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Once upon a time, Fred Biletnikoff played at Taylor Field

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2020-08-06 Rob Vanstone
a person posing for the camera:  Fred Biletnikoff, a legendary NFL receiver with the Oakland Raiders, completed his playing career with the Montreal Alouettes in 1980. Focus On Sport/Getty Images. © Focus On Sport Fred Biletnikoff, a legendary NFL receiver with the Oakland Raiders, completed his playing career with the Montreal Alouettes in 1980. Focus On Sport/Getty Images.
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Let’s turn back the hands of time and celebrate the hands of Fred Biletnikoff.

Precisely 40 years ago — on Aug. 6, 1980 — the most valuable player of Super Bowl XI visited Taylor Field as a member of the Montreal Alouettes.

Biletnikoff, then 37, made four catches for a team-high 51 receiving yards as Montreal posted an 18-10 CFL victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

a person posing for the camera:  Fred Biletnikoff, a legendary NFL receiver with the Oakland Raiders, completed his playing career with the Montreal Alouettes in 1980. Focus On Sport/Getty Images. © Focus On Sport Fred Biletnikoff, a legendary NFL receiver with the Oakland Raiders, completed his playing career with the Montreal Alouettes in 1980. Focus On Sport/Getty Images.

That evening, Biletnikoff donned uniform number 25, which he wore so well for the Oakland Raiders from 1965 to 1978. His remarkable career was celebrated in 1988 by induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Biletnikoff is one of only five enshrinees in that shrine’s players’ category to have demonstrated his talents at Taylor Field — the others being John Henry Johnson (Calgary Stampeders, 1953), Mac Speedie (Saskatchewan, 1953-54), Arnie Weinmeister (B.C. Lions, 1954-55) and Warren Moon (Edmonton, 1978-83).

Moreover, Biletnikoff and Jake Scott are the only two Super Bowl MVPs to have appeared in Regina. Scott, a receiver with B.C. in 1969, later joined the Miami Dolphins and, while playing safety, made two interceptions to help them punctuate an undefeated season in Super Bowl VII.

a baseball player holding a bat on a field:  Fred Biletnikoff is shown with the Oakland Raiders during the 1977 Super Bowl, of which he was the most valuable player. Getty Images Files. Fred Biletnikoff is shown with the Oakland Raiders during the 1977 Super Bowl, of which he was the most valuable player. Getty Images Files.

All these years later, what does Biletnikoff recall about his first visit to Regina?

“In the hotel room, looking out the window, you could see forever,” he says. “It was somewhat like North Dakota or Kansas. You could look forever and ever and ever.

“It was unbelievable.”

The same description applies to Biletnikoff’s football career in general.

He was so accomplished with the Raiders and Florida State Seminoles that, on an annual basis since 1994, the Fred Biletnikoff Award has been presented to the outstanding receiver in American college football.

With Oakland, the six-time Pro Bowler registered 589 regular-season catches for 8,974 yards and 76 touchdowns while playing in the AFL and NFL. When he joined the Alouettes, he was fourth on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.

In 19 playoff games with Oakland, he added 70 receptions for 1,167 yards and 10 majors — totals that were once NFL post-season records.

Most memorably, he caught four passes for 79 yards in the 1977 Super Bowl en route to earning MVP honours. Three of his catches set up Raiders touchdowns in their 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The reward?

“I got a car — a brand-new Thunderbird from Ford, which was a sponsor of the NFL at that time, but I didn’t realize that I only had the car for a year,” Biletnikoff, 77, says from his home in Roseville, Calif.

“I didn’t even know it, and I had to turn the car back in after a year. If I wanted to buy it, I could buy it, which I didn’t. But I drove it for a year.

“So I’m driving over to Palm Springs and a cop pulls me over for speeding. Well, I didn’t know, but I thought that they had insurance and everything. No. I had to carry my own insurance. I thought, ‘Oh, this is great.’

“The officer said, ‘Where’s your insurance?’ I said, ‘What insurance? What’s going on?’ So that was my experience of being the MVP. I’ll never forget that.

“Amazing, amazing …”

Despite an amazing tenure with the Raiders, Biletnikoff was released by the team before the 1979 season. He returned to the field with Montreal in 1980.

Fred Biletnikoff wearing a suit and tie:  Alouettes head coach Joe Scannella, left, and receiver Fred Biletnikoff at a news conference in April 1980. Tedd Church/Montreal Gazette. © Todd Church Alouettes head coach Joe Scannella, left, and receiver Fred Biletnikoff at a news conference in April 1980. Tedd Church/Montreal Gazette.

Joe Scannella, who was Raiders’ special-teams co-ordinator from 1972 to 1977, was the Alouettes’ head coach when Biletnikoff headed to Montreal. He caught 38 passes for 470 yards and four TDs in 16 games during one season in Canada.

“I never, ever regretted it,” he says. “That was probably one of the best things I’ve done in my life, meeting the guys and making those friendships.

“Wally (Buono) was on the team at that time and we coached together in Calgary (in 1987 and 1988), so I’ve known Wally for a number of years and we’re good friends.”

Buono — an Alouettes linebacker from 1972 to 1981 — is himself a hall of famer, having been inducted into the Canadian football shrine in 2014 for his excellence as a head coach and general manager.

As for Biletnikoff, he is immortalized in Canton, Ohio due to his impeccable route-running, textbook footwork, deceptive speed, and an uncanny ability to make seemingly impossible catches look rudimentary.

“You know what?” the personable Biletnikoff says with a laugh. “I had to make a living.”

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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