AFC West: Ken Stabler

Ken StablerAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Raiders history. Yesterday, we featured the Holy Roller, which gave the Raiders a “zany” victory in San Diego on the final play of regulation when Ken Stabler purposely fumbled forward while being sacked and, after Pete Banaszak batted the ball even further forward, Dave Casper recovered it in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown in 1978. Tomorrow, we’ll look at 17 Bob Trey O, Marcus Allen authoring the greatest run in Super Bowl history when he reversed field and went 74 yards to put the dagger in defending champion Washington in 1984. Please vote for your choice as the Raiders’ most memorable play.

Score: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26
Date: Dec. 21, 1974 Site: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

The Raiders finished the 1974 season with the best record in the NFL at 12-2. The visiting Miami Dolphins were the two-time defending Super Bowl champions who had also won the last three AFC titles.

In expected fashion, this divisional playoff game was a back-and-forth affair that featured six lead changes. So it was with 35 seconds to play, and the Raiders facing a first-and-goal situation from the Dolphins’ 8-yard line and trailing by five when Oakland made history.

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Stabler took the snap and backpedaled about 10 yards to his right. Miami’s rush closed in so Stabler stepped up in the pocket to his left and seemed primed to make a run for the goal line. But that’s when Miami defensive end Vern Den Herder gained on Stabler and dived at his legs from behind.

A falling Stabler lofted a wobbly pass into the left-center of the end zone, into an aptly-named Sea of Hands, between three Dolphins in linebackers Mike Kolen and Larry Ball and defensive back Charlie Babb. “That ball looked like it was going end-over-end,” Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti told NFL Films. “There was no way in hell that anybody was going to catch that thing.”

Kolen, though, thought otherwise. “I thought I had a clear interception,” he said. “I mean, it was just wide open.”

Yet in the middle of that white jersey-clad Sea of Hands was a silver and black uniform, worn by Raiders running back Clarence Davis. After Kolen got his right hand on the ball first, Davis wrestled it away. “He was coming toward the ball and had the leverage and, obviously, a better grip than I had,” Kolen said.

Davis yanked the ball toward his chest, took a facemask-first hit from Babb and rolled to the grass for the touchdown at the feet of teammate Cliff Branch, taking a shot from defensive lineman Manny Fernandez for good measure. “I mean, this guy couldn’t catch a cold,” Fernandez said. “It was probably the only pass he caught in his career. It was a lousy pass, a lucky reception [and] I’ve never forgotten it.”

Neither would the foolhardy Raiders fan who ran on the field to celebrate the play by giving Buoniconti a shot in the stomach before getting absolutely pummeled by Fernandez & Co.

Davis’ catch and George Blanda’s extra point gave the Raiders the 28-26 lead. “Clarence has a huge heart,” Stabler said. “Great runner, tough kid, wonderful person. Worst hands on the team.

“Clarence made the play because he wanted the ball more than anybody else, and it was a throw that probably should have been intercepted.”
Pete BanaszakRuss Reed/Sporting News/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in the Oakland Raiders' history. In the next two days we'll feature the Sea of Hands play in the 1974 AFC divisional playoffs that upended the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins; and 17 Bob Trey O, Marcus Allen authoring the greatest run in Super Bowl history when he reversed field and went 74 yards to put the dagger in defending champion Washington in 1984. Please vote for your choice as the Raiders' most memorable play.

Score: Raiders 21, Chargers 20
Date: Sept. 10, 1978 Site: San Diego Stadium

The Raiders were trailing the Chargers by six and sitting at San Diego's 14-yard line with 10 seconds remaining in Week 2 of the 1978 season. Oakland had already lost its season opener and an 0-2 start would have been its first such opening since 1964. That's exactly what it looked like, though, as left-handed quarterback Ken Stabler took the snap, dropped back and drifted to his right, where he was wrapped up by Chargers linebacker Woodrow Lowe at the 25-yard line.

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But before Lowe could take Stabler down, the ball popped out and rolled forward, reaching Raiders running back Pete Banaszak at the line of scrimmage. "I hollered, ‘Snake, Snake,' so he kind of flipped it," Banaszak told NFL Films. "But I couldn't get to it, but it was rolling end over end in front of me. ... I thought it was a smart thing to do, just get my hands on the ball and just push it forward because if I would have jumped on it, [Fred Dean] would have jumped on me and it would have been all over."

