Art Shell was one of the greatest offensive tackles in Oakland Raiders history.
When Shell joined forces with Gene Upshaw, Bob Brown, Jim Otto, and Ron Mix in the early 1970s, the Raiders led the AFC in offense during the first few years of the John Madden era in Oakland.
Nine years into Shell’s iconic pro football career, he played a perfect game against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
Shell did not give up a single sack or tackle to feared Vikings edge rusher Jim Marshall through the entire game.
The Raiders’ running backs burst through Shell’s side of the offensive line and repeatedly gashed Minnesota’s run defense during the game.
Behind Shell’s perfect game, the Raiders won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Shell went on to help the Silver and Black win two Vince Lombardi titles during his 15-year pro football career from 1968 to 1982.
To nobody’s surprise, Shell entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1989.
This is Art Shell’s remarkable journey on the gridiron.
Arthur Lee “Art” Shell, Jr. was born to parents Art Sr. and Gertrude in Charleston, SC on November 26, 1946.
Art was the oldest in a brood of five siblings that included Bertha, Kenneth, Benny, and Lawrence.
Art and his siblings grew up in a small house surrounded by sulfur and fertilizer plants. The stench from the plants wafted through the air at all hours, per Sports Illustrated‘s Jill Lieber.
Shell’s father, Art Sr., labored at a paper mill to help feed his big family.
His wife, Gertrude, had a cardiovascular health issue. Consequently, Art Jr. and his siblings had to pick up the slack at home. They washed dishes, cleaned their abode, and assisted with the cooking.
Art Jr. quit school when he was twelve years old so he could work in the cotton fields of South Carolina.
SCAHOF member & Bonds-Wilson HS standout Art Shell participated in 3 SBs. Shell won SBs 11 & 15 with the @Raiders. He later served as OL coach with the @AtlantaFalcons in SB33. He played 13yrs with Oakland ('68-'82), made All-Pro 4 times & the Pro Bowl 8 times. #scnews #chsnews pic.twitter.com/dGIpNWd5Aq
— South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame (@SCAHOF) February 4, 2022
Art Jr.’s worst fears came true when he turned 15 years old in 1961. His mother passed away due to a heart attack. She was just 35 years old, per Sports Illustrated.
Art Sr. gathered his five children and told them he would raise them by himself after his wife succumbed to her heart ailment.
Art Shell Jr. attended Bonds-Wilson High School in North Charleston, SC. Shell, a two-sport star, played for football coach James Fields and basketball coach Eugene Gray.
Choosing a College
Shell decided to commit to the Grambling State Tigers and play for their legendary head football coach, Eddie Robinson, at the end of his high school days in South Carolina.
However, fate intervened in the form of Maryland State Hawks head football coach, Roosevelt Gilliam.
Gilliam pulled up in front of the Shell residence less than a day before Art Jr.’s bus was about to leave for Louisiana, per Sports Illustrated‘s John Ed Bradley.
When Art Sr. got home from work, Gilliam told him Art Jr. would get his college degree at Maryland State in four years.
Art Shell, Sr. gave Roosevelt Gilliam his blessing. Before long, Art Jr. would receive a football scholarship from Maryland State College.
Unheralded Art Shell would exceed expectations and become one of the Maryland State Hawks’ best offensive linemen of all time.
College Days with the Maryland State Hawks
Art Shell attended Maryland State College (now known as the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore) from 1964 to 1967.
Shell suited up for Hawks head football coach Roosevelt Gilliam. In Art’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, he credited Gilliam with teaching him football and life during his four-year stint.
Shell recalled that Gilliam and his wife treated him and his teammates like they were their sons. For the players’ parts, they treated the couple like their parents away from home. The Gilliams were one of the reasons why Art Shell enjoyed his college days at Maryland State.
Art Shell was an outstanding offensive tackle for Maryland State College. Respectively so, Shell won 2 Super Bowls as a Raider, and became the 2nd African-American head coach in the history of pro FB with the @Raiders . The 8x Pro-Bowler was elected to the Pro Football HOF #BHM pic.twitter.com/VApm35eGgK
— BlackCollegeFootball (@BCFHOF) February 21, 2021
Art Shell played on both sides of the ball for Coach Gilliam. He became an All-Conference selection for three years.
Shell also earned All-American honors from the Pittsburgh Courier and Ebony Magazine for two years, for ProFootballHOF.com.
Art Shell came from a little-known college football program in the late 1960s.
