There’s no question that Fred Biletnikoff was one of the greatest wide receivers in Oakland Raiders franchise history.
After a slow start in the collegiate ranks, Biletnikoff’s memorable 192-yard and four-touchdown explosion in the 1964 Gator Bowl prompted Raiders head coach Al Davis to sign him.
Signing Fred Biletnikoff was one of the best decisions of Al Davis’ storied career.
Behind Biletnikoff’s exploits at wideout, the Raiders became a force during their latter years in the AFL. They promptly continued their dominance when they entered the NFL in 1970.
The Ken “Snake” Stabler-Fred Biletnikoff connection helped the Silver and Black average ten wins per year through their first nine seasons in the National Football League.
It was a memorable run that culminated in Oakland’s stirring 33-14 triumph against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI where Biletnikoff earned MVP honors.
Fred Biletnikoff eventually earned a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 1988.
Indeed, it was a fitting tribute to one of the best wideouts to ever don Raiders Silver and Black.
Frederick S. Biletnikoff was born to parents Ephriam and Natalie in Erie, PA on February 23, 1943. His grandparents from both sides of the family were Russian immigrants, per the Johnson City Press’ Jeff Birchfield.
He has a younger brother Bob who played quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes in the 1960s.
Biletnikoff mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1988 that he watched the Cleveland Browns on television as a youngster growing up in Northwest Pennsylvania.
However, he told the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website some twenty-three years later that his favorite team as a kid was the Philadelphia Eagles. He idolized Eagles halfback Tommy McDonald back in the day.
Fred Biletnikoff didn’t just limit himself to football. He also followed other sports such as boxing and baseball. Biletnikoff’s favorite pugilist was Emile Griffith while his favorite baseball slugger was New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio.
Biletnikoff attended Technical Memorial High School (now known as Erie High School) in his hometown of Erie, PA.
Happy Sports Birthday to one of the 🐐; Erie’s own Fred Biletnikoff who turns 78 today. The former Erie Technical Memorial, (now Erie High) FSU, & Oakland Raider star is widely considered one of the greatest WR’s in Football history. The athletic field at EHS still bears his name pic.twitter.com/OhOJqw2NyP
— DarrenIronLion (@DJSBurgh) February 23, 2022
His fascination for sports continued – he became a standout on the track, basketball court, gridiron, and baseball diamond during his high school days.
As Biletnikoff’s high school athletics career wound down, Florida State Seminoles head coach Bill Peterson and his assistant Ken Meyer recruited him.
According to FSU assistant sports information director Zach Stipe, both Peterson and Meyer were from the midwest. They tried to convince Biletnikoff, another midwesterner, that he could thrive in The Sunshine State.
The southern hospitality of the people of Tallahassee, FL sealed the deal for Biletnikoff.
“I wanted to come down and leave the snow and come down to a different part of the country and really experience that in my lifetime,” he told Stipe in the fall of 2014.
Despite receiving scholarship offers from several known college football programs, Biletnikoff ultimately committed to the Florida State Seminoles.
Fred Biletnikoff would eventually complete his metamorphosis into one of the country’s finest wide receivers during his time in Tallahassee, FL.
College Days With The Florida State Seminoles
Fred Biletnikoff attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL from 1961 to 1964.
Biletnikoff thrived in Florida State Seminoles head coach Bill Peterson’s passing offense in the latter years of his college football career.
Peterson was an understudy for San Diego Chargers head coach Sid Gillman, who taught him the intricacies of the passing game in the pro football ranks.
Peterson incorporated Gillman’s passing offense into the Seminoles’ playbook – a tactic that was hardly implemented in the wishbone and option offenses in the South, per Stipe.
Biletnikoff and his teammates reaped the benefits of Peterson’s innovation. They learned how to gain yardage in the air and on the ground. They also improved their defense considerably.
Unfortunately, Biletnikoff’s tenure on the college gridiron got off to a slow start.
He sat out the 1961 NCAA season because true freshmen couldn’t take the field at the time.
Biletnikoff’s broken foot injury severely hampered his performance on the football field in his sophomore season in 1962. He had just 118 receiving yards and one touchdown on six receptions that year.
25 days till the start of CFB Saturday….
