Raiders

Mount Rushmore of Raiders Linebackers

Looking back at the greatest linebackers ever to don the Silver and Black, the competition to grace this Mt. Rushmore is stiff. So, who made the final cut for the Raiders?

Honorable Mention For The Raiders

Greg Biekert, Middle Linebacker 1993-2001

In an alternate universe, Greg Biekert is cemented in Raiders history as the one who sealed the 2001 AFC divisional playoff game by recovering a Tom Brady fumble. That feat should’ve sent the Silver and Black to their second consecutive AFC title game. If mankind ever figures out inter-dimensional travel a la Rick and Morty, I will be headed to that universe. Aside from that, Biekert was a solid starting middle linebacker for the Raiders for the better part of a decade. He led the team in tackles in six of his nine seasons with the team. Biekert also started in four playoff games and recorded 35 tackles. He was very close to making Mt. Rushmore, but he didn’t have the accolades to compete with some other players on this list.

Gus Otto, Linebacker 1965-1972

In his eight seasons with the Raiders, Otto played a key role on the team in the franchise’s infancy. For three straight seasons (’67-’69), he was named to the AFL All-Pro second-team. In 1970, following the merger, Otto made the NFL All-Pro second-team. Also, in 1967, Otto helped the Raiders win their first and only AFL title, and reach the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Finally, to answer your question, no, Gus Otto is not related to Jim Otto.

Jerry Robinson, Linebacker 1985-1991

Robinson was a stalwart linebacker for the Raiders for seven seasons. During that time, he started 70 games and had six interceptions, including two pick six’s. Interestingly enough, the entirety of his Raiders tenure came in Los Angeles. One thing that hurt Robinson’s Rushmore candidacy was that his best year did not come with the Raiders. Prior to arriving in Los Angeles, Robinson spent the first six years of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he earned a first-team All-Pro nod and played in a Super Bowl. Had he picked up more of those types of accolades as a Raider, we might have seen him in the next section of this article.

Now, onto the main event.

Dan Conners, Middle Linebacker 1964-’74

  • All-Time AFL second team
  • 3x AFL All-Star

The early Raiders teams were known for their brutal, punishing, defenses. For eleven seasons, the man in the middle of those defenses was Dan Conners. During his tenure, the Raiders won an AFL title, played in a Super Bowl, and had a regular season winning percentage of .718. Unfortunately, we cannot know how many tackles Conners recorded in his Raiders career because it was not a stat back then. However, we do know that Conners had 16 interceptions, 18 fumble recoveries, and five career touchdowns. He also played in 13 playoff games, of which the Raiders won six. Conners spent the bulk of his career alongside honorable mention Gus Otto. Towards the end of his career, he served as a mentor to the next member of this Mt. Rushmore.

Phil Villapiano, Inside/Outside Linebacker 1971-’79

  • 4x Pro Bowler
  • 1 Super Bowl Ring

Villapiano is one of my all-time favorite Raiders. Even though he retired long before I was born, I became a big fan of him through NFL Films. Not just for his play but his interviews are the best. I’d argue he’s the Raiders’ greatest orator. If you don’t believe me, check out the interview below with Silver and Black Today. Make no mistake about, Villapiano is on this list because of what he did ON the field.

In his nine years with the Raiders, he made four consecutive Pro Bowls. On the 1976 Super Bowl team, Villapiano was a leader on one of the greatest defenses on all time. He also played a whopping 10 postseason games and won six of them. Villapiano played a key role on some of the greatest teams, and played in some of the biggest games, in Raiders history. Recently, Villapiano has garnered a bit of consideration for Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Ballot. While the accolades and statistics do not seem to jump off of the page, it is really hard to talk about the NFL in the 1970s, especially the ’70s Raiders, without mentioning Phil Villapiano.

Rod Martin, Outside Linebacker 1977-’88

  • 2x Pro Bowler
  • First-team All-Pro
  • 3x second-team All-Pro
  • 2 Super Bowl rings

Rod Martin spent all twelve seasons of his incredible NFL career with the Raiders. In that time, he piled on the accolades. For as good as he was in the regular season, he was even better in the postseason. Martin’s play in his 12 playoff appearances helped the Raiders to a ridiculous 9-3 record in those games. On the game’s biggest stage, Martin was at his absolute best.

In Super Bowl XV, he picked off Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski three times. Martin is still the only player in Super Bowl history with three interceptions in one game. In Super Bowl XVIII, Martin was responsible for a litany of big plays. He had a knocked down a third down pass, sacked Joe Theisman, stopped John Riggins on fourth down, and recovered a fumble. The fact that Martin is not in the Hall of Fame is criminal. I would argue that he is the greatest Raiders linebacker of all time. I think the fact that Martin spent his entire career with the Raiders gives him the nod over the last linebacker on this Mt. Rushmore.

Matt Millen, Inside Linebacker 1980-’88

  • 2 Super Bowl Rings
  • Pro Bowler

The nine-year span Millen spent with the Raiders is considered to be one of the most successful periods of time in franchise history, culminating in two Lombardi trophies. That success can largely be attributed to a rock solid defense in which Millen was the signal-caller. One thing that many will notice is that Millen does not have nearly as many accolades as the other linebackers on this Mt. Rushmore. I think that can mostly be attributed to being overshadowed by the sheer overabundance of talent on those defenses.

Look at the ’83 team for example. You have the aforementioned Martin at linebacker, Ted Hendricks off the edge, Howie and the Tooz on the line, Hayes and Hanes in the secondary, and those are just the really big names. In spite of all those names, I think Millen played an important role in the middle of that defense. Evidence of that are the 11 playoff games he played in as a Raider, of which the team won eight. Also, I think it is worth noting that after leaving the Raiders, Millen went on to win two more Super Bowls with two other teams in four years with the 49ers and Rediskins. Success seemed to follow Millen everywhere he went during his NFL career, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

One Last Thing

Something I didn’t realize until I finished writing this is that all four of these guys’ careers overlapped with at least one other guy on this Mt. Rushmore. That’s kind of neat I think. Also, for those of you that are ready to go ballistic in the comments over the exclusion of Ted Hendricks, I purposefully left them out because they fit more into the category of ‘EDGE’ players than traditional linebackers. If we do a Mt. Rushmore strictly on the Edge position I would expect both of those guys to be on it.

If you want to see more of my takes on different things, including non-Raiders topics, feel free to follow me on Twitter @blackman_dalton

All stats and accolades courtesy of Wikipedia and Pro-Football-Reference.

Top photo: Tony Tomsic AP

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