Undaunted, Shell became a member of Al Davis’s Oakland Raiders and rose from relative obscurity to become one of the AFL’s and NFL’s best offensive linemen in the 1970s.
Pro Football Career
The Oakland Raiders made Art Shell the 80th overall selection of the 1968 American Football League (AFL) Draft.
Before long, Shell became one of the greatest offensive linemen in Raiders franchise history.
Shell and another Hall of Famer, offensive lineman Gene Upshaw, were the only two players who played for the Raiders organization in all three of the decades of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
Shell earned the respect of his teammates after he stood up to Upshaw in his rookie season in 1968.
When Raiders training camp kicked off that year, Upshaw yelled at Shell and asked him in a sarcastic tone where Maryland State was.
Shell did not back down from Upshaw. He yelled at the latter and asked him where his alma mater, Texas A & I (now Texas A & M University—Kingsville), was.
When Shell entered the AFL in 1968, he was in awe of the Raiders’ minority owner and general manager, Al Davis.
Shell aptly summed up what Davis meant to the Raiders organization in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 1989:
“He is the organization,” Shell mused. “The organization begins and it ends with him. His knowledge of the game is second to none.”
Davis’s knowledge of the game was so vast, Shell observed every Raiders player—past and present—learned from it.
Shell himself admitted in his 1989 enshrinement speech he was still learning from Davis seven years after he played his final down in the National Football League.
Shell also revealed in his induction speech he and his teammates could call Davis at any time and he would answer. Not only that, but Raiders fans could also reach out to the Raiders’ fiery owner.
“I was happy to be chosen by the Raiders.”
During the third round of the 1968 NFL Draft, we selected Hall of Famer Art Shell out of Maryland State. pic.twitter.com/FlVUuh2fLR
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) April 30, 2021
A Difficult Boss
According to Shell, working for Davis was not easy. He was a very demanding owner and general manager.
Although Davis always had a scowl on his face, he had a soft side not too many fans knew about. Shell and his teammates got to see that rare side of Davis during their time together in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Shell spent his first two pro football seasons on special teams.
The Raiders averaged a gaudy twelve wins per season from 1968 to 1969. Regrettably, they never made it past the AFL Championship Game during that two-year time frame.
Raiders head coach John Madden made Art Shell his starting left tackle prior to the 1970 NFL season—the year of the famous AFL-NFL merger.
Shell went on to protect quarterbacks Daryle Lamonica, Ken “Snake” Stabler, Jim Plunkett, and Marc Wilson over the next 13 seasons.
Shell played next to left guard Gene Upshaw—the same guy who called him out in Raiders training camp in 1968—on Oakland’s offensive line for the next twelve seasons.
Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Doug Sutherland was in awe of the Shell and Upshaw tandem. He told Lieber in the fall of 1989 that those two “could block out the sun” on the gridiron.
Shell and Upshaw also forged a tight friendship off the football field. They hung out and feasted on barbecued ribs whenever they were on the road.
They also regularly beat other Raiders players in card games on Saturday evenings, per Sports Illustrated.
A Nice Guy
Art Shell was one of the nice guys during the 1960s NFL.
According to Lieber, Shell always exchanged pleasantries with the defensive linemen he went up against before a game. He always asked them about their families and health.
“Art would kill you with kindness,” the late Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Lyle Alzado told Sports Illustrated in 1989.
When Alzado played for the Denver Broncos, Shell once smiled and asked him how he was doing.
Alzado, one of the most physical and meanest pass rushers of his era, wondered why Shell would do something like that.
Before Alzado knew it, Shell bludgeoned and overpowered him when they went at it during the game.
Alzado told Lieber he never played well the week after he went up against Art Shell, whose physicality was off the charts.
Alzado could also not throw Shell off his game. The former would talk about his family during a game just so he could get Shell off his rhythm but to no avail.
It only took a few years for Art Shell to hit his stride at the left tackle position.
Shell racked up seven straight Pro Bowl berths from 1972 to 1978. He also earned two First-Team All-Pro and two Second-Team All-Pro selections during that seven-year time frame.
Shell’s ascent in the National Football League was the product of his sheer relentlessness and dedication off the field.
I began my Throwback Thursday with Gene Upshaw but it's hard to mention him without Art Shell. Both drafted by the #Raiders and played their entire career with the Silver and Black. Their both in the HOF and are arguably the best guard/tackle combo in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/uBKTMHTbK5
— TOOZ#72 (@denniss9117) April 22, 2021
According to Lieber, Shell took copious notes on his playbook during his pro football career. He also asked intelligent questions during team meetings.
