The Oakland Raiders were saddened to learn of the passing of former wide receiver Warren Wells.
After playing college football at Texas Southern, Wells entered the National Football League as a 12th round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 1964 NFL Draft. After a two-year stint in the United States Army, Wells joined the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders in 1967.
“I followed Warren Wells in high school at Beaumont Hebert High School, because I’m from Houston, that was a rival high school,” former Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch said. “Saw him play at Texas Southern University and he was unbelievable. He was a deep threat in those days, and he was a deep threat for the Raiders.”
Wells played in 56 games with 42 starts for the Silver and Black, and caught 156 passes for 3,634 yards and 42 touchdowns. He still ranks 10th all-time in Raiders history in receiving yards and his 23.3 yards per catch average is the best in club history (minimum 100 catches). Wells’ 42 touchdown receptions rank fifth all-time in franchise history.
“He was the second great deep threat in Raiders history. Art Powell was the first, then Warren Wells was second and I’m third,” Branch said. “He had the team record of a 94-yard touchdown that stood until I broke his record with a 99-yarder. For a short career, his statistics were unbelievable, just phenomenal. John Madden told me that if Warren Wells could have kept his life straight, he would have been the greatest receiver in the history of the Oakland Raiders. I even asked Emmitt Thomas, the Hall of Famer, he said, ‘he didn’t play much against me,’ but Warren Wells gave him hell when he played against Warren, he said he was a nightmare. For Emmitt Thomas to say that to me, that’s how great Warren Wells was.”
Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff was Wells’ teammate from 1967 – 1970. He echoed those sentiments.
“I believe that, he was that talented. To this day there’s not too many people that are impressive, even these nowadays players,” Biletnikoff said. “I always go back to Warren, think about him playing and seeing how he moved out on the field and around the field. He could run, he could stop, he could run everything. He was just an amazing player.”
Wells, who earned Pro Bowl honors in 1968 and 1970, was a member of the Raiders’ 1967 AFL Championship team. In 1968, he caught 53 passes for 1,137 yards (4th in the AFL) and 11 scores (tied for AFL lead). In 1969, Wells hauled in 47 receptions for 1,260 yards (1st in AFL, 7th best single-season in team history) and 14 touchdowns (1st in AFL). He averaged a whopping 26.8 yards per catch that season. In 1970, Wells caught 43 passes for 935 yards and 11 more scores (3rd in NFL).
“If you look at his numbers and the four years he played with the Raiders were just unbelievable,” Branch said. “Art Powell has the record of 16 touchdowns in a season, the second most touchdowns in a season was Warren Wells with 14, and third most in a season was me with 13. He was truly a great player for a four-year span.”
His 198-yard performance against Denver in 1970 ranks fourth in team history for single-game receiving yards. Wells’ 94-yard touchdown reception from quarterback/kicker George Blanda against the Denver Broncos in 1968 still ranks as the second-longest pass play in Raiders history.
“We were really close friends, he was just an outstanding player, he was just unbelievable,” Biletnikoff said. “I saw him make some great catches, unbelievable catches, it was fantastic to watch him play. He has speed, he could run routes, he was so smooth, he could get on top of defensive backs so quick, he just had a knack of being a wide receiver, a knack of catching the football that was unbelievable, it was really impressive.”
Wells also played in some of the most significant games in Raiders’ history. In 1968, his first quarter touchdown reception against the New York Jets in what became known as the Heidi Game gave the Raiders their first lead of the game. Later that season, he caught four passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-6 AFL playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs. After the 1970 season, Wells caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first-ever AFC Championship game.
“Warren was the deep guy and I did what I did, Warren and Daryle [Lamonica] - they hooked up so many times, and he hooked up with [George] Blanda so many times, he was just a phenomenal player, his career ended too short, not long enough,” Biletnikoff said. “Everything I could say about Warren is totally positive. He was amazing. He would shock you by what he could do out on the field. You’d leave the field watching him play, you’d be really, really impressed with him.”
During his time with the Raiders, Wells played in seven postseason contests and caught 14 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He saw action in three straight AFL title games (1967-1969), Super Bowl II and the 1970 AFC Championship game. In the regular season, the Raiders were 39-9-3 in games in which Wells played.
“You talk about somebody who made such an impact in a such short period of time, I would have loved to have seen him play longer obviously and seen what he would have done … have a total of 10 years with us and see exactly where he’d be because he’d be up there with everybody that’s ever played football,” Biletnikoff added.
Wells recorded more than 100 yards receiving in a game 14 times during his career and was named UPI First-Team All-AFL in 1969 and First-Team All-AFC in 1970 by Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News and UPI.
Although Branch did not play with Wells, Branch said that Wells certainly made an impression. “I remember my rookie year, when I would catch a pass on the sideline and run out of bounds, he gave me some words of wisdom,” Branch recalled. “Never practice catching a ball and going out of bounds, turn upfield and get as much yardage as you can. That stood out in my mind.”
In 2017, Wells attended the 50th reunion of the Raiders’ 1967 AFL Championship team and was honored, alongside his teammates, during an on-field ceremony. In 2015, Wells had the opportunity to light the torch in memory of and in tribute to Al Davis prior to the Raiders’ Week 15 contest against the Green Bay Packers.
Wells was one of the most explosive and productive wide receivers in AFL and Raiders history.
We offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Wells family.
Take a look back at photos of former wide receiver Warren Wells during his time with the Silver and Black.