Born: February 26, 1949
Town: Long Branch, New Jersey
During the heyday of the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, no player embodied their spirit—both on and off the field—more than Phil Viillapiano. He moved like a cat and hit like a train, anchoring the left side of the defense behind John Matuszak, and helped Oakland win Super Bowl XI to cap off a remarkable 1976 season.
Phil was born February 26, 1949 in Long Branch and grew up in Asbury Park. His father, Gus, was a former college football star for DePauw University, and Athletic Director of Asbury Park High School. Phil captained the Ocean Township High team as a junior and senior and accepted a scholarship from Bowling Green in 1967.
Phil played defensive end for Bowling Green, where he developed the tackling and block-shedding skills required of linebackers in the pro game. Though undersized, he ran a 4.6 40 in full gear, which made him worth a second-round pick by the Raiders in 1971. Phil was offered more by the CFL Toronto Argonauts, but he grabbed the chance to become a Raider. He became a national sensation during a Monday Night Football game against the Browns, making several spectacular tackles. He would go on to play in four consecutive Pro Bowls.
The Raiders were one of three powerhouse teams in the American Football Conference during the 1970s, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins. After several playoff disappointments, everything came together for Oakland in 1976. Phil was part of a defense that helped the team go 13–1 in the regular season. The Raiders pounded Pittsburgh in the playoffs and beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl, 32–14. Phil made the game-changing play during a goal-line stand. He knifed through the Minnesota line and jarred the football out of Brent McLanahan’s arms, and the Raiders recovered.
Phil suffered a knee injury in 1977, but returned to form in 1978. He was traded by the Raiders in 1980 and finished his career with the Buffalo Bills. He helped them reach the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, and retired after the 1983 season.
Phil returned to Monmouth County, where he forged a successful career in the shipping business and has become a leader in the fight against ALS. His Field of Hope Gala has raised millions for research. After Hurricane Sandy, Phil co-founded Save the Jersey Shore, a charitable organization that directs resources to individuals and business owners who desperately need them.