The bouncing ball reached the 5-yard line at the same time as tight end Dave Casper, who bent over and kicked it with his left foot before kneeing it with his right leg. "I just run out there and try to pick it up and, of course, I flub that and I'm scrambling on the ground, watching it beneath me," Casper said. "And I saw a white stripe go by and I actually just kind of fell on top of it."

The white stripe was the goal line and the fumble recovery was ruled a game-tying touchdown, so with no time remaining, Errol Mann's converted point-after attempt gave the Raiders the unlikeliest of victories.

Or, as Raiders radio man Bill King called it that day, "The Oakland Raiders have scored on the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play... (John) Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it's real. They said, ‘Yes, get your big butt out of here.' He does. There's nothing real in the world anymore. This one will be relived, forever."

San Diego was anything but happy.

"In typical Raider fashion," said Chargers linebacker Jim Laslavic, "if you can't beat somebody the right way, you cheat."

The NFL changed the rule the following offseason, adding a provision that only the player who fumbled the ball could advance it after the two-minute warning. Stabler, meanwhile, came clean, so to speak, after that game. "I fumbled it on purpose," he said. "Yes, I was trying to fumble."
Terry Bradshaw and Ken StablerGetty ImagesTerry Bradshaw, left, and Ken Stabler were frequent opponents in the AFC title game.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When Peyton Manning and Tom Brady meet Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, it will be the third time the two future Hall of Famers will meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

It will also be only the fourth such occasion in which two quarterbacks face off in a conference title game for the third time since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.

Yes, the Oakland Raiders are involved in this unique state of affairs -- even if they have not had a winning season or a playoff berth since the 2002 season.

From 1974 through 1976, the Raiders’ Ken Stabler and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw faced off in AFC title games, with the Steelers winning the first two en route to their first two Lombardi trophies in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X against the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. Stabler and the Raiders finally pulled through to get to Super Bowl XI, when they beat the Vikings.

The other times a pair of QBs have met in three conference championship games since 1970?

The Denver Broncos’ John Elway sweeping the Cleveland Browns’ Bernie Kosar in 1986, 1987 and 1989 and the Dallas Cowboys’ Troy Aikman and the San Francisco 49ers’ Steve Young in 1992, 1993 and 1994, with Aikman winning the first two.

Brady and Manning are tied at a victory apiece against each other in such high-stakes games, with Brady winning in the 2003 season and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts returning the favor three seasons later.

A brief look, then, at the three times Stabler and Bradshaw met in the AFC title game:

Dec. 29, 1974, Oakland Coliseum
Steelers 24, Raiders 13

The Raiders seemed to peak in their divisional playoff matchup, beating the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in the Sea of Hands game. Still, the Raiders did take a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter.

But Pittsburgh’s rushing attack simply wore Oakland down late (Franco Harris ran for 111 yards and Rocky Bleier added 98 yards) as the Steelers scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away.

Stabler completed 19 of 36 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown, a 38-yard score to Cliff Branch, but he was also picked off three times, twice by Jack Ham and once by J.T. Thomas, while Bradshaw was just 8-for-17 for 95 yards with a TD and an interception, by Nemiah Wilson.

Jan. 4, 1976, Three Rivers Stadium
Steelers 16, Raiders, 10

Oakland never led and the Raiders were slipping and sliding the entire game as, they contended, the artificial turf field was watered down and, thus, frozen only outside of the hashmarks, which negatively affected the Raiders more than the Steelers. The thinking being that the Raiders more than the Steelers utilized the vertical passing game down the sidelines with the speedy Branch, who was, with the ice on the field, not so speedy.

Not that it mattered much, but Stabler again outdueled Bradshaw in the personal stats, throwing for 246 yards on 18 of 42 passing with a TD, a 14-yard strike to Mike Siani, but two INTs, both by Mike Wagner. Bradshaw was 15-of-25 for 215 yards with a TD and three picks, two by Jack Tatum and one by Monte Johnson.

“When we lost to the Steelers in ’75, I just couldn’t believe it,” Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano told NFL Network. “I actually started getting a little spooked.”