All-American & CFB HOF member Fred Biletnikoff of Florida State pic.twitter.com/85HvvNnd8c
— Christian Summers (@fbcoach_summers) August 11, 2015
Biletnikoff, who played on both sides of the ball, had 358 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 24 receptions the following season.
His 99-yard defensive touchdown stood as a school record until Deion Sanders broke it by one yard some twenty-two years later.
The Seminoles were a below-average squad in Fred Biletnikoff’s first two seasons. They averaged four wins per year and consequently extended their bowl drought to five seasons.
Fortunately, fate intervened for Biletnikoff and the Seminoles in a timely manner.
Biletnikoff told the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website in 2011 that he considered FSU graduate assistant Pete Manning one of his biggest influences.
Manning taught Biletnikoff, who entered the college football ranks as a running back in 1961, the nuances of catching the football and running precise routes on the gridiron. They spent plenty of time together in Biletnikoff’s last two years in Tallahassee, FL.
Those mentoring sessions paid huge dividends for Biletnikoff, who earned Associated Press National Back of the Week honors after the Seminoles’ 14-0 shutout victory over the Miami Hurricanes on September 19, 1964.
Biletnikoff became the first Seminoles player to earn that distinction, per the team’s official athletics website.
Biletnikoff had a 55-yard touchdown reception in the Seminoles’ 16-7 win over Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators on November 21, 1964.
Biletnikoff’s FSU team was among the first to beat the Gators in the mid-1960s. Back then, Florida had the upper hand in their intense in-state rivalry.
Although Biletnikoff finally beat his long-time college rival Steve Spurrier, the two men remain good friends to this day.
“It was good to see him miserable,” Biletnikoff told Birchfield in February 2014. “But we’ve been friends for years and he’s been a big asset to football.”
Biletnikoff racked up 1,179 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 70 receptions in his memorable senior season.
The teaching sessions with Pete Manning and the high-octane San Diego Chargers-style passing offense, courtesy of Sid Gillman, bore fruit for Fred Biletnikoff.
Behind Biletnikoff’s emergence, the Seminoles won a then-school record of nine games in 1964.
Florida State's Fred Biletnikoff hauls in pass from Steve Tensi in 1965 Gator Bowl. Final: FSU 36 Oklahoma 19 pic.twitter.com/KjtT61iro1
— Brian Horton (@horton1733) December 31, 2016
Biletnikoff ended his college football career on a high note. He had an incredible 192 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 10th-ranked Florida State’s 36-19 win against the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1964 Gator Bowl.
It came as no surprise to anyone when Biletnikoff won the 1964 Gator Bowl Offensive MVP award. He also earned Consensus All-American honors following the 1964 NCAA season.
Biletnikoff’s monster performance in the Gator Bowl made one of the most hard-nosed figures in professional football a firm believer.
It turned out no less than Oakland Raiders head coach Al Davis was in the stands watching Biletnikoff dismantle the Oklahoma secondary.
As soon as the final whistle blew, Davis cornered Biletnikoff and signed him to a contract with the Raiders, per FSU’s official athletics website.
“I never got to the locker room,” a stunned Biletnikoff told Stipe almost 50 years later. “I signed right after the game. Al Davis was right there.”
Fred Biletnikoff’s career in Raiders Silver and Black began on that winter night in Jacksonville, FL.
It also marked the beginning of a professional relationship with Davis for 31 years.
Fred Biletnikoff finished his tenure with the Florida State Seminoles with 1,655 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns on 100 receptions. The school retired his No. 25 jersey immediately following his senior campaign in 1964.
It was a mere prelude to his memorable 14-year Hall of Fame career he would establish with the Oakland Raiders in the pro football ranks.
Pro Football Career
The Oakland Raiders made Fred Biletnikoff the 11th overall selection of the 1965 American Football League (AFL) Draft.
On the other hand, the Detroit Lions made Biletnikoff the 39th overall selection of the 1965 National Football League (NFL) Draft.
Biletnikoff ultimately chose Al Davis’ Raiders – the team where he would establish his legacy for the next 14 seasons.
Biletnikoff wanted to wear No. 25 when he first donned Raiders Silver and Black. Unfortunately, Oakland defensive back Claude “Hoot” Gibson already wore that number. Biletnikoff had to settle for No. 14.
