Why Phil Villapiano Belongs in the Hall of Fame
David Wilson – Jan 30, 2018
There are a lot of Oakland Raiders who belong in the Hall of Fame.
Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, and Cliff Branch, but perhaps as deserving as any of them is former All-Pro linebacker Phil Villapiano.
A four time Pro Bowler, Villapiano belongs in the Hall because he did what all the great ones do. In addition to their other honours, he saved his greatest performances for the biggest games of his career.
In Superbowl XI, in the first quarter and with no score on the board, Raiders punter Ray Guy had a punt blocked for the first time in his career, leaving the Minnesota Vikings with the ball on Oakland’s four yard line.
Oakland’s defense watched the Vikings line up in their jumbo package, & Villapiano, in his own unique style, shouted over to John Madden
‘Coach, we got em right where we want em!’
Only Villapiano could have such a perspective defending the goal line in a Superbowl.
When later asked about this comment, he explained that he knew the Vikings only ran two plays from that formation, the off guard and the off tackle runs.
Armed with that knowledge, he knifed past Vikings Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary and hit fullback Brent McClanahan flat out, sticking his helmet right on the ball and jarring it loose. Fellow linebacker Willie Hall recovered for the Raiders, and Villapiano recalls
‘I felt the ball come loose, and I just pinned McClanahan’s arms down so he couldn’t recover it’ said Villapiano.
Disaster was averted due to the dedication to film study and outright football ability of Oakland’s All Pro linebacker, who also added a sack and twelve tackles on the day.
In the ‘Sea of Hands’ game, the football world remembers only Kenny Stabler’s winning touchdown pass to Clarence Davis. That is entirely understandable, it was an amazing play that the whole game was named after.
But afterwards there was still 21 seconds on the clock, and Miami would only needed one big play and a field goal to overturn Oakland’s 28-26 lead.
As Bob Griese went deep, it was Phil Villapiano’s interception that sealed the game for the Raiders. It was a huge play, but remembered by only a few.
When the Raiders got beaten by the Steelers in 1972 by the ‘immaculate reception’, the controversies talked about by every Raider fan are either whether fullback Franco Harris actually caught the ball before it hit the ground, or whether Steeler Frenchy Faqua was the first to touch the ball after Terry Bradshaw threw it (which would have made the play illegal).
While these are all theories and opinions, there is one hard fact that you never hear talked about.
Even after Harris caught the ball, Villapiano had an angle on him, and he was probably the fastest linebacker in football at that time in his career. But as he moved to close down Harris, the Steelers tight end clipped him on the back of the legs, causing him to stumble and Harris ran by.
Go watch the tape, it’s right there.
While everyone else in the stadium stood and watched, Phil Villapiano would have made that play if he had not been illegally blocked.
Villapiano also compares well to many of his defensive contemporaries already in the Hall of Fame in many respects.
The 18 fumble recoveries he made over his career are more than Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Joe Green, Sam Huff or Ronnie Lott, and put him in a tie with Charles Woodson, Junior Seau, Bob Lilly, and Willie Lanier.
When you think about those names, that’s impressive company to be in. He also achieved that in less career games than any of the aforementioned players, and all but one of those plays came in his time with the Raiders (he was traded to Buffalo prior to the 1980 season).
He was AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1971, and played in five AFC Championship games. In addition to his four Pro Bowls, in 1975 and 1976, he was named All Pro. The years he didn’t make the All Pro Team, he was voted Second Team All Pro in 1972, 1973, & 1976.
He played in a total of 13 playoff games, adding 3 interceptions, 3.0 sacks, and a fumble recovery in the post season.
So why is it that with every reason to be considered for the Hall of Fame, you rarely hear his name mentioned?
Maybe because you never hear him talk about himself and what he did, but always about what his team mates achieved
I had the chance to catch up with the man himself recently, and asked him about that.
He thought about it for a while and said ‘I guess I loved the way we played as a team, everyone played for everyone. For me that was more important. John Madden always said that if you are all doing your job, then the field gets covered. That’s the way we were raised, & we won or lost as a team, so really it’s about the Team, not about me’.
That quote has to be a lesson in humility to some of today’s players, and surely the HoF must consider what a player was like as a team mate as well as his individual accomplishments?
But it isn’t just on the football field that Villapiano showed his greatness.
In 2001 he came out of the Oakland Coliseum following an after game party, and some of the fans were still around. They called to him and he went over to speak to them. In that group was a fan named Mitch Oellrich who was in a wheelchair.
Villapiano talked to him, and learned that he had been injured in an accident, but it was possible that with enough work and effort, he could walk again. To overcome injuries like that requires some serious motivation, and more than a little inspiration.
That inspiration was provided by Phil Villapiano, who took off his Superbowl XI ring and gave it to Oellrich, with the words ‘Give this back to me when you can walk again’.
The story continues that Oellrich eventually did learn to walk again, with Phil Villapiano as his inspiration, and the ring was returned. Villapiano hosted Oellrich and his family in a VIP box at a Raiders game to celebrate, and paid for everything.
He founded the annual Phil Villapiano Field of Hope Gala which raised over $3 million over 16 years for research being done at ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) to find a cure for ALS. In 2002, he received “The Jimmy V Don’t Ever Give Up Award” from the Jimmy Valvano Foundation for the inspiration he gives to others
There is no doubt that Villapiano’s heart is just as big off the field as it was on it, and this unbelievable act of generosity is unique as far as I am aware in the pro football world. It is one thing to be an All Pro linebacker, and another to be an All Pro Human being. When the NFL tells us that ‘football is family’, this ex-Raider walks the walk.
So I ask you again, why not Phil Villapiano for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Villapiano’s daughter Andrea is currently hosting a Facebook site “Foo” for the Hall Of Fame , if you would like to support or get involved, I'll see you there!
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