When Shell got home, he pored over game film late into the night. His professionalism prompted his head coach John Madden to say he would become a good offensive line coach in the NFL someday.
Madden’s prediction ultimately came true in 1983, Shell’s first year in retirement.
The Oakland Raiders were a juggernaut when Art Shell was at the top of his game in the 1970s.
John Madden’s crew averaged an impressive ten wins per season from 1972 to 1978. Oakland made six consecutive postseason appearances when Shell became a perennial Pro Bowl offensive lineman.
Shell joined forces with four other future Hall of Fame offensive linemen—Gene Upshaw, Bob Brown, Jim Otto, and Ron Mix—in the early-to-mid 1970s.
Together, the five men fortified Oakland’s offensive line and made the Raiders perennial Super Bowl contenders since they entered the NFL in 1970.
Shell told the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website that the thought of making it to Canton, OH someday never crossed their minds. In hindsight, they realized they had a formidable group many years later.
Shell picked Brown’s brain during their time together in Oakland from 1971 to 1973. He asked Brown techniques on how to get the better of the pass rusher he was going to face.
Playing with the Best
Shell marveled at Brown’s quickness coming off his stance at the line of scrimmage. The 6’4″, 280-lb. Brown would burst off the line and hold off defensive linemen with relative ease.
When Shell played with Brown, Otto, and Upshaw, the Raiders won 27 of their 42 games from 1971 to 1973.
The key to Oakland’s resurgence lay in their high-octane offense. With the offensive line clicking on all cylinders, the Raiders led the AFC in total points in 1971. They also topped all AFC teams in total offense two years later, per ProFootballHOF.com.
The Raiders’ ground attack also picked up considerably during that three-year time frame. Oakland averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt from 1971 to 1973.
Although Shell was mostly quiet on the NFL gridiron, he was never afraid to defend his teammates.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Dwight White once punched Raiders tight end, Dave Casper, in the midsection during a game in 1976.
Although White staggered Casper, the latter did not tell him.
Fast forward several weeks later in the AFC Championship Game, White’s theatrics continued.
A fed-up Dave Casper told him in no uncertain terms he was having none of it.
Before White could make a move on Casper, he saw the 6’5″, 265-lb. Shell standing behind his teammate. White never threatened Casper again, per Sports Illustrated.
Shell also could not bear giving up a sack to an opposing pass rusher. Oakland Raiders fullback Mark van Eeghen told Lieber in 1989 Shell felt more devastated than the quarterback who was on the receiving end of the sack.
Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl defensive end John Zook once hit Raiders quarterback Ken “Snake” Stabler late in a game.
Shell lifted Zook off the ground by his shoulder pads and stared at him menacingly in the face. He sent Zook a message without uttering a single word.
The Super Bowl
Art Shell shone the brightest when the Raiders were on the cusp of winning their first Vince Lombardi title in the mid-1970s.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) August 15, 2022
Davis singled out Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977, as Art Shell’s most outstanding game in the pro football ranks.
Shell played the game of his life against the Minnesota Vikings’ vaunted “Purple People Eaters” defensive line.
Shell squared off against Vikings edge rusher Jim Marshall, a time-tested, 20-year NFL veteran.
Davis remembered Shell not surrendering a single sack or tackle in that game.
Shell was so locked in, he had no idea he was playing lights-out football.
“When somebody told me I had a perfect game, I was shocked because I had no idea Marshall had not been in on even one play,” Shell said (via ProFootballHOF.com). “I was too busy to keep track. Play by play, quarter by quarter, I was totally involved in doing the best job I could.”
Shell’s stellar run-blocking allowed Oakland to rack up 266 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Raiders running backs knew Shell was the man of the hour. Out of Oakland’s 33 carries in the first half, 27 went through the left side of the offensive line where Shell wreaked the most havoc, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Raiders defensive back Willie Brown’s pick-six off Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the waning moments sealed the deal for Oakland.
Behind Art Shell’s herculean effort on the offensive line, John Madden’s Raiders won their first Super Bowl title. They beat the Vikings easily 32-14.
A Team Leader
Shell was a workhorse who suited up in his first 156 games in the National Football League.
It wasn’t until the 1979 NFL season that Shell missed a game. He had to sit out five games due to a preseason injury that year.
When Shell took the field once again, he played in 51 consecutive games before he sustained an injury at the halfway point of the 1982 NFL campaign.
Art Shell was typically a quiet leader on the gridiron.
