us and we're hungry, as we were. But once I watched the Vikings on film, I knew what Joe meant.”
What the Raiders saw was that their huge offensive line, led by future Hall of Famers Upshaw, tackle Art Shell and tight end Dave Casper, was much bigger than the Vikings defensive front, even though Minnesota had highly regarded defensive linemen, Alan Page and Jim Marshall.
The Silver and Black simply ran over the defense known as “The Purple People Eaters,” and Shell completely shut out Marshall, who had no tackles and no assists.
Quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler engineered a masterful gameplan, calling many plays at the line of scrimmage, and the Raiders rushed for 266 yards on 72 attempts.
The Vikings, and many others, were expecting Stabler to attack by throwing to wide receivers Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, plus tight end Casper, but “The Snake” picked his spots, completing 12-of-19 passes for 163 yards and the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard throw to Casper that made it 10-0 on the way to a 19-0 lead in the third quarter.
Biletnikoff caught four passes for 79 yards, taking three of his catches inside the two-yard-line, and was selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“I was surprised to be named MVP,” Biletnikoff said. “Anybody could have been named MVP. … If it was up to me, I would have made Kenny MVP.”
Fullback Mark van Eeghen, the Raiders’ leading rusher, became the lead blocker for Clarence Davis, who rushed for 137 yards on 16 carries, while short-yardage specialist Pete Banaszak came off the bench to run for two touchdowns.
Van Eeghen terrorized the Vikings’ linebackers, in addition to rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries.
After the Raiders had to settle for Errol Mann’s 24-yard field goal to open the scoring in the first quarter, Stabler could tell when he came to the sideline that Coach John Madden was upset that the drive didn’t end in a touchdown.
Especially since Mann’s earlier 29-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced away.
“Don’t worry John, there’s plenty more where that came from,” Stabler told him.
And there was.
The Vikings actually had the first chance to score after Raiders great Ray Guy had a punt blocked for the first time in his career by linebacker Fred McNeil, who recovered on the Oakland three-yard-line.
However, two plays later Brent McClanahan fumbled when hit by linebacker Phil Villapiano and fellow linebacker Willie Hall recovered for the Raiders.
“We had them right where we wanted them,” Villapiano strangely told reporters after the game. “By that I mean we knew exactly what they were going to do, and we were ready for it.”
The Raiders defense, led by cornerback Willie Brown and linebacker Ted Hendricks, plus and hard-hitting safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson, limited running back Chuck Foreman to 44 yards on 17 carries and held the Vikings to a total of 71 yards on the ground.
Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton completed only 17-of-35 passes for 205 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Brown, the Raiders’ future Hall of Fame cornerback, turned the second interception into a 75-yard touchdown that gave the Raiders a 32-7 lead in the fourth quarter and virtually clinched the victory.
As Brown raced past the Minnesota bench on his way to the end zone, legendary Raiders radio play-by-play man Bill King chortled: “Old Man Willie, he’s going all the way.”
And at long last, so were the Raiders.
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