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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Fred Biletnikoff, Big Plays in Big Games

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Fred Biletnikoff, Big Plays in Big Games

11/07/2021
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Every team sport produces its share of players who compile big stats in meaningless moments – at the end of a blowout win or loss, or for a club closer to the bottom of the standings than the top.

When those players step into the spotlight, however, they wilt.

Not so, Fred Biletnikoff. When the lights shined brightest, he rose to the challenge.

Fred’s football career, which reached its pinnacle with election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 1988, is revisited this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

“When Fred finished his 14 years as a Raider in 1978, he ranked first in the history of the NFL in both receptions and reception yardage in the biggest games a professional athlete could play in: the postseason playoffs,” Hall of Famer Al Davis said in presenting Fred for Enshrinement.

“He was a star among stars.”

Over 19 postseason games, Fred totaled 70 receptions for 1,167 yards and 10 touchdowns. He surpassed 100 receiving yards in five playoff games, including twice in the 1968 American Football League postseason, when he amassed 14 receptions for 370 yards and four touchdowns.

The Raiders and their main AFL rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, each posted 12-2 records in 1968, forcing a divisional playoff game in Oakland to determine who would play the New York Jets for the AFL title the following week. By halftime, Fred had scored on pass plays covering 24, 44 and 54 yards as the Raiders built a 28-6 lead on their way to a 41-6 rout.

His final numbers: seven receptions for 180 yards and the three scores.

In the AFL Championship Game the following week, Fred made another seven catches for 190 yards and scored the Raiders’ first touchdown on a 29-yard pass from Daryle Lamonica. Oakland, bidding to reach the Super Bowl for a second consecutive season, lost 27-23 when the Jets scored late in the game.

The bitter endings of the 1967 and 1968 seasons finally were erased when Fred and the Raiders reached Super Bowl XI following the 1976 season. He caught four passes from Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler for 79 yards, three times setting up short scoring plays, in the 32-14 Oakland win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Fred was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He remains the only wide receiver to win the Super Bowl MVP award without topping 100 receiving yards or scoring a touchdown.

“You look back in Freddie’s career, he always stepped up in big games,” Stabler said.

In 190 regular-season games, Fred totaled 589 receptions for 8,974 yards and 76 touchdowns. Each figure places him second in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Tim Brown. He surpassed 100 receiving yards in 21 of those games.

The Raiders never posted a losing record in Fred’s 14 seasons and reached the playoffs 10 times.

Fred’s big-game productivity wasn’t limited to professional football. He was named a high school All-American and four years later a consensus college All-American after leading the nation with 1,179 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns for Florida State in 1964. He culminated his collegiate career with a school-record 13 receptions for 194 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-19 Gator Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

Under a goal post immediately following that performance, Fred signed his pro contract with the Raiders. He had been selected with the 11th overall pick of the 1965 AFL Draft.

On the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Davis summed up Fred’s Spotlight-worthy pro career this way: “Fred Biletnikoff, you are a great artist who for 14 glorious seasons used the football field as your canvas and your magnificent hands as palette and brush to paint unforgettable moments for all football fans everywhere.”

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