One of the greatest defensive linebackers of all time, thanks to his hard-hitting approach and committed attitude.
“When you play for the Raiders, you play to win and you play tough. It’s not something the coaches teach or talk about. It’s just there, like in the air. It’s an attitude – you are going to hit people and smash them if you are a Raider.”
– Phil Villapiano
Born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York, Phil Villapiano knew from an early age that football was his destiny. His high school yearbook lists “football player” as his future vocation, which he pursued at BowlingGreen University. Villapiano’s speed and agility would soon be legendary.
In 1971, he was drafted to the Oakland Raiders, where his reputation as a linebacker of unmatched intensity and enthusiasm exemplified the team. During his eight years with the Raiders, Villapiano was the heart and soul of what was ranked as one of the NFL’s all-time best defensive units.
Raiders coach John Madden said Villapiano had “linebacker’s eyes” but, by all accounts, it was Villapiano’s heart that kept him impassioned about the game. With the Raiders, the legendary tough-as-nails player was selected to three consecutive Pro-Bowls (1974-1976), and won Division titles in 1972 (10-3-1), 1973 (9-4-1), 1974 (12-2), 1975 (11-3) and 1976 (13-1).
His career highlight came in 1976, as he led the Raiders to Super Bowl victory with a 32-14 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota’s star running back, Chuck Foreman, was held to 44 yards on 17 carries. It was the Raiders’ defense – anchored by Villapiano and his teammates John Matuzek, Otis Sistrunk, Ted Hendricks and Willie Brown – that ensured the triumph.
Unfortunately, Villapiano spent the entire following year sidelined with a resulting knee injury. He played two more years with the Raiders before being traded to the Buffalo Bills in 1980, allowing him to extend his professional career until 1983.
Villapiano retired from professional football in 1984. in 2002, he received “The Jimmy V Don’t Ever Give Up Award” from the Jimmy Valvano Foundation for the inspiration he gives to others. He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.