THE BILLBOARDS are up throughout the Bay Area, supported by commercials featuring the glorious vocal hysterics of Bill King and Greg Papa.
The Raiders are celebrating their 50th anniversary season, and in that spirit, we took on the colossal mission of identifying the 50 greatest Raiders of all time. It was a big, messy task, like digging through a mountain with our bare hands.
We used some objective criteria, such as Hall of Fame enshrinement, individual honors and statistics, but we also placed a premium on team success, overall charisma and length of service.
With more than 800 candidates, we expect debate. It's OK, encouraged. We rank the top 25 in this space, with 26 through 50 on the accompanying list.
25. Tim Brown (1988-2003): The team's all-time leader in receiving, touchdowns, games, all-purpose yardage and Pro Bowl appearances (nine). He'd rank higher if not for the inconsistent quality of the teams on which he played.
24. Todd Christensen (1979-88): This five-time Pro Bowler caught 349 passes in a four-year period and led the team in receiving five years in a row, more than any other Raiders tight end. Christensen's two Super Bowl rings make a statement.
23. Greg Townsend (1983-93): The team's all-time sacks leader (109.5) should rank higher — and the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end would if the Raiders had won more than two postseason games in the decade after the Super Bowl win in his rookie season.
22. George Atkinson (1968-77): The smallish strong safety (6-foot, 180 pounds) packed a mighty wallop, sometimes intimidating bigger receivers. Atkinson went to no Pro Bowls but was a key member during the team's most dominating decade.
21. Mike Haynes (1983-89): One of the most graceful cornerbacks ever, this Hall of Famer spent half his brilliant career in New England. Only three of his nine Pro Bowl appearances were as a Raider, but he teamed with Lester Hayes to create the best cornerback tandem in league history.
20. Jack Tatum (1971-79): Six words: Sammy White and his dislodged helmet. Tatum was the quintessential backfield enforcer, hurling himself into receivers and running backs. Thirty years later, the Raiders still seek a replacement for this two-time Pro Bowl safety.
19. Mark van Eeghen (1974-81): Nothing about van Eeghen overwhelmed, except production and consistency. Oakland's all-time leading rusher until Marcus Allen came along, van Eeghen was the primary ball carrier on two Super Bowl champions.
18. Rod Martin (1977-88): The biggest draft jackpot in team history — picked in Round 12 — Martin went to only two Pro Bowls but did his best work in big games. The linebacker excelled in two Super Bowl wins, and his record three interceptions in Super Bowl XV should have earned MVP honors.
17. Marcus Allen (1982-92): The Raiders' all-time leading rusher, the five-time Pro Bowl running back was the MVP of Super Bowl XVIII and the NFL MVP in 1985. The man who feuded with the boss would rank higher if not for securing his Hall of Fame credentials with five years in Kansas City.
16. Howie Long (1981-93): One of the most popular Raiders ever, in Oakland and Los Angeles, this Hall of Fame defensive lineman terrorized quarterbacks, running backs and even opposing coaches. He spent his entire career as a Raider, picking up a Super Bowl ring and going to eight Pro Bowls.
15. Dave Casper (1974-80): Thanks to this Hall of Fame tight end, "Ghost to the Post" is a part of Raiders lore. Casper was a devastating blocker, with Velcro hands and a knack for making clutch plays during some of the most exciting games in pro football history.
14. Clem Daniels (1961-67): This versatile runner was a four-time AFL All-Star and the league's all-time rushing leader. Only Allen among Raiders has more 100-yard rushing performances than Daniels' 14, and only Allen has more seasons as the team's leading rusher.
13. Dave Dalby (1972-85): A fine but not extraordinary center, Dalby gets points for taking the center baton from Jim Otto and hardly skipping a beat. Dalby snapped to three quarterbacks and went to Super Bowls with two of them. The three rings blot out the one Pro Bowl berth.
12. Ray Guy (1973-86): Football's only iconic punter went to seven Pro Bowls and was All-Pro six seasons in a row. Moreover, Guy won three Super Bowl rings. A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, he was that rare punter feared by opponents.
11. George Blanda (1967-75): A fine kicker who also played quarterback, Blanda was 39 when traded to Oakland. That didn't prevent this Hall of Famer from playing in seven title games and creating some of the team's most memorable moments.
10. Cliff Branch (1972-85): Somehow underrated, Branch was one of the most dangerous deep threats of his time, catching bombs from Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett. Even now, debate rages over whether this four-time Pro Bowler, who also won three rings, should be in the Hall of Fame.
9. Ken Stabler (1970-79): From coldblooded comebacks to late-night revelry, this southpaw embodied the maverick image of the '70s Raiders. "The Snake" went to four Pro Bowls but, moreover, five straight AFC Championship Games and a victory in Super Bowl XI.
8. Lester Hayes (1977-86): His 1980 season, with 18 interceptions, five of which came in the postseason, resulted in a Defensive Player of the Year award and remains the most tangible achievement by a cornerback in NFL history. Hayes picked up two rings, played in five Pro Bowls and shares with Willie Brown the team's career interception record.
7. Ted Hendricks (1975-83): A legendary Hall of Fame linebacker and a colorful character, "the Mad Stork" made impact plays rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. He went to five Pro Bowls as a Raider and won three Super Bowl rings.
6. Fred Biletnikoff (1965-78): The team's first skill position player to enter the Hall of Fame, the receiver retired at No. 4 on the NFL's all-time list. He played in eight AFL/AFC title games and two Super Bowls, winning one. He also pioneered the use of "Stickum" as a pass-catching aid.
5. Jim Plunkett (1978-86): One of the most underappreciated quarterbacks ever, he revived his career with the Raiders, winning Comeback Player of the Year in 1980. Though he never played in a Pro Bowl, he won two of the team's three world championships and was voted MVP of Super Bowl XV.
4. Willie Brown (1967-78): In any discussion of the best cover corners ever, this first-ballot Hall of Famer represented the team in two AFL All-Star games and the first four post-merger Pro Bowls. He played in two Super Bowls, winning one, and is tied with Hayes as the team's all-time interceptions leader.
3. Gene Upshaw (1967-81): One AFL All-Star Game and six Pro Bowls speak volumes. But this first-ballot Hall of Fame guard's 24 postseason starts, most in team history, validate him as a winner. He played in three Super Bowls, winning two, and spent his 15-year career as a Raider. Uppy is No. 3 here because he was not a left tackle.
2. Art Shell (1968-82): The massive Hall of Fame left tackle and eight-time Pro Bowler was a peerless protector of quarterbacks and a punishing run blocker. He played in 23 postseason games, dominating opponents in two Super Bowl victories. He spent his entire 15-year career with the Raiders.
1. Jim Otto (1960-74): An original Raider and the only all-league center in AFL history, Otto responded to the merger with three Pro Bowls. He played in three title games, as well as Super Bowl II. No one in the history of the Raiders — or perhaps any other team — can match the commitment, loyalty and toughness of this first-ballot Hall of Famer, who spent 15 years in one uniform.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.