Before the Oakland Raiders took to the field at the Rose Bowl Jan. 9, 1977, head coach John Madden shared some words.
"If you lose the Super Bowl nobody remembers you. They only remember the winner."
That's how defensive end/tackle Otis Sistrunk remembers the National Football League's Super Bowl XI vs. the Minnesota Vikings. Sistrunk recalls something else Madden said.
"We need to win."
The Raiders went 13-1 in the 1976 regular season and rode a 12-game win streak into Super Bowl Sunday. Sistrunk treated the championship game like it was another day on the job. He blocked out more than 103,000 fans and focused on getting to Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Sistrunk got to him alright - twice - and he played a vital role in the Raiders clinching their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history with a 32-14 win.
Madden was right when he said Super Bowl winners are not forgotten. Everyone remembers Otis Sistrunk, No. 60.
Behind his desk in Cowan and Memorial Stadium on Joint Base Lewis-McChord where Sistrunk is the stadium manager, photographs captured Sistrunk's glory days. There are photos of Sistrunk charging quarterbacks, including a photo of him about to put the hammer down on Tarkenton in 1977. Perhaps the best known photo of them all is of steam rising from Sistrunk's famously bald head. That image inspired ABC commentator Alex Karras to dub Sistrunk the player from the "University of Mars."
With Super Bowl XLVI this weekend Sistrunk, now 67, reminisced about the memorable win football players at every level dream about, but few experience.
Sistrunk went straight into the Marines after high school and afterward played a short stint with the Norfolk Neptunes of the Continental Football League in the late 1960s. He tried out for the Los Angeles Rams in 1970. Though he made the team, he never suited up for an NFL game until he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, where he played from 1972 through 1980.
Beating the Vikings at the end of the 1976 season made Sistrunk the first NFL player to win the championship without going to college.
"It's nothing to brag out," he said. "I talk to kids now and tell them to stay in school, get an education. Me, I got lucky and I got a job working with the government."
The honor wasn't the only one awarded to Sistrunk during his career. He was also selected by NFL coaches and fellow players to the Pro Bowl in 1974.
After he became a Super Bowl champion, opportunities continued to present themselves. Sistrunk appeared in numerous commercials for products that included Timex, Bic, Pizza Hut and Miller Lite. He also starred in three movies: "Car Wash," "Weed" and "Doc Hooker's Bunch."
"When you make it to the Super Bowl and win, everybody wants to do something with you," Sistrunk said. "A lot of things were available right after the Super Bowl for us."
While his celebrity status continued to flourish, the years of hard hits on the field took its toll on Sistrunk's body. He knew his time in the NFL was done in 1980. After he retired he underwent two knee replacements.
"Some players play a year or two too long," he said. "I got tired of taking shots just to play."
But he left a legacy in Oakland. Sistrunk finished with seven recovered fumbles and three interceptions in 98 games played (quarterback sack statistics were not yet recorded). During his tenure the Raiders went 75-23-2 and made three additional AFC title game appearances.
Soon after he retired from the NFL Sistrunk became involved with athletics at Fort Benning, Ga. His involvement with the Army led him to Fort Lewis 21 years ago. Soldiers and fans still stroll into Sistrunk's office to talk about football, ask for his autograph or see his Super Bowl ring.
"Everyone was playing for the ring," he said. "You could spend the money, but you can't spend the ring ... It means a lot to a lot of people. A lot of people have never been around a person who's been in the Super Bowl or never seen a Super Bowl ring."
When Sistrunk first received his ring he wore it every day. These days he typically wears it upon special request or when he attends celebrity charity events.
When the New York Giants and New England Patriots meet this Sunday vying for another ring, Sistrunk will be watching from the comfort of his own home - so he can critique and criticize the game, he said. Sistrunk's prediction: Patriots 23, Giants 20.
The Sistrunk file: A look at the NFL career of Otis Sistrunk
- 1968-69: Plays semi-pro football for the Norfolk Neptunes of the Continental Football League.
- 1970: Signs first NFL contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
- 1972: Rams trade Sistrunk to the Oakland Raiders before start of the season.
- 1974: Selected to the NFL Pro Bowl team.
- 1976: Appears in first feature film, "Car Wash." Also, had roles in "Weed," "Babyface" and "Doc Hooker's Bunch."
- 1977: Wins Super Bowl XI as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
- 1980: Retires from NFL.
- 1981: Begins 33-year odyssey with the U.S. Army as a football coach at Fort Benning, Ga.
- 1990: Begins 21-year career as Fort Lewis (JBLM) stadium manager.
To see a highlight video of Sistrunk's NFL career: http://youtube.com/watch?v=fP0EPcuIrEg