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Oakland Raiders: Constructing a Mount Rushmore for the Silver and Black

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COMMENTARY | Who would've thought the city of Oakland, Calif., the murder capital of America, would produce one of the greatest franchises in the history of professional sports?

The daunting colors of silver and black, much like the dangerous city of Oakland, represents fear, but commands respect.

But in order to earn respect, you have to win. The Raiders did that, and they did it a lot.

During the 1970s, Oakland was about two things: murder and winning. By the end of the decade, Oakland's per capita murder rate was double that of New York City and San Francisco, and the Raiders were one of the greatest teams in the NFL.

As a team, the Raiders were a microcosm of the relentless city they played in. Some of the best players in NFL history donned the silver and black during their careers.

But they weren't just a football team, they were a family. In the 1970s, everybody wanted to play for the Raiders.

After 54 years, 17 divisional titles, 21 Hall of Famers and three Super Bowls, the Oakland Raiders remain one of the most successful, memorable and iconic franchises in NFL history.

Throughout the years, there have been numerous players who have greatly impacted the Raider franchise. Narrowing the number down to just four is impossible.

Constructing four or even five Mount Rushmores for the Raiders would be more appropriate. Regardless, here are four of the greatest men to ever represent the silver and black:

Al Davis

Without Al Davis, there would be no Oakland Raiders. He was the Raiders.

With a militaristic attitude and a firm knowledge of the game right down to its very core, Davis personified, and later perfected everything the Raiders stood for.

Before Davis got to Oakland, the Raiders were the laughing stock of the AFL. From 1960-62, they posted an abysmal 9-33 record.

In 1963, his first year in Oakland after a stint with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders finished with a 10-4 record and Davis easily won AFL Coach of the Year. The winning didn't stop there.

Oakland went 23-16-3 under the fiery Davis, and he quickly made the Raiders one of the premier teams in the AFL.

Davis later became AFL Commissioner in 1966 and forced the merger with the rival NFL within two months of getting the job.

With his car salesman haircut, gritty smile and persistence to never be pushed around, Davis crafted the Raiders into the most electrifying team in the NFL.

He took chances on players nobody else wanted, and drafted the guys from smaller schools who most teams thought would never make it in the league.

His trust in his players earned their respect, and his eye for talent made him legendary.

Davis was a leader, and he knew how to win. Here's a line from his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 1992:

"You must treat people in a paramilitary situation the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated. To do that, you must learn about them, learn their cultures and allow for their individual differences. We never wanted our players or even our friends to fit into rigid personality molds. There's a place in this world for mavericks, stand up for principal. Defy customs at times, but right do not hurt others."

Davis took a team that had no business playing professional football in a city plagued with crime, and turned them into winners.

He will forever be the life line of the Oakland Raiders, and his signature slogan of "Just Win Baby," will forever echo throughout the historic walls of the NFL.

John Madden

Long before he ever had a broadcasting career, a video game franchise, or even his own patented bus, John Madden was coaching on the Oakland Raiders' sideline.

Madden, a 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, remains one of the greatest head coaches of all time. Along with Chuck Noll and Don Shula, Madden was an iconic coach in a decade that was dominated by the AFC.

From 1969-78, he compiled a record of 103-32-7. His .763 winning percentage is the highest in NFL history, and he did it all with the Oakland Raiders.

Not only did Madden win, but he did so while earning the respect of his players. He was a players coach, and it showed on the field.

Oakland only managed one Super Bowl victory during Madden's tenure, but it wasn't for a lack of talent or a lack of effort.

From 1974-77, the Raiders went an incredible 47-9 under Madden, and their ability to get over the hump against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1976 AFC Championship game helped set up their first Super Bowl in team history, a 32-14 thrashing over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.

As a defensive genius, Madden's coaching style set the tone for the Raider teams of the 1970s that struck fear in the hearts of the opposition.

The man they called "Pinky" forever created a legacy that has yet to be matched by anybody else in league history.

Fred Biletnikoff

From 1967-78, it was nearly impossible to find a more reliable wide receiver in the NFL than Fred Biletnikoff.

Whether it was with his amazing hands, or the globs of Stickum he painted on his jersey, Biletnikoff helped set the precedent as Oakland's first great wide receiver.

Al Davis lived and died by the deep ball, and nobody perfected it better than Biletnikoff.

At 6-foot-1 and just 180 lbs.,Biletnikoff wasn't the biggest or the fastest guy on the field, but he had an uncanny ability to make plays and extend drives.

After struggling to establish himself during his first two years in the league, Biletnikoff finished the 1967 season with 867 yards and five touchdowns while averaging an astonishing 21.9 yards per catch.

The next year, Biletnikoff had his first and only 1,000-yard season, then finished with 837 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1969.

It didn't matter if it was Daryle Lamonica or Kenny "The Snake" Stabler throwing him the ball. Biletnikoff did nothing but catch passes.

After suffering heart-breaking loss after heart-breaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the postseason, Oakland finally beat Pittsburgh in the 1976 AFC Championship game to reach the promised land.

As his football career came to a close, Biletnikoff finally tasted championship glory when the Raiders defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.

He only finished the game with four catches for 79 yards, but three of those catches set up three Oakland touchdowns, and Biletnikoff was later named Super Bowl MVP.

His career consisted of 76 touchdowns, six Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP, an NFL Championship, and one gold jacket after his Hall of Fame induction in 1988.

Jim Otto

Not only does a great offense start with a great line, but a great team starts with great men. If there was any man not named Al Davis who earned the title of "Mr. Raider," it was Jim Otto.

Otto never played a position that garnered the attention like a quarterback, running back or wide receiver, but he was a master of his craft. Playing on the line didn't light up his stat sheet, but make no mistake, Otto was one hell of a football player.

He wore the silver and black from 1960-74, and was the "Iron Man" of the franchise by starting in 210 consecutive games, a team record.

Otto was a warrior in the trenches for the Raiders. Unfortunately, he finished his career without a Super Bowl win.

He retired after the 1974 season, just two years before the Raiders won their first Super Bowl. If there was anybody in the organization who deserved to win a championship, it was Otto.

The man who perfected the "00" has had nearly 70 surgeries over his lifetime, most of them to heal his body from the beatings he both gave and received during his 15-year career in Oakland. His prosthetic leg is all black with a Raider shield painted on the front.

He played in nine AFL All-Star games and the first three AFC-NFC Pro Bowls during his illustrious career. Not only was he a phenomenal center, he was a true Raider.

Otto remained very close with Al Davis after his playing days were over, and later took a front office job with the organization.

His dedication to the Raiders both on and off the field, his will to win, and his commitment to excellence make him the final man on the Oakland Raiders Mount Rushmore.

Steven Slivka is a breaking news reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also writes about the Oakland Raiders for the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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