Defensive end Greg Townsend is a bit underrated among the all-time greats of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Las Vegas Raiders, but he is the Silver and Black’s all-time leader in sacks.
And it isn’t even that close.
The 6-3, 255-pound Townsend, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) of the 1983 NFL Draft out of Texas Christian by the Raiders, had 107.5 sacks in 174 games from 1983-93 and in 1997, with Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long a distant second with 84 sacks in 179 games. He also played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994.
Townsend would come off the bench in his first three seasons, registering 27.5 sacks on a very good defense, and didn’t even realize he was that good until a few games into his rookie season.
“I think it was around my third game,” Townsend recalled. “It was a Monday Night Football game, so I knew it was going to be great. We’re running a blitz against Miami and the quarterback fumbled. I picked the ball up and all of a sudden, the whole world goes into slow motion.
“(Linebacker) Ted Hendricks is yelling at me to follow him, but everything seems to be moving so slow. I’m running and running with the ball and I’m trying to get to the goal line. Guys are everywhere. I ended up scoring–it was great. Everybody’s congratulating the coaches and all. That’s when I knew I could play because everybody had accepted me.”
Of course, the rest of the Raiders knew right away, and not only because Townsend had 10½ sacks playing part-time as a rookie.
Long was one of his biggest fans.
“If you put Greg Townsend’s 10½ sacks (as a rookie) in a four-man line situation, playing full time, you’re talking about a 25-sack, 20-holding-penalties player,” Long told Sports Illustrated.
Townsend finished with double-digit sacks in seven seasons, with a career-high 13 in 1991, after having made 12.5 the year before.
Even though tackles were not an official NFL statistic until his sixth season in the NFL, he finished with 363 total stops, including one for safety, and had three interceptions, one that he returned 86 yards for a touchdown in 1988.
In addition, Townsend forced 13 fumbles and added eight fumble recoveries, returning three for touchdowns.
While he primarily played defensive end, Townsend was capable to playing anywhere on the defensive line and could drop into pass coverage because he played linebacker at TCU.
“In a list of all-time draft steals in Raiders history, Greg Townsend would have to be at or near the top of the list,” Khaled Abullah wrote on Fansided last year. “Selected in the fourth round of the 1983 NFL Draft out of TCU, Townsend would go on to spend 12 years total with the Silver and Black and become the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 107.5.
“ … Townsend is a member of the 100-sack club and is currently 23rd all-time in NFL history. ahead of names like Charles Haley and Warren Sapp.”
Townsend played in the Pro Bowl in 1991 and 1992, in addition to being selected first-team All-Pro twice by the Associated Press and second-team twice, and was a key member of the Raiders’ Super Bowl XVIII champions in his first season.
But he also was suspended twice, once for his participation in a brawl with the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 5, 1986, and for a positive marijuana test in 1988.
Townsend was embarrassed the second time.
“I saw my career flashing before my face,” Townsend said. “I have a little girl. I have a mom that I dearly love. I was still dating my fiancee. I was saying to myself that my daughter has to go to school, and maybe the teachers know, maybe her classmates know.
“That’s going to be embarrassing. My mom and her co-workers are avid churchgoers, that’s going to be embarrassing. It was totally embarrassing to me.”
Townsend had another incident with the Chiefs, but this one was a little funny.
During a game against the Raiders’ arch-rival, Townsend sneaked close to the Chiefs’ sideline huddle on the bench during a timeout to see what they might be planning, but after several seconds he was caught in the act.
“I was just keeping things loose,” Townsend said. “The coaches were trying to huddle around (Chief quarterback) Steve DeBerg, so I couldn’t hear. I was trying to read lips, whatever I could do to get an edge.”
Of course, Townsend always had an advantage rushing the quarterback off the edge.
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