In April 1967, I talked to (Buffalo Bills owners) Ralph Wilson Jr. and Sr. the night before I was traded to the Oakland Raiders. They said I was going to be the Bills’ starting quarterback but I was traded to the Raiders eight hours later. I looked at the schedule, it said at Buffalo, third league game. I started that very day preparing for that game and we went in there and beat them pretty good. I never lost to them after I got traded.
It was strange the first few days of training camp in 1967 because I was still in shock after being traded. I had to earn the position of starting quarterback for the Raiders as it wasn’t given to me. I fought hard to learn the plays. Cotton Davidson was my roommate, he was a great quarterback in that era for the Raiders. I’d keep him awake all night asking questions. He was my coach among coaches and he helped me more than any one individual did. I had to earn that right and earn the respect of my teammates that I could be their starting quarterback. We started one game at a time. You build it with defense. You have to score enough points to make yourself competitive. Special teams, the kicking game can make it harder or easier for you to score points. We had a solid coaching staff.
We worked hard during the week because we knew if we did what we were supposed to do our chances of winning were really good. When I look back at the Raiders and I look back at what we did, it was a lot of fun, we worked hard at it, but it didn’t come easy. Our record proved it, and we’re all proud of that record.
When you look at championship teams, the teams that go to the Super Bowl, they are the best defensive teams every year. Championships are won with defense. If they can’t score on you, you have a good chance of winning. And that’s what we had. We had guys that came from different teams, changed positions and became stars. I can remember Billy Cannon, who was one of the great running backs of all-time, become a great tight end for us, because we could flex him out and make a wide receiver out of him. We had a great defense and we had some guys that could score with the football like Clem Daniels, Hewitt Dixon (probably one of the toughest running backs the Raiders have ever had), Pete Banaszak, and Roger Hagberg. They were just tough guys. I had Fred Biletnikoff and Warren Wells at wide receiver. I had the best center that ever played the game in Jim Otto. There was nobody better. We had guys like Gene Upshaw come in, who was a rookie that year, and went on to become one of the all-time greats.
We had Dan Birdwell, Ben Davidson, and Tom Keating up front and great linebackers, Dan Conners was in the middle, he could cover just about anyone, along with Bill Budness and Duane Benson. Willie Brown is still probably the best cornerback the Raiders have ever had. We had Dave Grayson back there, Dave could play anywhere and do well. Kent McCloughan could run with anybody. That’s what made us special.
We practiced hard every day. Guys would stay out after practice. Whatever it took to improve, that’s what we did. We took it one game at a time. We didn’t overlook anybody and we took a lot of pride in our ability to win. We didn’t care who scored the points, we just knew we were going to win. And we were going to win as a team. We did not like to lose.
We had some great guys who had love and passion for the game of football. We took it seriously and we wanted to win. It was a great team to be with and learn the winning ways and be able to contribute where we could. That’s what made our group special.
We had a great gameplan against the Houston Oilers in the AFL Championship game. We had played them earlier in the year in the regular season and had a good solid game against them. We knew going in that we had the talent and the ability. We scored some easy touchdowns and once we gave our defense a lead, they really turned it on. They really played an outstanding game. We won that game with defense. I only have fond memories of that game and the players I played with.
Of all the years I played with the Raiders, we always had winning seasons. I played 12 years and 11 of those I was in playoffs, championships or Super Bowls, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the game that I just played in. After winning the 1967 AFL Championship, it was new territory for us, we had to learn a new system and go in and do our best in Super Bowl II against the Green Bay Packers. We went against a bunch of seasoned veterans that didn’t make any mistakes. We made a few mistakes and it cost us.
It takes coaching, it takes offense, it takes defense especially, and it takes special teams. It’s all about us and we. That’s what makes it special.
I’m very proud of a lot of those records because I was part of it. I look back at my career with the Raiders and how fortunate I was to be traded and have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback. That’s what I’m most proud of – that I was able to contribute to some of those wins and to be part of that group of guys that enjoyed winning.