And why not? After all, between 1968 and 1975, the Raiders had played in six AFL/AFC title games and lost all six -- to the team that would eventually go on to win the Super Bowl.

Dec. 26, 1976, Oakland Coliseum
Raiders 24, Steelers 7

The two-time defending champion Steelers were without running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, both of whom had been injured the week before in Pittsburgh’s playoff victory at the Baltimore Colts.

“Woulda, shoulda, coulda,” Stabler said in that same NFL Network special on the 1976 Raiders team. ”Take the guys that you’ve got and go win. The games that we lost [to the Steelers], we didn’t have any excuses. I mean, they beat us. They beat the devil out of us. Dance with the girl that you brought.”

Said Villapiano: “I wanted Franco and I wanted Rocky. I wanted everybody. I wanted the coach [Chuck Noll] to suit up. I wanted to get them all.

“All of a sudden Mr. Big Shot Frenchy Fuqua was not good enough for them anymore. He was good enough when Jack Tatum nailed him and the ball bounced over to Franco [for the Immaculate Reception four years earlier]. But now he wasn’t good enough. They had their people, and we stuck it to them.”

Indeed, Oakland never trailed and its defense limited Pittsburgh to a mere 72 yards rushing while the Raiders pounded out 157 yards on the ground. Ironically, Bradshaw threw for 176 yards on 14 of 35 passing, though he was picked off by Willie Hall.

Stabler, meanwhile, passed for just 88 yards on 10 of 16 attempts, but threw a pair of TDs, a 4-yarder to Warren Bankston and a 5-yarder to Pete Banaszak, and was not intercepted.

The Raiders also sacked Bradshaw three times.

“I wish that game could have gone on for 17 quarters,” said Villapiano, who had a sack. “The Steelers got what they deserved; they got a nice butt-kicking that afternoon.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- While Tim Brown is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fifth consecutive year and is deserving of being inducted, the former Oakland Raiders receiver may not be the most, let’s say, worthy candidate of former Raiders.

Now, that’s not a slap at Brown, who certainly had a Canton-worthy career with eye-popping stats. It’s just that the manner in which the Hall’s 46-member selection committee chooses the enshrinees sets up a logjam that have many just-as-deserving candidates biding their time and waiting for the seniors committee to come their way with a life preserver.

That’s how Ray Guy, the punter who changed the game, is likely to get in this year ... as one of two senior candidates to join the 15 finalists the committee votes on to elect its class the day before the Super Bowl. It will be a class of between four and seven members.

One observer’s opinion, then, of 10 Raiders deserving of having busts in Canton, and garish gold jackets in their wardrobe ...

[+] EnlargePlunkett/Flores
AP PhotoCoach Tom Flores and QB Jim Plunkett won Super Bowl XV and XVIII together.
1) Jim Plunkett -- The ultimate Lazarus tale who won not one, but two Super Bowl titles after being given up on by not one, but two franchises. The quarterback’s career stats compare to those of Joe Namath’s and, oh yeah, Plunkett won twice as many titles as Broadway Joe. You cannot tell the story of the NFL in full without mentioning Plunkett’s tale. His fate now rests with the seniors committee.

2) Tom Flores -- The first minority coach to win a Super Bowl (I bet you thought that title went to Tony Dungy, right?), Flores won two titles as the Raiders’ head coach and, truly, it’s hard to separate him from Plunkett as they accomplished so much together. Still, Flores owns four rings total (two as head coach, a third as an assistant on John Madden’s SB XI-winning staff and the fourth as Len Dawson’s backup in SB IV).

3) Ray Guy -- A trailblazer who made opponents plan for a punter, Guy likely gets in this year as a seniors committee nominee. If so, it would be an honor long overdue and he would be the first true punter to get into Canton. Oh yeah, and he was also a first-round draft pick, was on all three Raiders Super Bowl championship teams and his athletic punt in SB XVIII was a game-saving play.

4) Cliff Branch -- Speed kills, right? A key member of all three of the Raiders’ Super Bowl title teams, the receiver’s snub remains a mystery. Especially when you compare his stats to those of Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. Branch caught 501 passes for 8,685 yards (17.3 yards per catch average) and 67 TDs in 14 seasons; Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 yards (16.3) and 51 TDs in nine seasons.

