Monday, August 24, 2015

Freddie B and the 1970s Raiders

I recently started doing some research on the NFL in the 1970s - when I first became of fan of the league. For a point of reference (and I've probably mentioned it before), the first Super Bowl I ever watched was Super Bowl VII, when the Dolphins completed their undefeated season by beating the favored Redskins - yes, there apparently was still a bias for the NFC over the AFC in those days. Coincidentally, my younger son, Andrew, who is 8, recorded a recent airing of an NFL Films replay of a Dolphins-Raiders playoff game from 1974 - a classic known as the "Sea of Hands" game. I remember watching this game with my grandfather and I remember the classic last play for which the game is named (watch the video in the link).

The NFL Films replay is part of its "Greatest Games ever Played" series and was apparently made only a few years ago, as footage of the game was inadvertently lost for several years. The production includes a great piece on Erie native and Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. Biletnikoff had a great game including a TD catch that Ken Stabler called the greatest catch he saw in 15 years of playing. The segment on Biletnikoff includes a discussion Freddie's personality. Stabler said Fred was so high strung that if you walked up behind him and yelled, he'd jump up on the ceiling  like cat on all fours, or something like that. Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano said that Fred "didn't take care of himself," or something along those lines and talked about Fred throwing up before games.

I found Villapiano's comments somewhat ironic, based on something I had read recently about Villpiano. Check out this excerpt from Kevin Cook's The Last Headbangers:  NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70's. Yes, that's Villapiano, banging he head against the wall so it swells up and fits better in his "piece of junk" plastic helmet. There is also a play in that Sea of Hands game where Stabler goes back to pass with his chinstrap undone. Cook does a good job (and I've only read part of the free sample of the book from Amazon so far) saying he does not promote the behavior that led to head injuries and lawsuits later on involving NFL players, but is merely reporting on the play that helped make the NFL the multi-billion dollar conglomerate that it is today. I just thought that it was ironic the Villapiano (who apparently came out okay as he is some sort of logistics executive) was talking about what a bad job Freddie did taking care of himself, when, well, you know, he was purposely giving himself concussions. They really don't make them like that anymore.

By the way, from what I've heard, Fred, who is 72, is doing great.

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