The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders
When I wrote the commentary, A Raiders Fan on the East Coast, I began to realize that I knew very little about the Badass years of the Oakland Raiders franchise. Being a fan on the opposite coast, I didn’t get to see the games in which the Raiders competed for the Super Bowl. Granted, during some of that time, I would have been too young to even understand the game, but if I am a true fan of the team, I should know everything about my team, right? I mean, I know everything about the my favorite baseball team, New York Mets, and I wasn’t even born when they came to light. It was time I learned a thing or two about my Raiders. It was time I read Badasses!
Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders, by Peter Richmond, focuses on the years in the 1970s that the Oakland Raiders were contenders, battling for the ultimate goal: that Super Bowl Ring. The book is written with all the love and anguish of a true fan – Peter Richmond is an avid Raiders fan like myself. And so, the beginning of the book is Richmond’s thought on the 70s Raiders, a legendary group of guys who no other team seemed to want individually, but who seemed to get on quite nicely in Oakland.
After the preface of the book, we get to the nitty gritty and the Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team which would become our 1970s rivals. This would be the game of the infamous The Immaculate Reception during the 1972 AFC playoffs. Of course, a Raiders fan would side with the Raiders on this one and so Richmond calls it the Immaculate Deception. The world may never truly know whether or not that catch made by Franco Harris and run in for a touchdown was actually a legal catch. But I did learn a thing or two about the rules that used to be on the books in the NFL that may be the reason for the controversial call that sent the Steelers on toward victory.
From there, we take a look at the Raiders as a team, looking back to the beginnings of the franchise and the football beginnings of Al Davis, who would go on to become the team’s owner. As Al Davis ascended from head coach to owner, he had to pick a successor. That job would fall to John Madden, a man who would lead the team to victory, work as head coach for only ten years and move on to perhaps an even more legendary career – that of NFL commentator. Richmond gives a terrific overview of who Madden was before and after his time with the team.
In fact, Richmond does that with every one of the Raiders players during that 1970s frame of time in which they ascended into greatness. We learn about their star quarterback, Ken Stabler, AKA: Snake; his receivers Freddy Biletnikoff, Pete Banaszak (AKA: The Rooster), Marv Hubbard, Mark van Eeghen; safeties Jack Tatum (Assassin) and George Atkinson (Hit Man) and linebackers Skip Thomas (Dr. Death) and Willie Brown, all members of the Soul Patrol; offensive guard Gene Upshaw; linebacker Phil Vilapiano (Foo) and defensive end John Matuszak (Tooz). We learn the good and the bad and the downright outrageous.
And we didn’t just learn about their performance on the field. We got to learn about their antics off the field. Not just from news stories or old footage, but from the players and coaches themselves as well. Hearing this stuff in the players own words – how they felt about the Immaculate Reception, how they felt about losing years in a row during the championships, how it felt getting to the Super Bowl, how the team was more like a family than a bunch of guys with the same goal – it made Badasses that much more interesting a read.
Being a true Raiders fan, Richmond went that extra mile, to gain an understanding of the players he loved and to impart that understanding on his readers. He wanted us to see the good and bad and still be able to love this team he himself loved. I have to say, I was never a John Madden fan prior to reading this book, but I can honestly say that I now see him as a loud, loveable football genius. Richmond even gives us a glimpse into the eventual downfall of the Raiders and their move to Los Angeles. He even lamented the days when football finally made the move from being an extremely physical and mental sport to being entertainment. I can agree with quite a few of his views on that particular part of the book.
It’s unfortunate that Richmond never took the opportunity to update this book, because I know he is loving the Carr years right now, but he can probably see what I see – the Raiders defense is no Soul Patrol. We Raiders fans are long sufferers and, if they could ever get their defense to be half of what the Soul Patrol was then, we may not be suffering for much longer. Either way, I loved the opportunity to learn about some of the greatest years in Oakland Raiders history written by a man who truly loved the team and wanted to bring his readers a well-rounded view of what it was like to be a member of that team – win or lose, they were a family that didn’t stop being a family after the ride was over. Badasses is a great read for any Raiders fan and I highly recommend it!