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Al GolubTim Brown is No. 5 all-time in receptions (1,094) and No. 6 in career receiving yards (14,943).
5) Tim Brown -- Spare the "what if Tim Brown switched places with Jerry Rice" arguments and simply admire Brown’s body of work. No, he never won a Super Bowl, but he did amass 1,094 receptions for 14,943 yards and 100 TDs in 17 years. He deserves a spot in Canton, no doubt. It’s just, among former Raiders, he should take a number.

6) Ken Stabler -- The Snake was the embodiment of the 1970s Raiders as an unorthodox left-handed quarterback. Winning only one Super Bowl shouldn’t be held against him, right? He’s already been a finalist for the Hall three times but his legend is getting lost in the fog of time. Someone had to throw all those passes to the already-enshrined Fred Biletnikoff and Branch in the Disco Decade.

7) Lester Hayes -- The Judge was a self-described Jedi Knight of Silver and Blackdom. Opponents simply saw him as a physical cornerback dripping with Stickum who intercepted 13 passes in 1980. He’s been a Hall finalist four times already, but not since 2004, and was second-team all-1980s by the Hall despite retiring in 1986. With two rings, he was an impact player.

8) Dave Dalby -- He replaced Jim Otto and started at center for all three of the Raiders’ title teams. Dalby, though, was unappreciated as he was selected to just one Pro Bowl, in 1977. He was the anchor of a line early in his 14-year career that had Hall of Famers on his left in guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Art Shell.

9) Steve Wisniewski -- “Wiz” was a Hall semifinalist this past year for the first time and the left guard is sure to get more love in the future as the selection committee gives the grunts on the O-line longer looks. The eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro only missed one game in his 13-year career.

10) Jack Tatum -- One of the most ferocious and intimidating hitters of any era, hence the “Assassin” nickname, the free safety also had 37 interceptions in his 10-year career. Many critics, though, think he did not show enough remorse after his paralyzing hit of New England receiver Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game.

AFC West notes

July, 7, 2012
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Former Raiders defensive back Lester Hayes and former Chiefs defensive lineman Curly Culp are among the finalists for induction into the Hall of the Very Good. The Professional Football Researchers Association honors players who had outstanding careers, but who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The group will make its induction selections at the end of the year.

In an Insider piece,Insider KC Joyner thinks Denver linebacker Von Miller is among the top young players to build around in the NFL. Miller is 10th on Joyner’s top 10 list.

The troubles of former Oakland star quarterback Ken Stabler are continuing.

Oakland Raiders notes

February, 24, 2012
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The agent for Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said there hasn’t been any momentum on a restructured deal. The Raiders need to restructure contracts or cut some players before the start of free agency March 13. Wimbley is not interested in taking a pay cut.

How cool is this? Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has said he studies old quarterbacks, including 1970s Raiders’ legend Ken Stabler.

The Raiders were one of the top five spenders in the league in 2011, which resulted in an 8-8 season. That is one of the reasons why the Raiders are one of the few teams still over the salary cap for 2012.

UPDATE: New Oakland owner Mark Davis reiterated that change is on the way in Oakland. Expect an overhaul of the team’s scouting system in the coming months. That has been expected since Reggie McKenzie was hired last month.
NAPA, Calif. -- In his first year as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Hue Jackson wants his players to understand the history of the franchise and the importance of restoring the winning tradition.

So Jackson turned on the film. And he pressed the way-back machine.

Jackson had a film produced that featured interviews with several of the team’s all-time great players like Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett and Jim Otto. Several other former Raider greats were featured including current coaches Steve Wisniewski, Rod Woodson and Greg Biekert.

Players spoke of what it meant to them to be a Raider. There were also plenty of highlights. To provide extra motivation, Jackson showed the team some highlights from the current players which he deemed were up to the standard of the Raiders of the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We’re chasing greatness,” Jackson said. “Not everyone is a Raider. I wanted them to see what it is and what it means to be a Raider. This is a special organization. There is history here and I want these guys to live up to being a Raider.”

Defensive lineman Richard Seymour said the message came through loud-and-clear.

“You could feel it,” Seymour said. “Just watching the film, showed the guys all the tradition of the this team. For me to see guys like Howe Long and Lyle Alzado, it was really inspiring.”

