Great Raiders From History: Ted Hendricks

As the off-season moves along, the Oakland Raiders department of Last Word on Pro Football will be doing a series on great Raiders from history. We’ll revisit Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders that are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reminiscing on their careers and impact on the silver and black. This week, Ted Hendricks is the topic of discussion.

Great Raiders from History: Ted Hendricks

Theodore Paul “Ted” Hendricks. An all-time Raider great. The winner of four Super Bowls and a four-time first team All Pro, the 6’7” linebacker finished his NFL career with 60 sacks and 26 interceptions. He also blocked a ridiculous 25 kicks. But whilst The Mad Stork was perhaps the best linebacker ever to wear the Silver and Black, Hendricks didn’t start his career with the Raiders.

Before The Raiders

Hendricks was drafted in the second round of the 1969 draft by the Baltimore Colts, and converted from defensive end to linebacker by Colts head coach Don Shula. He went on to win Superbowl V in 1970, helping to anchor a defense that allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season. As a Colt, he delivered 18.5 sacks and 11 interceptions before, after five seasons, being traded to the Green Bay Packers.

Hendricks only played one season in Green Bay, but it was a great one. Five interceptions, a safety and two sacks. He also blocked an incredible seven kicks. In one season. Seven. That’s some wingspan, Stork.

Then Al Davis made his move. Davis sent two first round picks to Green Bay for the rights to Hendricks. That might have seemed a lot but Hendricks went on to play for nine seasons in the Silver and Black, and is one of only a handful of players to play in all three of the Raiders Super Bowl wins.

Why Was Hendricks So Good?

Where to start with Hendricks’ skills? Of course, he was tall. Of course, he blocked kicks. And he has 26 career interceptions and 4 career safeties. But watch any highlight reel of Hendricks and it’s his run defense that is the first thing you see. Jack Del Rio made a big deal early in his tenour about needing to ‘set the edge better’ in run defense. No-one set the edge like Ted Hendricks. His amazing mix of size and strength made him almost impossible to block.

Watch this clip of Hendricks as a Colt. The pulling guard gets in a clean hit, but Hendricks just brushes him aside before wrapping up the runner for a loss. Or how about this clip against the Jets? Hendricks simply walks over the attempted block, tackling both fullback and running back at the same time.

But if you want to see the best example of the type of Chaos Hendricks could unleash on opposing running games, then watch this clip of Hendricks as a Packer. First of all he knocks the fullback out of the way, then the pulling guard, before dragging the running back down for a loss. Two players had clean blocks on him. Neither could bring him down. No wonder Colts center Bill Curry described running into Hendricks like “running into a piece of angle iron”.

The Eccentric Ted Hendricks

As sportsmen go, Hendricks was always a little different. He majored in physics and was rumoured to relax by doing maths problems. His smarts led to the Raiders playing him more in a roving role, able to move around the defense as required. It also led to some of his more quirky behaviour. Hendricks might have been smart, but as John Madden said, ”that’s also why he’d get bored. So he had to do things to take care of that boredom. I was always big on just being ready to play on Sunday, and then play like hell. He was the epitome of that. He may do something goofy on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. But there was no one more ready to play when the game began.

He famously rode a horse out to practice whilst wearing a old German army helmet. He knocked out Marv Hubbard whilst trying to leap over him in practice, which led to his Raider nickname, “Kick ‘Em In The Head Ted”. However, possibly the most famous image of Hendricks wasn’t actually him making a joke.

Hendricks on Monday Night Football

The picture is of Hendricks sat on the bench on Monday Night Football. Cool as you like, Hendricks regards the camera. Except he’s wearing a huge harlequin mask over the bottom half of his face, with a spooky lopsided smile grinning out at a watching public. Hendricks himself talked about what that mask was about in an interview with the Hall of Fame.

“Well, that wasn’t a practical joke – the mask that I wore on Monday night TV. I was very upset because I wasn’t starting in the lineup and was sitting on the bench. Not to show my frustrations, I picked up a Harlequin’s mask at a Renaissance Fair in the Bay Area. And, I thought would show my disgust about not being able to play – hide my frustration with a big smile on my mask.”

Which sounds just about the most perfectly Ted Hendricks way to protest about a lack of playing time.

Hendricks was just different. He acted like a man supremely comfortable in his own skin, comfortable with his own talent, and happy to show it off. He won three Super Bowls with the Raiders, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Whilst he is often remembered for his partying off the field, it is his excellence on the field that marks him out as a true Raider great.

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