However, Shell, who earned his eighth Pro Bowl nod in 1980, became more of a vocal leader leading up to the Raiders’ showdown against the San Diego Chargers in the 1980 AFC Championship game.
Raiders majority owner Al Davis remembered Oakland had a light practice the day before the big game.
When the Raiders huddled up at midfield, Shell and Gene Upshaw stood up while the rest of their teammates sat down and listened.
🎂Happy Birthday🎂8x Pro Bowler, 2x Super Bowl Champ, Hall of Famer & @Raiders great Art Shell! A 3rd rd draft pick, Shell spent his entire 16yr career w/the Raiders. In'89 Art became the 1st African American HC in modern NFL & in '90 led LA to the AFC Champ Game! #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/HKy8WNMVBh
— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) November 26, 2018
Shell reminded his teammates about the magnitude of the upcoming game against the Chargers. He also discussed the proud history of the Raiders franchise, which was aiming for its second Super Bowl title overall and the first in the Tom Flores era.
Davis watched as Shell spoke from his heart on the practice field. The former was amazed because Shell had to go against the Chargers’ Pro Bowl defensive end, Fred Dean.
When the Raiders took the field the following day, they had a six-point lead with seven minutes left in the game.
The Chargers’ fans implored their team to reclaim possession because they could put points on the board in a hurry because of their vaunted “Air Coryell” offense.
However, Flores instructed his Raiders to resort to their running attack and milk the clock rest of the way. The ploy worked.
Shell carried most of the load for Oakland. His outstanding run-blocking skills help keep Dean and the other San Diego defensive linemen at bay.
The Raiders prevailed, 34-27. They went on to beat Dick Vermeil’s Philadephia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, 27-10.
Art Shell earned the second and final Super Bowl ring of his legendary 15-year pro football playing career. Oakland overcame great odds and became the only Wild Card team to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1980.
As Art Shell became an established veteran offensive lineman, he prepared for his transition into the NFL coaching ranks.
From Player to Coach
Shell reached out to Raiders owner Al Davis and asked him how he could get his pro football coaching career off the ground.
Davis advised Shell to focus his energy on the Raiders’ offensive line. They would talk more about the coaching opportunity in greater detail as Shell’s pro football career wound down.
Al Davis never forgot that conversation with Art Shell.
Davis helped Shell become a volunteer coach with the California Golden Bears from 1981 to 1982.
That ultimately set the stage for Art Shell to become the Raiders’ offensive line coach in the 1983 NFL campaign, per Sports Illustrated.
The Raiders moved to Los Angeles prior to the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
That was also the same year Lyle Alzado, the former Denver Broncos pass rusher who could never get the better of Art Shell, joined the team.
When Alzado saw Shell, who was entering his final pro football season, on the first day of training camp, he tried to reciprocate the kindness Shell had shown him for all those years.
“Art just smiled, and then he knocked the crap out of me,” Alzado told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1989.
Art Shell, one of the greatest offensive tackles of his era, retired following the 1982 NFL season.
Art Shell and his wife Janice have two sons: Arthur III and Christopher.
Shell embarked on a 19-year coaching career after he retired from the National Football League in 1982.
Davis hired Shell to become the Los Angeles Raiders’ offensive line coach from 1983 to 1989.
Los Angeles averaged nine wins per year during that seven-season stretch. They made the postseason three times and won Super Bowl XVIII at the end of the 1983 NFL campaign.
Behind Marcus Allen’s two touchdown runs, the Raiders manhandled Joe Theismann’s Washington Redskins, 38-9.
Shell won his first Super Bowl as a coach and third overall since entering the league in 1968.
Shell gave credit to his Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame head coach John Madden for teaching him people skills, which, in turn, helped him succeed as an NFL coach.
Madden taught Shell how to understand each of his players and push their buttons depending on the situation, per Sports Illustrated.
On the other hand, another Hall of Fame head coach, Tom Flores, taught Shell the virtue of patience.
Flores was a reserved and stoic individual who hardly raised his voice when he coached the Raiders from 1979 to 1987.
He led the Silver and Black to two Super Bowl titles—one in Oakland in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984.
In Shell’s sixth season as the LA Raiders’ offensive line coach, wide receivers coach Nick Nicolau—one of Mike Shanahan’s recruits from the Denver Broncos—asked him why he was still hanging onto his job.
Shell’s wife Janice told Sports Illustrated Nicolau’s remark cut her husband like a knife. She had to ask him why he didn’t punch him in the face.
Art did not. Instead, he told Nicolau he would continue to work for the Raiders as long as Al Davis was the owner. He would only leave when Davis told him to do so.
