Where are they Now?: The 1976 Raiders Starting Defense
This article is one year late but it is a history that needs to be written. The 2017 season will mark the 41st anniversary of one of the most dominate teams in Oakland Raiders history but what happened to the men who won the first World Championship in franchise history?
Read on and find out.
CB: Skip Thomas aka Dr. Death (1950-2011)
Thomas played for the Oakland Raiders his entire professional career between 1972 and ’77. He had back to back six interception seasons in ’74 and ’75. His fierce tackling gave him the nickname “Doctor Death”. One of his most famous moments came during Super Bowl 11 when he held Vikings receiver Sammie White to zero receptions in the first half. Thomas moved to Kansas City after leaving the Raiders and Dr. Death spent some of his retirement working for a bug extermination company killing termites. Sadly he died of a heart attack on July 24, 2011. He was only 61 years old.
CB: Willie Brown (1940-present)
“Old Man Willie” spent his first four seasons in Denver after being joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 1963. In 1967 he was traded to the Raiders and for the next twelve seasons he dominated opposing receivers with his aggressive bump and run style of play. In Super Bowl XI he capped off his career with a 75 yard interception return for a score. Willie was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984, his first year of eligibility but his real passion was remaining on the Raiders sidelines following his 1979 retirement. From 1979 to 1988 he served in several coaching capacities and since 1995 he has worked for the team as part of their administrative team.
FS: Jack Tatum (1948-2010)
Everyone who is a true Raiders fan knows Jack Tatum. He played ten seasons from 1971 through 1980 for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers in the National Football League. He was popularly known as “The Assassin.” He was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (1973–1975) because of his reputation as a fierce competitor, and he was considered one of the hardest hitters ever to play the game. After his career ended in 1980 he wrote two books on his career and served as a National Football League employee by checking players uniforms prior to league games and issuing fines for violations. Tatum eventually faced his own disability challenges, five toes on his left foot were amputated in 2003 due to a staph infection caused by diabetes. He also suffered from an arterial blockage that cost him his right leg; he used a prosthetic limb thereafter. Jack passed away in 2010 after suffering a heart attack.
SS: George Atkinson (1947-present)
George was drafted by the Raiders in the 1968 NFL Draft and he quickly became a star at both defensive back and kick returner. After helping the Raiders win Super Bowl XI he suffered several nagging injuries that forced him to miss part of the 1977 and all of the 1978 seasons. In 1979 he spent one year in Denver before retiring. Since his playing days ended he has served as a broadcaster for the Raiders and as a frequent guest for NFL Films. Since 2008, Atkinson has been a major spokesperson for “The Clothing Broker”, a warehouse-style clothing store in Oakland, California. Atkinson suffers from symptoms that someday might be attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition associated with a growing list of former NFL players and thought to be the result of repeated blows to the head. In 2016, he joined former teammates George Buhler and Art Thoms by pledging to donate his brain to CTE research following his death.
LB: Ted Hendricks (1947-present)
Hendricks played nine seasons with the Raiders before retiring after the team won Super Bowl XVIII in 1983. In Super Bowl XI Ted helped the Raiders defense limit the Vikings offense to inadequate amounts of yardage on the ground and in the air during Super Bowl XI. One of his QB pressures resulted in an interception by teammate Willie Hall and Oakland later turned that turnover into another Raiders touchdown. Ted helped the Raiders to two more Super Bowl victories and following his retirement he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Today he enjoys retirement, golfing and he works on behalf of ex-players as part of the Hall of Fame Player’s Association.
LB: Willie Hall (1949-present)
For many Willie Hall is the forgotten man on the 1976 Oakland Raiders but he was instrumental in helping the team score a Super Bowl Championship. In the 1976 Divisional Round Playoffs against the Patriots he recovered a fumble that halted a Patriots drive. That game turned out to be a “nail biter” but Oakland still prevailed 24-21. In the 1976 AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and he returned it 25 yards to the Steelers 1 yard line. A few plays later Clarence Davis plunged into the endzone to give Oakland a 10-0 second quarter lead. The Raiders went on to beat the Steelers 24-7. In Super Bowl XI he recovered a fumble at the Raiders own goal line to halt a Vikings drive that should have resulted in establishing a 7-0 lead for Minnesota. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Raiders leading 19-7, Hall intercepted a Fran Tarkenton pass at the Oakland 30 and he returned it 16 yards. Three plays later, Ken Stabler hit Fred Biletnikoff for a 48 yard gain to the Minnesota 1 yard line, and a few seconds later the Raiders scored another touchdown which effectively ended the competitive phase of Super Bowl XI. I am sad to say, I don’t know what happened to Willie Hall after he left the NFL. He has shown up at some charity golf benefits put on by Raider retirees but Willie lives a quiet existence somewhere in the continental United States.
