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Raiders All-Time Top Five: Defensive Ends

The Oakland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas Raiders have an outstanding legacy of great players and today we look at the all-time great defensive ends.

1. Howie Long, 1981-1993

The 6-5, 265-pound Long had definite ideas about what he wanted from his pro career after the Raiders selected him in the second round (No. 48 overall) out of Villanova in the 1981 National Football League Draft. “(In want) financial security, and I want to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s my goal. And I’d like to win a few more Super Bowls,” Howie Long told Football Digest in 1986.” He got them all, except for more Super Bowls. In his 13-year career, Long recorded 84 sacks, not counting the 7.5 sacks he had as a rookie before sacks became an official NFL statistic. He had a career-high 13 sacks in 1983, five in one game that season against the Washington Redskins. We also don’t know how many tackles he had, because they also were not an official stat, but he often finished games in double digits. In Super Bowl XVIII, he had five tackles and made 58 tackles plus 12 sacks the following season, but tackle stats for his career are incomplete. Long also intercepted two passes and returned them for a total of 84 yards, including a 73-yarder, in addition to recovering 10 fumbles while playing in 179 games. During those 13 seasons, he played in the Pro Bowl eight times, was a five-time All-Pro, was NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1985, was selected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade team, played on the Raiders Super Bowl XVIII champions and was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He also was one of the defensive ends selected on Pro Football Weekly’s All-Time 3-4 Defensive Front. Long seemed to have plenty left in the tank when he decided to end his brilliant 13-year career and go into television as an analyst for Fox Network’s NFL coverage. Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis unsuccessfully tried to change Long’s mind, which was made up. “It’s time to get on with life,” Long said in announcing his retirement. “It’s time to grow up. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been very lucky. God has blessed me. I’ve made more money than I ever dreamt of making. Having won a world championship, having done just about everything there is to do in sports from a defensive lineman’s standpoint, having a great time and finishing up at this point in my career in the Pro Bowl at 34, that is, in my mind, the way I think you should leave sports.” Long still is working for Fox and won an Emmy Award in 1997 as the Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst, and has appeared in several movies. Even though Long earned All-East honors and was honorable mention as a senior at Villanova, he was not all that highly regarded until a big break came when he was added the roster for the 1980 Blue-Gray game in place of an injured player. He made the most of it, standing out in practice as pro scouts watched, before named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Long was an outstanding all-around athlete, especially for his size, lettering in football, basketball and track (setting state records in the shot and the discus), at Millford (Mass.) High School. He also was on the boxing team at Villanova and won the 1981 Northern Collegiate Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Long was a tight end at Villanova before being moved to defensive end. And the rest is history.

2. Greg Townsend, 1983-1993, 1997

Greg Townsend played opposite Howie Long for 11 seasons and they comprised one of the most talented and feared defensive end duos of all time, terrorizing offensive linemen and quarterbacks. In his 12 seasons with the Raiders, Townsend amassed a team-record 107.5 sacks and added two in his only season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994, giving him a total of 109.5 that ranks in the NFL’s top 25. Once again, we don’t know how many tackles Townsend had because they were not an official NFL statistic for much of his career, but he is credited with a total of 363 while also recovering 15 fumbles and returning three for touchdowns, while also intercepting three passes and returning one for an 86-yard score. The 6-3, 255-pound Townsend was selected by the Silver and Black in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) out of Texas Christian and 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. “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. By playing opposite future Hall of Famer Long, Townsend was drastically underrated. He did play in the Pro Bowl in 1990 and 1991, earned second-team All-Pro honors in both of those seasons, and played a role on the Raiders’ Super Bowl XVIII champions as a rookie. 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.” But for most of his career, Townsend was the one embarrassing offensive linemen.

