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Oakland Raiders’ Other Assassin - George Atkinson: Fan’s Look
In the 1970s, I don't think it was much fun to be a quarterback, wide receiver or running back who had to face the two safeties of the Oakland Raiders. Jack Tatum and George Atkinson were two of the meanest, baddest and best defensive backs to ever play professional football.
They helped create the football monster that was the 1970s Oakland Raider team. Unfortunately, both Tatum and Atkinson played so hard (though within the then-current NFL rules) I think they both helped create the Raiders' current (undeserved) negative reputation as rule-breakers and thugs.
Tatum will always be remembered for the Darryl Stingley tackle, a 1978 play where New England wide receiver Stingley caught a pass, then was hit by Tatum, breaking his neck and paralyzing him in the process.
Atkinson had his own issues with extreme violence, knocking Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann out of the 1975 AFC Championship game with a concussion. The next year, Atkinson again knocked Swann out, this time with a forearm to the head. After the incident, Steelers coach Chuck Noll referred to Atkinson as "part of the criminal element in football." I think these incidents were a good part of the genesis of the Raiders' negative reputation.
Tatum wrote a book about his career in football called "The Call Me Assassin." In the book he described a bounty program he had with Atkinson. If either of them was able to knock a player out of the game, a "limpoff" as they called it, they got one point. A "knockout" where the player had to be carted off the field and an injury timeout taken, was worth two points.
George Atkinson is still associated with the Oakland Raiders as an official "Raider Legend" and he does pre- and post-game radio broadcasts for the team. He holds several Raiders records: Atkinson is the number three punt returner, with 148 returns for 1,247 yards. He is the number seven kickoff returner, with 76, for 1,893 yards. He is also the number five career interception leader with 30, for 488 yards. George Atkinson played from 1968-1977 for the Oakland Raiders, then returned in 1979 for a final season with the Denver Broncos.
Understandably, Atkinson has no regrets about the violence he inflicted as a player and I agree with him that football is a violent sport. In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Atkinson said: "when you take the aggressiveness out of the game, the game becomes a little boring. That's what people come to see: tackling; good, hard hits."
I think Atkinson should be more concerned about football violence, especially since he has two twin sons, one who is a running back for Notre Dame, the other a cornerback. George Atkinson III and Josh Atkinson are starting as freshman and both will probably end up playing in the NFL.
Although born and raised with Eagles fans in Philadelphia, Freddy Sherman has always been a citizen of Raider Nation at heart. Since his dad got him a signed George Blanda football as child, to meeting Lyle Alzado in the 1980s, he hasn't looked back. Follow him on twitter @thefredsherman
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