Gold Jacket Spotlight: Art Shell's Practically Perfect Day

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 3/20/2022

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Art Shell's Practically Perfect Day

Football’s holy grail remains the “perfect game.”

Perfection is unattainable, Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi famously said, but in chasing perfection you could catch excellence.

While a frame-by-frame review of the film from Super Bowl XI might (might!) find a missed assignment or two in Art Shell’s performance, it lives in history as about as close to flawless as any individual effort – and certainly on such a big stage.

“On Jan. 9, 1977, in Super Bowl XI, when the Raiders won the world championship of pro football, Art Shell played a perfect game for a left tackle,” Al Davis gushed in his presentation of Art for Enshrinement in 1989. “Against the famed defensive Purple People Eaters’ defensive line of the NFC champion Minnesota Vikings, Art Shell's opponents were completely shut out: No tackles, no assists, no quarterback sacks. Total domination.”

Art’s adversary across the line, 20-year NFL standout Jim Marshall, was credited with no official defensive statistics. The Raiders and Art dominated the Vikings up front all afternoon, winning the game 32-14 for their first Super Bowl title after years of frustrating postseason losses.

“When somebody told me I had a perfect game, I was shocked because I had no idea Marshall had not been in on even one play,” Art said in an interview. “I was too busy to keep track. Play by play, quarter by quarter, I was totally involved in doing the best job I could.”

Art, who this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight, helped the Raiders rush for 266 yards and two touchdowns. By halftime, Oakland had attempted 33 runs, with 27 coming over the left side.

“The game (Art) had against Jim Marshall in the Super Bowl was just as good a game an offensive lineman could ever have,” said Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf, who spent a quarter-century with the Raiders from the 1960s to 1990.

The Vikings entered Super Bowl XI with a 13-2-1 record, counting two postseason wins. Their defense ranked second in the National Football League for points allowed in 1976 and sixth for total yards.

Art and his Oakland teammates controlled the line, however, and the Raiders held the ball for 22 minutes in the first half. For the game, they rushed 52 times, allowing Ken Stabler to pick his spots and go 12-for-19 for 180 yards and a touchdown. Fred Biletnikoff caught four of those passes for 79 yards and took home the MVP award.

“That was one time when you really should have given the Most Valuable Player award to the offensive line – and to those two guys in particular,” writer Ray Didinger, a longtime Hall of Fame Selector, said of Art and guard Gene Upshaw. “Jim Marshall and Alan Page were great players. Upshaw and Shell didn’t just block them, they erased them in that game.”

Also erased were the years of agonizing losses that had ended Raiders seasons since the team lost Super Bowl II to Lombardi and the Packers. Over the next eight years, Oakland lost six AFL or AFC title games, plus the 1972 divisional round game in Pittsburgh that ended with the “Immaculate Reception.”

By finally vanquishing the championship game demons, the Raiders would not be stopped from claiming the big prize, Art said.

“We had the upmost respect for that front four … but we were not going to be denied by anybody,” he said. “I mean, you could have had Godzilla over there; we were not going to lose that game.”

Art won another ring as a player with the Raiders (Super Bowl XV) and a third as the offensive line coach for Oakland (Super Bowl XVIII). He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s and the NFL 100 All-Time Team.