Jackson said it was especially powerful when film of Woodson, Wisniewski and Biekert were shown.

“Guys could look around and see those people in the room,” Jackson said. “Being a Raider is an opportunity. It’s a family.”
Weekend mail call:

Will from Lenexa, Kan., wants to know if I think the Chiefs' offense will be a pass-first or a run-first outfit.

Bill Williamson: I think it will be a run-first offense. But you have to be balanced to win in the NFL, so Matt Cassel will get plenty of chances to toss the ball. But the Chiefs brought in Thomas Jones through free agency to help Jamaal Charles because they want to run often. The Chiefs want to dominate games on the ground since great offenses have great run attacks. The run sets up the pass in efficient offenses. That’s what the Chiefs are aiming for.


Husker T from Alturas, Calif., wants to know why former Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

BW: I may be the wrong guy to ask. I too think Stabler should be in the Hall of Fame. He won a Super Bowl. He quarterbacked some elite teams and he was a league MVP. Stabler has in the past been considered and he will be considered for the hall again, but the wait may continue. The thing about the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that there are several players with great credentials, such as Stabler, who are waiting. It is an elite club. I think he has to get in at some point. He was a special player in a special era.


Jerry from Santa Barbara wants to know if I think BYU running back Harvey Unga could end up in the AFC West.

BW: We addressed that earlier this week. I did the post because I think Unga could end up in the division. The supplemental draft is July 15. Unga is a power back, who is known for breaking tackles and for having sure hands. He will likely be a mid-round pick. Kansas City likes him and he could fit in Denver and in Oakland. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Unga ended up in the AFC West. According to a report, the Chiefs were the only team in the division to attend his pro day.

Best Raiders Team Ever: 1976

June, 25, 2010
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Notable players: QB Ken Stabler, FB Mark van Eeghen, WR Fred Biletnikoff, WR Cliff Branch, TE Dave Casper, OT Art Shell, G Gene Upshaw, DL John Matuszak, DL Otis Sistrunk, LB Phil Villapiano, LB Ted Hendricks, CB Willie Brown, S George Atkinson, S Jack Tatum, P Ray Guy.

[+] EnlargeJohn Madden
AP PhotoJohn Madden's 1976 season was nearly perfect -- culminating in a Super Bowl win over the Vikings.
Analysis: This championship season was in the works for some time. Oakland owner Al Davis and coach John Madden put together a great team.

The Raiders didn’t have the titles that Miami, Dallas and Pittsburgh had, but they were a dominant team in the 1970s. If you were going to win the Super Bowl, you probably had to go through the madcap marauders of the East Bay.

Wild, free-spirited and wickedly clutch on the field, the Silver and Black was a special fabric of the NFL in the 1970s. They were always known for close calls, but in the end not having enough to be complete the championship journey.

That all changed in 1976. The Raiders had plenty. They were, by far, the class of the NFL and they have the hardware to prove it.

Led by a stunning group of players, this team had depth on offense and defense. Stabler was the engineer, as he seemingly rolled out of bed and led the Raiders to one last-minute win after another. He had great receivers in Biletnikoff, Branch and Casper. The offensive line was anchored by future Pro Football Hall of Famers Shell and Upshaw.

Defensively, the Raiders were nasty with first-year Raider Matuszak and Sistrunk up front, Hendricks in the middle and Brown and Tatum anchoring the unit.

It was enough for Oakland to nearly go unbeaten. After New England thrashed the Raiders in Week 4, Oakland didn’t lose another game. Oakland went 13-1 in the regular season (despite having a five-game trip spanning Weeks 2-6) and then won home playoff games against New England and Pittsburgh before toying with Minnesota in Super Bowl in XI.

It was a culmination of a great run in Oakland. In the end, this team will be remembered as one of the NFL’s great all-time teams.

Most impressive win: A 32-14 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. The Raiders showed their dominance on offense and defense by completely suffocating the Vikings. It was a fitting day to end a near-perfect season. No one in Oakland will forget the sight of a jubilant Madden being carried off the Rose Bowl field by his victorious Raiders. Davis surely never will.

Crazy start: The Raiders had some memorable battles with Pittsburgh. This special season started with a classic battle between the two 1970s powerhouses in Oakland.