A Bittersweet Day
Art Shell discovered he was entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame on January 24, 1989.
Unfortunately, it turned into a bittersweet development when his sister Eartha told him their father had suffered a stroke just 30 minutes later.
Art Jr. talked to his father on the phone the following day. He tried to keep his spirits up and told him he was going to earn a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH.
Sadly, Art Shell, Sr. passed away on January 26, 1989. His son was on the plane when he breathed his last.
In the summer of 1988, Art Jr.’s doctors told him he had diabetes, per Bradley. He apparently inherited it from his dad, who was a diabetic.
August 5, 1989 🏴☠️
The #Raiders legendary OT Art Shell was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"But, more importantly, he played this game fiercely, with loyalty and honor, to a degree never surpassed and seldom never equaled. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Art Shell." – AD pic.twitter.com/d1CW3fysub
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) August 5, 2022
Hall of Famer
Art Shell became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1989. Los Angeles Raiders owner, Al Davis, was his presenter.
Part of Shell’s enshrinement speech reads:
“You know when you put the Silver and Black uniform on, you get such a surge of energy. Believe me, and a lot of football players around the country who want to wear that Silver and Black, a lot of them, and I was fortunate enough to wear it.”
A Dream Come True
After a 1-3 start to the 1989 NFL season, Davis fired Raiders head coach Mike Shanahan.
Davis did not take long to get a replacement.
He rang up Shell’s house at 12:30 a.m. on October 2, 1989. Janice Shell answered but could not tell Art who was on the other line.
When Art found out it was Raiders owner, Al Davis, he took the phone downstairs. When he returned to the master bedroom, he told his wife his boss was thinking about making him the head coach.
At that point, Shell thought sleep was futile. He quickly got dressed, went to the office, and prepared for the possibility.
“I wanted to be prepared if I got it,” Shell told Lieber in the fall of 1989. “I made notes about how I would organize the week, how I would deal with the press, and how I would approach the team.”
It was a throwback to Art Shell’s days as a Raiders offensive lineman when he wrote notes on his playbook and watched game films in his den for hours on end.
Shell’s effort paid handsome dividends. Al Davis named him head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders on October 3, 1989.
Art Shell was hired as the Los Angeles Raiders Head Coach in 1989 becoming the first African-American Head Coach in the modern era of football and the 2nd overall.
Hall of Famer Mike Singletary shares how this moment in history inspired him in his career. pic.twitter.com/Psw6TYTsek
— NFL (@NFL) February 26, 2021
Consequently, Art Shell became the NFL’s first African-American coach since Fritz Pollard last called the shots for the Hammond (IN) Pros in the 1925 NFL campaign, per Lieber.
Shell told his close friend, Gene Upshaw, their dreams were turning into reality.
Upshaw, who wanted to enter politics, was the executive director of the NFL Players Association at the time.
Shell, who had aspirations of becoming an NFL head coach someday, was on cloud nine.
As head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders from 1989 to 1994, Art Shell had a 54-38 (.587) win-loss record.
Coach of the Year
Shell led the Silver and Black to three postseason appearances but never made it past the AFC Championship Game during his first stint as Raiders head coach.
Shell earned AFC Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Raiders to a 12-4 win-loss record in 1990.
Despite leading Los Angeles to a decent 9-7 win-loss record in 1994, Shell was out as Raiders head coach.
Shell served as offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1995 to 1996.
He served in the same capacity with the Atlanta Falcons from 1997 to 2000.
Art Shell returned for a second tour of duty as Raiders head coach in 2006.
His coaching philosophy was completely different from his predecessor, Norv Turner.
Raiders defensive end Derrick Burgess told Sports Illustrated Shell would immediately stop the practice if he noticed something was amiss.
Shell would then tell his players how they should do a particular drill correctly.
“That never happened last season,” Burgess told SI.com’s Jeffri Chadiha. “The coaches would see a problem and they say they’d deal with it later, but it would never get fixed. Art handles things immediately.”
Shell was also not afraid to chew out his players if the situation called for it.
For instance, Shell kicked wide receiver Jerry Porter out of his office in February 2006 after the two men could not agree on the latter’s offseason conditioning venue.
Regrettably, Art Shell’s second tour of duty with the Raiders was not as successful as his first.
Oakland won just two games in 2006 and missed the postseason for the tenth time in the past thirteen years.
Art Shell is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Art Shell’s great nephew Brandon is currently a Miami Dolphins offensive lineman.