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King of the Raiders

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
I never saw George Blanda kick a 53-yard field goal in 1970 to become “King of the World.” Nor did I see the ending of the “Heidi Game” two years earlier.

For that matter, I wasn’t watching in 1975 when George Johnson kept blocking shots down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won the seventh game of the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls.

Thanks to Bill King, I remember those events of 30-something years ago with more clarity than a lot of things I have covered for a living the past 20 years.

Sports television being what it was, none of those games were on television locally, and King was the connection a lot of people had with Bay Area sports teams.

The NFL’s old blackout rule held that home teams were not on television in their home area – whether the game was sold out or not. So Raider fans who couldn’t get in to the Coliseum depended on King to tell them what was happening.

King came through loud and clear on the A.M. radio on the Realistic stereo in the our family room.

As much as Al Davis is the image of the Raiders, King will forever be the club’s voice to those who who listened every week during the club’s first era in Oakland.

He’s the one who interpreted the officials as telling John Madden to “get your big butt out of here” after the Holy Roller in San Diego. The voice which extolled “Old man Willie” when Willie Brown headed for the end zone when the Raiders finally won the Super Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings.

King, who died Tuesday due to complications from hip replacement surgery, was so good, legions of Raider fans turned the sound down on road games so they could hear someone they trusted give the details about their team.

And King did it with passion and incredible detail, without sugar-coating the facts in favor of the home team. He didn’t have to do it much because the Raiders he covered from 1966-92 were usually very good. But on the days when the Raiders were sub-par, King wasn’t afraid to say it.

You wonder how disgusted King would have been at the Raiders performance Sunday against San Diego, and exactly what he would have said about it. To be fair, current Raiders announcer Greg Papa wasn’t overly kind to the Raiders, and neither was ex-coach Tom Flores.

For as much nonsense as Al Davis spews through his media relations staff and their press releases, he has been pretty good about allowing his radio play-by-play announcer to be critical as the situation warrants.

You wonder how Davis would ever let King get away following the 1992 season.

To his credit, Davis understood Northern California’s attatchment. The Raiders made overtures to King about returning in 1995. King couldn’t make a solid commitment, and when told the team was considering Papa, gave him a hearty endorsement.

To be honest, I don’t know if the Los Angeles market held King in the same regard as the Bay Area did. But King was as good with the L.A. Raiders as he was the Oakland Raiders. Although well past the days of having a serious rooting interest, I would still would occasionally tune in to L.A. Raiders games just to listen to King, who first informed me that Bo Jackson was something special through his description of “a brutal 7-yard gain.”

King was so good at basketball, I’ve had a hard time listening to radio broadcasts with anyone else. As much as I understand the home announcer is very much a provincial thing, the first time I heard Chick Hearn I thought, “You mean that’s Chick Hearn?”

When compared to King, he paled by comparison.

Hearn fans would beg to differ. And that’s fine. The television age has pretty much ruled out any modern day discussion of which team has the best radio announcer.

There are countless stories circulating about how King was a better person than he was a broadcaster. Upon my first assignments at A’s games, I remember being more nervous approaching King than I was talking to players.

I mean, this was Bill King. The guy in my living room, talking through that Realistic stereo, telling me about the Raiders and Warriors in my pre-teen years.

King couldn’t have been nicer, and it went beyond simply being accomodating. He seemed geniunely interested in what I had to say. He returned every call and answered every question. He was as good as it gets, the best there was in an ego-driven business although he had a personality seemingly devoid of ego.

Al Davis, prone to overstatement and hyperbole, said Tuesday that “Bill becomes one of the people that I give the cloak of immortality – time never stops for the great ones.”

For once, Al and I are in complete agreement.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer