My Elite Network: How did you end up at Texas Christian University?
Greg Townsend: Well, I grew up in Southern California so of course, I was into UCLA and USC. One day it was a big heat wave in Long Beach, I mean it was hot. After practice, I was told that a coach from TCU was waiting to talk to me. He had on a sports jacket and was just sitting there, sweating like crazy. This poor guy is waiting for two and a half hours to speak to me. I didn’t want to go to TCU, but at the very least, I can give him 15 minutes. I wasn’t interested in TCU, but, I always gave a coach time just because he came out to see me. So, as we were talking, he was going on about Texas, Texas A&M, SMU and Arkansas and how they needed players like me to beat them. He also said it was my position to lose, and I’m thinking, everybody else was telling me I that would need to work my way into the starting lineup. So, then TCU became somewhat of a front runner even though I was reluctant because I had my heart set on UCLA or USC. As I thought about it, it made more sense because my next level was play professionally, and I needed to get as much play time as possible. I went for a visit, the campus was nice. They had everything I was looking for, I’m so happy I went there.
My Elite Network: How did you find out the Raiders drafted you?
Greg Townsend: I got the phone call of course. But, it was a couple of days before the draft, I had gone to the Raiders facility and met with Defensive Line Coach Earl Leggett. As I was sitting in the lobby, Earl Leggett passed through and said, “they wanted me pretty damn bad.” I got a quick workout and was sent back home. That Tuesday was Draft Day and the Raiders called and selected me. I was so grateful. I thought I was going to be a free agent because I came in as an undersized kind of guy, I was 6’2” and weighted 255.
My Elite Network: Do you have any favorite memories of playing with the Raiders?
Greg Townsend: Oh yeah. The guys use to tease me all the time because our coach’s first name was Earl and my middle name was Earl. Sometimes he would keep me out of a drill and the guys would start in! I’ll never forget that. But I think that is one of the things that made us so good – we were a tight-knit group who worked great together.
My Elite Network: In the Raiders locker room, who was next to you?
Greg Townsend: That’s funny that you ask, Matt Millen had the locker in the corner next to me. He would ask for a bite of anything I had! Sometimes after practice, I would go straight home in my uniform. It was pretty normal for me to come in the next day and Matt would be wearing my jeans or shoes. It was funny, it still makes me laugh.
My Elite Network: When did you realize that you could play in the NFL?
Greg Townsend: I think it was around my third game. It was a Monday Night Football game, so, I knew it was going to be great. We’re running a blitz against Miami and the quarterback fumbled. I picked the ball up and all of a sudden, the whole world goes into slow motion! Ted Hendricks is yelling at me to follow him, but everything seems to be moving so slow! I’m running and running with the ball and I’m trying to get to the goal line. Guys are everywhere. I ended up scoring – it was great. Everybody’s congratulating the coaches and all. That’s when I knew I could play because everybody had accepted me.
My Elite Network: That’s a great story, did you keep the ball?
Greg Townsend: No, I didn’t. I was a rookie and back then it wasn’t about that. Just hearing the guys say good job, was the reward.
My Elite Network: How was it working for Al Davis?
Greg Townsend: When you’re young and you’re coming up, you hope that you get good feedback from your coaches. Same goes when you get older. I remember one day we were walking off the field and Al Davis looks at me and he says, “I like the way you play,.aggressive.” I’m thinking ok, he has noticed me, that’s a good thing. Another time after our first pre-season game, me and some other players just happened to get on the elevator with Mr. Davis. I smiled and said to him, “How are you?” Mr. Davis says to me, “You want to play?” I was thinking that I just put my foot in my mouth. All the guys were dead quiet on the elevator. No one said a word. Once he got off the elevator the other players all started laughing. I learned from that day forward that you don’t say “How are you?” to Mr. Davis – you just say “Hi” and keep going.
My Elite Network: Your Rookie year with the Raiders, you end up in the Super Bowl, how amazing was that?
Greg Townsend: It was euphoria for me because it’s the Super Bowl! Not only that but, during my high school and college career, my teams lost a lot. I’m now on the Raider team learning about winning, I remember it like it was yesterday. The locker room speech was people don’t ever remember the second-place team. I’m thinking who was in the Super Bowl the previous year? I knew then that we HAD to win. No one remembers the second-place team. I’m so proud that I got a chance to play in Super Bowl. Interesting fact – I’m still the only rookie to ever have a sack in a Super Bowl.
My Elite Network: Did you ever sack John Elway?
Greg Townsend: Sure did. I sacked John the most. Out of 109 sacks, I sacked him 45 times. I led the Raiders in every category – batted balls, fumbles, safeties, and interceptions.
My Elite Network: I must ask this, share your memories about the brawl with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Greg Townsend: Whatever game we played the week before we weren’t good on the pursuit. So, Earl Leggett starts with saying that we need to show up on the film. So, when they ran a screen all I could remember was Earl’s speech. But I see that I’m not going to make it. I made the tackle and I flipped over. The next thing I know is that Brad Budde came down on my on my head – he just came down and clobbered me on top of the head. Once he did that it was a done deal, my teammates jumped in. After I got my bearings, all I could see is Todd Blackledge, the quarterback, so I went after him. But Mark Adickes grabbed me by the facemask, I did some kind of little maneuver and ducked down and snatched his helmet off. He started to back up and the referees grabbed me. Some of my teammates were kicked out of the game, but I played the rest of the game. As a matter of fact, we were losing 17 to nothing. But after the fight, we won the game 24 to 17. It was what we needed to win. The next week Earl walks up to me and he says that he needs to talk to me and that this is the hardest thing he has ever had to do. I’m thinking in all his playing and coaching days if THIS was the hardest thing he has ever done, it must be really, really bad. He tells me that I was being suspended, I was so relieved because I thought I was being let go, but, I can handle a suspension.
My Elite Network: Do your children realize that you played professional football?
Greg Townsend: I don’t know. I mean of course, they know I did. I know they know a lot about football because they played in high school and in college. I’m sure a lot of people are aware. I don’t think they have seen all the highlight films. I do think my kids are humble about it, but their friends know. They ask me more questions about who I played against and what was it like playing in the Super Bowl and being in the Pro Bowl. They build it up, so I’m sure my kids play it down.
My Elite Network: What are you doing now?
Greg Townsend: I’ve been doing a lot of appearances, signing autographs and stuff like that. I was spending a lot of time watching my son play ball when he was in college. Now I’m ready to start my own camp – Pass Rush University. The reason I’m calling it a “University” is because I will teach pass rush techniques. It won’t be a typical camp. I should have the camp up and running by January. I also am working with a couple of high school kids and just enjoying my life.
Author: Celi Leggett
Recently retired from a successful 25 year career in education/administration, Celi Leggett, is known as an amateur photographer being featured in several Mississippi Cookbooks and Colorado College sports publications. Her eye for detail and personal relationship skills bring a sense of thoughtfulness to her writing.