LB: Monte Johnson (1951-present)
During his collegiate playing career he played for the University of Nebraska but he never started a single game at linebacker for the Cornhuskers. He played eight seasons in Oakland but retired as a result of a career-ending knee injury he incurred early in the 1980 season. Johnson made at least 7 tackles in Super Bowl XI and as captain of the Raiders defense he called every single defensive alignment. He was also instrumental in holding Vikings famed running back Chuck Foreman to only 44 yards on 7 carries. Foreman’s longest run of the day was a mere 7 yards. After retirement Monte Johnson moved to Atlanta, where he currently has his own business, Family Capital Management, a financial advisor firm.
LB: Phil Villapiano (1949-present)
I have always felt a special kinship with Phil Villapiano because he attended the same university as I did (Bowling Green State University). One of the fastest linebackers of his era, Phil specialized in making big plays - none bigger than his momentum changing goal-line tackle against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, where he forced the fumble that was recovered by Willie Hall. Phil also recorded one sack. The Raiders eventually turned that turnover into a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. After the Raiders victory in Super Bowl XI he fell out over favor with Raiders management because he was often on the team’s injury list. In 1980 he was traded to the Bills and he spent two seasons in Buffalo before retiring in 1982. In retirement he has been in the International Logistics business for more than thirty years, and very active as the Raiders unofficial spokesperson for NFL Films. Currently, Phil provides logistics solutions for domestic and international companies as Vice President of Sales for Odyssey Logistics & Technology, a global logistics leader, based in Danbury, Connecticut. He is always willing to sign an autograph for a fan. So if you ever come across him don’t hesitate to ask nicely.
DE: John Matuszak (1959-1989)
“The Tooz” lived life to the fullest. He is best remembered by non-Raider fans because he portrayed Sloth in Goonies. Tooz played a long career with the Raiders after short stints in Washington and Kansas City. He was the starting defensive end for the Raiders in both Super Bowl 11 (1976) and Super Bowl 15 (1980). After retiring he pursued a career as an actor. Besides Goonies he also had guest television spots on many 80’s classics like Cheers, Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team and Silver Spoons. Matuszak died in 1989 as a result of a accidental propoxyphene overdose. He was the first ’76 Raider to pass on.
DT: Dave Rowe (1950-present)
As the Raiders starting nosetackle he helped keep Vikings famed quarterback Fran Tarkenton under pressure in Super Bowl XI. Tarkenton finished the day 17 of 35 passing with two interceptions. David joined the Oakland Raiders in 1975 after stints in New Orleans, New England and San Diego. He remained a Raider until 1978. Following his career he worked as college football television analyst for 30 years. In 1987, Rowe helped make broadcast history when he served as the color analyst alongside Gayle Sierens, who became the first female NFL play-by-play announcer when she called a Seattle Seahawks–Kansas City Chiefs matchup for NBC.
DE: Otis Sistrunk (1946-present)
Sistrunk never played college football but a brief stint in the Continental Football League caught the watchful eye of Al Davis who signed Sistrunk to a contract in 1972. Otis immediately became a starter at defensive end, a role that he would not relinquish until 1977. In Super Bowl XI he was part of a three man defensive line that pressured Fran Tarkenton relentlessly. Sistrunk nearly forced a sack fumble during the game but the officials ruled that Tarkenton’s arm was going forward with Sistrunk hit him and both the fumble and the sack was nullified. After retiring from the Raiders in 1978 he spend a few years the entertainment industry which included a brief cameo in the movie Car Wash and as a wrestler for the National Wrestling Alliance. He later spent several years working for the American armed forces as a civilian employee and making an occasional appearance as an interviewee for NFL Films. During his retirement Otis developed an affinity for golf and he almost always appears for charity golf tournaments that are hosted from former Raider players like Fred Biletnikoff. In July 2017 his golf team won the ninth annual Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic.
- August 4, 2020
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- Raider Mike