The Steelers led 28-14 with five minutes to go. However, Oakland made a furious comeback to tie the score. Oakland then got the ball back and won it with a short field goal with 18 seconds remaining, sending the home crowd into a wild celebration.

Nothing like beating the hated Steelers on opening day. It set the tone for Oakland’s best season of all time.

Honorable mention:

1967: The Daryle Lamonica-led Raiders were 13-1 in the regular season before being worn down by Green Bay in Super Bowl II.

1980: The Raiders became the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl. The 11-5 Raiders were led by coach Tom Flores and spunky, resurgent quarterback Jim Plunkett.

1983: The Raiders’ third Super Bowl champion was a dominant unit. Led by a great defense and young running back Marcus Allen (1,014 yards rushing, 11 TDs), this was a special team.
TebowRon Chenoy/US PresswireThere are mixed opinions about the challenges of having a left-handed quarterback like Tim Tebow.
Brock Huard quickly returned a phone message.

“I don’t get a chance to talk about left-handed quarterbacks much,” Huard said. "You don’t see it much. I go to a lot of youth football camps and the quarterbacks are almost always right-handed. It seems all the lefties are playing baseball. ... I’m interested to see Tim Tebow because we lefties are hard to come by.”

Huard, now a college football analyst for ESPN, is a member of a rare club. He was a southpaw gunslinger as a backup in Seattle and Indianapolis from 1999-2004. The NFL is a right-handed quarterback’s game. Only 12 left-handed quarterback have started more than 50 NFL games.

The only lefty currently slated to be a starter in 2010 is Arizona’s Matt Leinart and his status is far from solid. The only other left-handed quarterbacks currently in the NFL are backups Mark Brunell, Michael Vick, Chris Simms, Pat White and Tyler Palko.

Besides Brunell and Vick, the last truly successful left-handed quarterbacks were Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young and Boomer Esiason. Other successful left-handed quarterbacks throughout the years include Ken Stabler, Jim Zorn, Bobby Douglass and Frankie Albert.

Being left-handed is one of the reasons Tebow enters the NFL with such intense interest. The intrigue is not just whether the former Florida quarterback can prove he simply wasn’t a Saturday star with an awkward delivery. People are eager to see if Tebow can become the next lefty to succeed in the league.

“I have no doubt that he can,” said Houston quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. "I know it can happen."

Knapp would know. He coached Young in San Francisco and Vick in Atlanta.

“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Knapp said. "Don’t tell me left-handed quarterbacks can’t make it in this league. I know it can be done.”

(Read full post)

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 25 semifinalists for enshrinement in 2010. The vote will be in February. Seven people who spent a significant part of their career in the AFC West are among the 25 finalists.

Here they are:

Cliff Branch, WR: 1972-85 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Will he get in? Branch did not get this far last year. He is a favorite of Oakland owner Al Davis. But it is a loaded receiver group this year.

Tim Brown, WR: 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders

Will he get in? Brown should be a first-ballot shoo-in.

Don Coryell, coach: 1978-86 San Diego Chargers

Will he get in? The passing-game genius will have a lot of support. He’s the only coach in the final 25.

Terrell Davis, RB: 1995-2001 Denver Broncos.

Will he get in? Davis will eventually get in, but it may be a while.

Ray Guy, P: 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.

Will he get in? Guy is the center of much contention. Many believe he shouldn't even be a finalist and many think he should already be in the Hall.

Lester Hayes, CB: 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Will he get in? He was a game changer, and you can make a strong argument for him.

Shannon Sharpe, TE: 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos

Will he get in? The voting committee needs to correct its mistake from last year and get this guy into Canton.

Notable: Former Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler made the final 25 last year, but did not this year. Receiver Jerry Rice spent four years in Oakland and will waltz into the Hall on his first ballot. Former Denver running back Floyd Little is a senior committee finalist.

AFC West mailbag

June, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Jared L. from Portland, Ore., wants to know why Oakland signed Greg Ellis.

Bill Williamson: Ellis may be 3 years older than Derrick Burgess, but the Raiders seem set to make Ellis the starter at defensive end. He was working at Burgess' spot on his second day at an Oakland OTA last week. Burgess has been hurt often and he wants a pay raise. I just think the Raiders feel the Burgess days are behind them. Expect Ellis to start but for him to be spelled by some youngsters, starting with Trevor Scott. The Raiders have some interesting pass-rushers and I think Ellis could be part of a decent crew.


