Phillip Villapiano life and biography

Phillip Villapiano picture, image, poster

Phillip Villapiano biography

Date of birth : 1949-02-26
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-20
Credited as : Football player NFL, played for the Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl

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The Oakland Raider teams of the 1970s hit hard, played hard and lived hard. For many Raider fans, the man who embodied the franchise’s unique spirit was linebacker Phil Villapiano, an undersized, underappreciated draft pick out of Bowling Green who smashed his way into the starting lineup as a rookie and helped anchor one of the great defenses in history.

One of the fastest linebackers of his era, Phil specialized in making big plays—none bigger than his momentum-changing goal-line tackle against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. All-NFL in 1975 and 1976, and All-AFC from 1972-76, Phil also played in four Pro Bowls during his 13-year career.

Upon retiring, Phil returned home to the New Jersey shore, where he eventually became involved with fund-raising efforts for ALS research and victims of the disease. Not surprisingly, he attacks this part of his life the same way he used to go after opposing running backs and quarterbacks.

Phillip James Villapiano was born on February 26, 1949, in Long Branch, New Jersey, to Dorothy and Gus Villapiano. Phil’s brother, Gus, Jr., was two years older; another brother, John, was two years younger. Their sister, Carolee, was the youngest sibling. When Phil was growing up, his father was the Athletic Director at Asbury High in Asbury Park. Gus was a former college football star. He lettered for three years at DePauw University in the mid-1930s, where he was a member of Frank Mundy’s impenetrable defense.

Phil made the Asbury High varsity as a sophomore and was the only boy in his class to letter. The following season, he transferred to the new Ocean Township public school, where he captained the football team as a junior and senior. Phil played running back and linebacker, and hit like a train. Several colleges scouted him during the fall of 1966, with the best offer coming from an ACC school, Maryland.

Under coach Don Nehlen, Phil flourished at his new position. The Mid-America Conference in the late 1960s featured predominantly run-based offenses. Phil learned how to shed blockers, and track and tackle running backs. By the time he completed his senior year in 1970, his linebacking skills were fully evolved.

In the Blue-Gray Game, Phil made a ton of tackles from the defensive end position. In the Senior Bowl he was shifted to linebacker, and played another great game. NFL scouts adding Phil to their linebacker list felt that he was somewhat undersized, but also noted that he ran a 4.6 40 in full gear. After the Senior Bowl, several teams were positive he could hold his own in the NFL.

Phil arrived at camp as a linebacker on the outside looking in. Oakland had veterans Dan Conners, Gus Otto and Duane Benson, along with Gerald Irons and Carl Weathers (of "Rocky" fame). Like most rookies, he was just trying to win a spot on the club, and assumed he would spend the season playing special teams while he learned the nuances of a position he hadn’t played since high school. During camp, however, injuries ravaged the Raider linebacking corps and, by opening day, Phil found himself in the starting lineup.

In the season’s third game, a Monday Night Football contest against the Cleveland Browns, Phil became a household name. His speed confounded the Browns’ blockers and caught the imagination of color man Howard Cosell.

The Raiders ended up 8-4-2 in 1971, finishing second in the AFC West to their mortal enemy, Kansas City. Oakland’s defensive line, so dominant in the 1960s, was beginning to lose a step, so coach John Madden began working in some new talent, including Otis Sistrunk, who listed his school as “Hard Knocks.” The Raider secondary was superb, with veteran Willie Brown and young Tatum earning his nickname, the “Assassin.” The linebackers were among the league’s best.

In 1972, the Raiders recaptured the division crown, but fell to the Steelers in the playoffs when Franco Harris made his “Immaculate Reception.” Phil led the team’s linebackers with three interceptions. In 1973, Oakland won the division again, this time with Ken Stabler running the offense. Four straight wins at the end of the year—including a fight-marred blowout of the Chiefs—put the Raiders over the top.

The Raiders avenged their playoff loss to the Steelers with a 33-14 pounding in the first round of the 1973 playoffs, but Miami beat them 27-10 in the AFC title game. The 1974 Raiders went 12-2 and beat the Dolphins in the playoffs on a last-minute TD pass, but Pittsburgh stifled the high-powered Raider offense to advance to the Super Bowl. The Raiders won the West for the fourth straight year in 1975, but fell again to the Steelers in the title game.

The Raiders had the grave misfortune during the 1970s of being a great team at the same time as the Steelers and Dolphins were peaking. No one wanted to play any of these three juggernauts, but the Raiders were easily the most feared team in football. By this time, Ted Hendricks was wearing silver and black, and John Matuszak, picked up from the Chiefs, joined the club in 1976.

The 1976 Raiders finally put it all together. Outside of a so-so kicking game, the team did not have a significant weakness. On offense, Stabler was at the peak of his powers, leading all quarterbacks with a 67% completion rate and 27 touchdowns. He had three of the game’s top receivers in speedster Cliff Branch, tight end Dave Casper and possession specialist Fred Biletnikoff. Oakland gave opponents a lot of different looks in the backfield with Mark van Eeghan, Clarence Davis, Carl Garrett and Pete Banaszak. And the offensive line was anchored by Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. Teams that stopped the Raiders had to contend with punter Ray Guy, owner of the strongest leg in the game. Besides its famous leftside-rightside quartet, Oakland still had DB’s Tatum, George Atkinson, Willie Brown and the immortal Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas.

The Raiders went on to win their lone Super Bowl of the 1970s, 32-14. The back-breaking play was Willie Brown’s 75-yard interception return, but the outcome was all but assured early in the second half. In 1977, Phil tore an ACL in the season’s second game, against the Steelers.

Phil did indeed return to full strength, although the Raider linebacking corps never recaptured the glory of ’76. A new scheme that flip-flopped Phil and Ted Hendricks diminished the effectiveness of both players and led to speculation that each had “lost a step.” A December loss to the Broncos kept Oakland out of the playoffs in 1978, John Madden’s final year at the helm. Tom Flores took over as head coach in 1979 and the team was unable to recover from a slow start and missed the playoffs again. Prior to the 1980 season, the Raiders, in dire need of a possession receiver to replace the retired Biletnikoff, traded Phil to the Buffalo Bills for Bob Chandler.

Powered by Joe Ferguson and Joe Cribbs, the Bills were one of five teams in the AFC to finish with an 11-5 record in 1980. The team had a good, balanced defense that gave up just 260 points. In its first-round playoff game with San Diego, Buffalo led through three quarters but Dan Fouts engineered a 20-14 comeback win by the Chargers to end Phil’s season.

The Bills enjoyed another solid campaign in 1981 and beat the Jets in the playoffs, but then ran into a red-hot Cincinnati team in the second round. Buffalo muddled through the strike year in 1982 at 4-5, then played .500 ball in 1983, Phil’s final NFL season.

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