3. Ben Davidson, 1964-1971

“Big Ben” was a key member of the famed Eleven Angry Men of the 1967 Raiders, who collected an AFL record of 67 sacks for 666 yards of losses in 14 games. Davidson teamed with defensive end Ike Lassiter, and defensive tackles Tom Keating and Dan Birdwell to average about 15 sacks each that season because the Silver and Black did it mostly with their front four. However, we don’t know for sure which players had how many sacks because it was not an official statistic on those days, nor were individual tackles. However, rest assured, the 6-8, 275-pound Davidson had at least his share and probably more. In Super Bowl II, he was credited with nine tackles and one sack of quarterback Bart Starr as the Green Bay Packers beat the Raiders, 33-14. Davidson was selected in the fourth round (No. 46 overall) in the 1961 National Football League Draft by the Green Bay Packers out of Washington, and was undrafted by the American Football League before becoming one of the most recognizable players in the AFL. Big Ben played one season with the Packers on their 1961 NFL Championship team, before being traded during training camp the following year to the Washington Redskins and spending two basically uneventful seasons there. Then Coach and General Manager Al Davis of the Raiders signed Davidson as a free agent in 1964 and made him a star. It paid off, as Davidson was selected All-AFL in 1966, 1967, and 1968, and it is estimated that he had close to 100 sacks in his career. In addition to his outstanding play on the field, Big Ben developed a reputation as a dirty player. Davidson, who was even ejected from the football game in the popular movie “M*A*S*H,” was involved in two of the most memorable plays in Raiders history. In a game against the New York Jets in 1967, Davidson laid a tremendous hit on quarterback Joe Namath. These days, Davidson would have been penalized, probably ejected, and suspended. None of the three happened. Namath received a broken jaw in that game any everyone assumed it came on this play, but actually it came on another big hit by Lassiter, his fellow defensive end and bad boy—who also was not penalized. Namath wouldn’t give the Raiders any satisfaction, saying after the game that he hurt his jaw by “biting into a steak bone” at dinner the night before. Three years later, the Kansas City Chiefs were trying to run out the clock for a victory over the Raiders when quarterback Len Dawson ran for a first down that would have ended things, and then slid down. Since Dawson hadn’t been touched, which was the rule in those days, Davidson came along at full speed and plowed into the quarterback, leading with his helmet. Chaos ensued, with wide receiver Otis Taylor grabbing Davidson and causing a bench-clearing brawl. When the dust cleared, the officials called Davidson and Taylor for off-setting penalties, the Chiefs were forced to punt, George Blanda kicked a 48-yard field goal with eight seconds left and the Raiders escaped with a 17-17 tie. The Raiders won the AFC West with an 8-4-2 record, while the Chiefs finished at 7-5-2. You can do the math. Off the field, Davidson was a completely different person. He even played Santa Claus one year for the children at St. Jarlath’s Church in Oakland, once the Moms sewed together a 6-foot-8 Santa suit. Afterward, Davidson hung around to drink beer and talk football with the Dads for the next couple of hours. To those who knew him, off the field Big Ben Davidson was a gentle giant. Davidson died of prostate cancer in 2012 at the age of 72.