Troy from Alturas, Calif., wants to know why former Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

BW: I grew up in the Bay Area watching Stabler and I too think he probably belongs in the Hall of Fame. But his detractors say he only won one Super Bowl and he wasn't a dominant quarterback. But he was a winner and he was the face of the great Oakland teams of the 1970s. Stabler belongs in the Hall of Fame. But I don't really like his chances. There is such a back log of great players waiting to get in, I'm not sure Stabler is a priority. It would be a shame if he never got in.


Chris from Bangor, Maine, wants to know why Denver didn't draft a nose tackle this year.

BW: A lot of people wondered that at the conclusion of the draft. The team indicated it didn't think there were any defensive tackles available on the second day that could help the team. Perhaps Denver will wait to find a younger option in next year's draft, but that won't help this year's defensive line. Denver's front three is unsettled and unimpressive. Defensive tackle has been a problem in Denver for years and it will likely continue this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver

Former Denver cornerback Dre' Bly is meeting with San Francisco.

My take: Bly was somewhat of a whipping boy in his two seasons in Denver. Sure, he gave up some big plays (Denver fans will never forget the loss to Green Bay in overtime in 2007), but he is still a decent pro. Bly, who was cut by Denver early in the offseason in a salary-cap move, can help someone for the short term. The 49ers could do worse than Bly at this point. 

Oakland

Ken Stabler believes in JaMarcus Russell.

My take: Russell needs all the supporters he can get. I just get the feeling the heat is going to be on Russell often this season. It has already started with the shadow of Jeff Garcia. If Russell does not improve, his Oakland tenure will be in question. The fact that one of the most popular figures in Oakland history is behind Russell can only help the young quarterback as he enters a crucial year.

Around the AFC West

January, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver

Longtime assistant Rick Dennison gets his chance to be the man in Denver.

My take: The Broncos respect Dennison, the run game coordinator and offensive line coach under Mike Shanahan, enough to give him an interview to replace Shanahan. It would still be a surprise if Dennison emerged as the hire. Still, it wouldn't be a shock if Dennison, with long Colorado ties, sticks around the team in some form.

Kansas City

Carl Peterson was defiant in his final press conference in Kansas City.

My take: This is just another example that it was time for Peterson to move on. After 20 years in Kansas City, it was clear both the Chiefs and Peterson need to go in a new direction. Peterson had his good times in Kansas City but this switch is the best for everyone involved.

Oakland

The Raiders will not have any new hall of famers this year.

My take: Ray Guy, Lester Hayes and Ken Stabler were among the 25 semifinalists but when the final list of 17 candidates was announced Tuesday, none had advanced. The Raiders are well represented in Canton but these players are having difficulty making the final step. It is particularly interesting that Stabler can't get enough steam for induction.

San Diego

Darren Sproles is coming out of his media-shy shell.

My take: The diminutive Sproles may be explosive on the field but he is shy and reserved off it. I found him to be a very nice person in my limited dealings with him, but he seems uncomfortable in the spotlight. But he better get used to it because if he continues to play so well, the spotlight will shine even brighter than it has.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 17 finalists for enshrinement in 2009. The vote will be Jan. 31. Two players who spent a significant part of their careers in the AFC West are among the finalists while four players from the division didn't make the final cut.

Here are the finalists:

Shannon Sharpe, tight end: 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos; 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Will he get in? He is considered one of the best players ever to play his position but because there is a logjam at other positions and tight end is not considered a glamor position by many voters, Sharpe may have to wait a year or two.

Derrick Thomas, linebacker: 1989-99 Kansas City Chiefs

Will he get in? It says here he gets in either in 2009 or 2010.

Here is a list of semifinalists who spent most of their careers in the AFC West but did not make the cut to the finalists list:

  • Terrell Davis, running back: 1995-2001 Denver Broncos
  • Ray Guy, punter: 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
  • Lester Hayes, cornerback: 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
  • Ken Stabler, quarterback: 1970-79 Oakland Raiders; 1980-1981 Houston Oilers; 1982-1984 New Orleans Saints

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