When the Raiders released Gibson following the 1965 AFL campaign, Davis allowed Biletnikoff to wear No. 25.
Biletnikoff wanted to wear that number in honor of his favorite childhood football player, Philadelphia Eagles halfback Tommy McDonald, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website.
In terms of pre-game superstitions, Fred Biletnikoff wanted everything to feel right before the opening kickoff. He was particular about the way his uniform fit when he took the field on Sunday afternoons.
Since uniform restrictions didn’t exist during his era, he made some alterations to his sleeves and pants with a pair of scissors so that he looked good whenever he played.
To Biletnikoff’s pleasant surprise, he fit right in with the Raiders’ passing-oriented offense as soon as he entered the AFL in 1965. It felt as if he never left Tallahassee in the first place.
Biletnikoff began earning various football-related accolades in 1967 when he earned the first of his two AFL All-Star appearances. He also earned First-Team All-AFL honors in 1969.
In Biletnikoff’s five seasons with the Raiders prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, he had 3,684 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns on 196 receptions.
Oakland was a powerhouse squad that averaged ten wins from 1965 to 1969. Unfortunately, they lost to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II, 33-14.
Prior to Biletnikoff’s ninth year in the National Football League, he had an awkward encounter with future four-time New England Patriots Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Bledsoe’s father Mac brought him to a summer football camp in 1973. Coincidentally, Biletnikoff was one of the guest athletes that year. When he arrived on the camp’s first day, he removed his pricey pair of shoes to wade his feet in a pond.
“Fred had a hard time getting those shoes,” Shorty Bennett, Mac Bledsoe’s friend and a college football coach, told Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Newman in the spring of 1993. “He wouldn’t let anybody come near them.”
When Biletnikoff let his guard down for a few minutes, he paid a hefty price for it.
Biletnikoff approached Mac Bledsoe, who he was just getting acquainted with. The latter told the Raiders Pro Bowl wide receiver their friendship might be over as soon as it began.
A perplexed Biletnikoff asked Bledsoe what he meant by that. The latter looked over his shoulder and pointed at his one-year-old son Drew urinating on his expensive pair of shoes, per Sports Illustrated.
The Raiders continued their torrid pace after they joined the National Football League in 1970.
Under John Madden’s leadership, they averaged ten wins per year from 1970 to 1978. They won six division titles and the ultimate prize – Super Bowl XI.
It was a night Fred Biletnikoff will never forget.
He had 79 receiving yards on four receptions in Oakland’s 32-14 win against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
While they weren’t gaudy numbers by any stretch, Biletnikoff helped set up three scoring drives for the Raiders.
January 9, 1977 🏴☠️🏈🌹🏟️ (Part 1 of 3)
The "Crowning 👑Glory"
1976 Super Bowl XI Champions
Oakland #Raiders 32 Minnesota Vikings 14 @ the Rose Bowl stadium.
MVP: Fred Biletnikoff
* Narration 🎙️by John Facenda with 🕶️👨🏻Bill King's broadcasting pic.twitter.com/2JMc9hwqan
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) January 9, 2021
Fred Biletnikoff earned his first and only Super Bowl ring. It was another addition to his NFL achievements that already included four Pro Bowl berths and one First-Team All-Pro selection.
After wearing Raiders Silver and Black for 14 seasons, Fred Biletnikoff saw his tenure in Oakland end before the 1979 NFL season.
He had 8,974 receiving yards and 76 touchdowns on 589 receptions during his tenure in Oakland.
Soon after the Raiders released him, he spent a year away from football with his family in Valley Center, CA. Biletnikoff, who once earned $200,000 annually during his glory years in Oakland, relied on unemployment benefits worth $400 a month, per Sports Illustrated’s Barry McDermott.
Biletnikoff reached out to Montreal Alouettes head coach Joe Scanella, the Raiders’ special teams coach when Biletnikoff earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the 1976 NFL season. He told Scanella he had two prospects whom he previously coached at a football camp who could play for the Alouettes.
Scanella told Biletnikoff he’d rather have the 37-year-old former Raiders wide receiver play for him. Biletnikoff gave it some thought, signed with the Alouettes, and promptly began his one-year Canadian Football League (CFL) journey.