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4. John Matuszak, 1976-1982

John Matuszak was something of a bust after the Houston Oilers made him the top overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft out of the University of Tampa, bouncing from the Oilers to the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Washington Redskins in his first three-plus seasons without making much of a difference. He even played briefly with the Houston Texans of the World Football League in 1974. Then Managing General Partner Al Davis brought the Matuszak to Oakland in 1976, perhaps only because he was needed after defensive linemen Tony Cline, Art Thoms, and Horace Jones were injured and out for the season. That’s where he became “The Tooz.” The Raiders went to a 3-4 defense, with Matuszak and Otis Sistrunk at tackles, and nose tackle Dave Rowe, who joined the Raiders after they suffered their only loss of the season, 48-17, to the New England Patriots. “We had no choice to go to the 3-4 because we didn’t have enough defensive linemen,” Coach John Madden said. “I guess it worked out pretty well.” The 6-8, 280-pound Matuszak played on the same side of the defense as 6-7, 220-pound All-Pro linebacker Ted Hendricks, a future Hall of Famer, and together they totally shut down that side of the field. That opened things up for playmakers such as linebackers Phil Villapiano and Willie Hall, safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson, and cornerback Willie Brown to do their thing. The Raiders won their last 10 regular-season games, beat the Patriots, 24-21, to open the playoffs, and upset the two-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-7, in the AFC Championship Game. In Super Bowl XI, Matuszak and the rest of the Silver and Black defense shut down Chuck Foreman the Minnesota Vikings running game, allowing only 81 yards rushing. Tooz and the Raiders also harassed quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who completed 17-of-25 passes, many in desperation as the game got out of hand, for 205 yards and two interceptions, one which Brown returned 75 yards for a touchdown and the frosting on the cake in a 32-14 victory. Matuszak was credited with three tackles and three assists, but we have no idea what his regular-season numbers were because sacks and tackles were not official tackles in those days. The Tooz also was a big part of the Raiders' defense that limited running back Wilbert Montgomery to 44 yards on 16 carries in addition to forcing quarterback Ron Jaworski into three interceptions in a 27-10 victory in Super Bowl XV. About all we know about the Tooz statistically is that he recovered seven fumbles during his career and returned one for a touchdown. Perhaps because he played alongside so many Hall of Famers and All-Pros, in addition to being best known for his antics off the field, the only honor Matuszak received was making the Raiders All-Time Team. When teammates hung out with Matuszak, usually at a nightclub in the Eastbay area, they called it “Cruisin’ with The Tooz.” That could have happened on any day of the week, but it always happened on “Tooz Day.” At the start of the week before Super Bowl XI, Matuszak announced that he would be on the prowl in the days leading up to the game, but not to drink but to keep any teammates out of trouble. It paid off one night when Matuszak found wide receiver Cliff Branch about to be jumped by a group of drunks in a bar. When Tooz showed up, the guys backed off and he got Branch out of there. That might have been his biggest play as a Raider. Matuszak died of an apparent accidental overdose of pain pills he took for chronic back pain in 1998 at the age of 38.

5. Maxx Crosby, 2019-Present

The 6-5, 267-pound Maxx Crosby has shown in his two seasons with the Raiders that he can be a star in the NFL, especially if he gets some help on defense. Crosby was selected by the Silver and Black in the fourth round (No. 106 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Eastern Michigan and moved into the starting lineup as a rookie. Crosby showed he was ready for the NFL in his first game when he made six tackles in a 24-16 victory over the Denver Broncos, and he went on to make 47 tackles, including 36 solos, in his first season, in addition to 10 sacks, while defending against for passes and forcing four fumbles. In Week 11, Crosby sacked quarterback Ryan Finley of the Cincinnati Bengals four times, including a strip-sack that was recovered by teammate Maurice Hurst in a 17-10 victory. Crosby, who had the most sacks in a game for the Raiders since Khalil Mack recorded five against the Broncos in 2015, was selected AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Crosby became the first player to record three sacks in the fourth quarter since 1991, and the last one pushed the Bengals into a desperate situation deep in their own territory, leading to an interception by fellow rookies Trayvon Mullen that clinched the Raiders’ victory. Last year, Crosby added 39 total tackles, including 20 solos, and made seven sacks of the Raiders’ 21 sacks as he received constant double-teams from opponents who realized he was probably the biggest threat on the Raiders defense. Crosby sacked quarterback Cam Newton twice in a Raiders defeat in Week 3 and made a key sack of Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes in a 40-32 upset victory of the Kansas City Chiefs Week in Week 5. In Week 17 against the Broncos, Crosby sacked quarterback Drew Lock once and blocked two field goals during the 32–31 victory to earn the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. In his first two seasons, Crosby has 93 quarterback pressures and no other NFL player drafted in 2019 has more sacks and pressure than he has. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can be a great player here, there’s no doubt about that,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “… He is a heck of a football player with a great motor. We expect big things from him moving forward. We haven’t had a real consistent inside rush, which is tough on edge rushers. That’s an area we need to improve, but I love Crosby. I love his effort and he’s got a great amount of football character. He’s going to be a really good Raider for years to come.” In three seasons at Eastern Michigan, Crosby recorded 162 tackles, including 41 for losses, had 20 sacks including 11 as a junior, recovered eight fumbles while recovering four, including one that the returned for a touchdown, and also took his only pass interception for a score. He was the first Eastern Michigan defender to earn All-Mid American Conference honors twice and was selected the Eagles’ Most Valuable Player as a senior.

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