Unparalleled Line

General Published on : 7/27/2004

Bob Brown's enshrinement adds to legacy of Raiders' front five

By Craig Ellenport

Special to Profootballhof.com

There was a good deal of mystery surrounding the Oakland Raiders as they entered the 2004 NFL Draft with the second overall pick. Speculation had them going in any number of directions between potential picks and potential trades. But once Eli Manning was taken first overall, the Raiders' decision couldn't have been more obvious, at least to Art Shell.

"Al can't pass on the big guy," said Shell, a Hall of Fame left tackle for the Raiders who is now an executive at the NFL. Sure enough, Raiders owner Al Davis pulled the trigger and picked Robert Gallery, the gargantuan offensive tackle from Iowa. In hindsight, it was a no-brainer - especially for a franchise that boasts arguably the greatest offensive line in NFL history.

The tradition began in 1960, with an original Raider. Jim Otto played 15 years with the Raiders and was the only All-Pro center in the history of the AFL. Along the way, the Raiders added Shell and Gene Upshaw, who went on to anchor a line that rushed for 266 yards in the Super Bowl XI win over Minnesota.

Otto, Shell and Upshaw have all been immortalized as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other thing they have in common is that each played exactly 15 years, solely for the Raiders. Their careers overlapped from 1968, when Shell was drafted, through 1974, when Otto retired. The Raiders' record in that seven-year stretch was an astounding 71-20-7.

It would have been enough to boast three such dominant players on one offensive line. Then in 1971, the Raiders acquired Bob Brown - Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004. Thus, for three years (1971-73), they had four future immortals together. In fact, the Raiders had five future Hall of Famers on the line in 1971, when they also acquired Ron Mix.

Five Hall of Fame players on one offensive line? No line in NFL history has come close to matching that star power.

"We never thought about the Hall of Fame at that particular time," says Shell. "Looking back, that's a pretty damn good group!"

Mix, in his last season as a pro, backed up Brown at right tackle. The starting right guard was George Buehler, who played 10 years in Oakland.

"I would take that line and I think we'd be comparable to any group that's ever played the game," says Shell. "I'm not saying we were the best, because that's for others to say. But our group was pretty doggone good."

It would have been a great line without Brown, an All-Pro who had already played alongside Hall of Famers Jim Ringo with the Eagles and Tom Mack with the Rams. But just as with his first two teams, the former first-round pick from Nebraska made his teammates better.

"Bob Brown, I thought, changed our offensive line," says John Madden, the Raiders' head coach from 1969-78. "He was such a dominating player, and he was a guy I really felt taught our guys that it was okay for an offensive lineman to have a defensive lineman's mentality. He was the most aggressive offensive lineman that I think I've ever seen. The most aggressive offensive lineman that ever played."

Brown's reputation had preceded him to Oakland. So when he reported to the Raiders training camp in '71, all eyes were on the new guy. Brown jogged out onto the field for the team's first practice, and when he reached the end zone, he psyched himself up with a forearm to the padded goalpost - which then came crashing to the ground.

Maybe the wooden post was rotted out and ready to go down. We'll never know. But it cemented Brown's tough-guy reputation.

Says Madden: "That kind of set the standard for who he was and what he was all about."

But it was more than strength and aggression that made Brown a Hall of Famer. "I learned a whole lot from him," says Shell. "A lot of little things, like how to formulate a plan to attack a defensive end - going into a game trying to have at least three ways to take this guy on. And he was as quick as anybody I've ever seen. He could come out of his stance on a pass set, leap off the ground like a frog, backwards, as quick as a hiccup, and then he would lash out at the defensive end. He was unbelievable."

In the three years in which Brown played with Shell, Upshaw and Otto, the Raiders amassed a record of 27-11-4. Oakland led the AFC in points scored in 1971 and in total offense in '73. Raider running backs as a group averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry all three seasons.

The 1972 team, which finished the regular season at 10-3-1, lost to Pittsburgh in the Immaculate Reception playoff game. Brown, among other Raiders, is confident that had they won that game they would have beaten the undefeated Miami Dolphins a week later and went on to win Super Bowl VIII.

The Raiders did go on to win Super Bowl XI, but Brown had retired by then. Even though there are 29 modern-day offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame - the most at any position - Brown is one of only six who has never appeared in a Super Bowl or NFL title game. That explains why Brown had been eligible for 26 years before finally getting selected to the Hall as a seniors committee pick.

Madden refers to such players as "yeah-buts."

"The thing that has kept players out of the Hall of Fame is, 'He was a good player - yeah, but he never played in a Super Bowl,'" says Madden.

"It just seemed like for a long time you always saw a number of defensive guys get in," says Brown. "Guys who had stats that they could point to - number of sacks, interceptions… But the offensive line is just a very anonymous position. If you're playing well, your name is never mentioned."

That notion has changed dramatically. In fact, Brown is the 12th offensive lineman to be enshrined in the last 10 years alone.

Not only can Brown boast of being part of the greatest offensive line in pro football history, now he can also boast of being part of the greatest team… the Pro Football Hall of Fame.