Biletnikoff ran every day in Montreal to keep up with the rigors of Canadian football. After the Alouettes beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 17-14 in the summer of 1980, Biletnikoff smoked a cigarette by his locker, per McDermott.
Fred Biletnikoff had 470 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions in his lone CFL season in 1980. He retired from the pro football gridiron at the season’s end.
During Biletnikoff’s remarkable 14-year pro football career in Oakland, he caught passes from Raiders quarterbacks Tom Flores, Daryle Lamonica, George Blanda, and Ken “Snake” Stabler.
Among those four signal callers, Fred Biletnikoff considered Stabler his closest friend. In fact, the two lived in the same house for a time after they both went through divorces, per the Johnson City Press.
Biletnikoff admired Stabler’s calm demeanor on the gridiron. The latter’s ability to take charge of a huddle was unparalleled. Stabler’s confidence eventually rubbed off on his teammates, who did the rest on the football field.
When Biletnikoff played in the AFL and NFL, his favorite road stadiums were the New York Jets’ Shea Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Municipal Stadium, and the Denver Broncos’ Mile High Stadium.
Biletnikoff considered Kansas City Chiefs defensive backs Jim Marsalis and Emmitt Thomas the toughest players he ever faced in his pro football career.
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website asked Biletnikoff in the winter of 2011 what was better about the NFL of his era than today’s, he said the level of competition was higher when he played.
“I feel that the games when I played were a lot more competitive,” Biletnikoff told ProFootballHOF.com. “If you went through the rosters in the NFL and AFL from when I played, every team had Hall of Fame players on them which I don’t feel the teams today have that.”
Biletnikoff also told ProFotballHOF.com in 2011 that his integrity and toughness on and off the gridiron were his greatest accomplishments during his pro football career.
Fred Biletnikoff and his third wife Angela currently reside in the Sacramento, CA area. Biletnikoff has five children with his second wife, Jennifer.
Biletnikoff embarked on a 26-year football coaching career as soon as he hung up his cleats in 1980.
He had stints with the Montreal Alouettes, Orange Glen High School, Palomar College, Diablo Valley College, Oakland Invaders, Arizona Wranglers, Calgary Stampeders, and Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.
“Playing was easier, but coaching was a real pain,” Biletnikoff told the Johnson City Press in 2014.
He confided to Birchfield it wasn’t easy working for Davis, who got in his face on the sidelines on occasion.
Biletnikoff became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1988.
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis – the same man who signed him to a pro football contract immediately after the 1964 Gator Bowl – was his presenter.
Biletnikoff found out about his induction through a phone call from an Oakland Tribune writer while he was working as an assistant coach with the Calgary Stampeders in Canada.
He told ProFootballHOF.com that getting enshrined in Canton, OH never crossed his mind. He just focused on playing to the best of his abilities and let the chips fall where they may.
Biletnikoff also confirmed that Davis was his only choice as his presenter. The two men worked together for 31 years – 14 years during Biletnikoff’s pro football career and 17 years during Biletnikoff’s tenure as the Raiders’ wide receivers coach.
When Davis presented Biletnikoff, the former said that he will always remember the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for his tenacity on the gridiron. He always hated to lose.
Davis also marveled at Biletnikoff’s grasp of receiving fundamentals. The latter’s impeccable timing and execution gave opposing defensive backs fits.
“When he had to catch a football, he went for it as if it were a dam in the heaven and the stars that nobody was going to stop him from catching the football and nobody could,” Davis told the crowd in Canton, OH in 1988.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) July 30, 2018
When it was Biletnikoff’s turn to take the stage, he expressed gratitude over becoming a part of professional football’s greatest brotherhood.
“Getting an opportunity to become a part of this fraternity – you can’t explain it. It is a close-knit fraternity and you have to have greatness and you have to have all the assets and attributes in order to be part of this fraternity.”
Fred Biletnikoff was so good on the football field that the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc. named its award for college football’s best receiver regardless of position – the Biletnikoff Award – after him.
The Penn State Nittany Lions’ Bobby Engram won the inaugural Biletnikoff Award in 1994. The Pittsburgh Panthers’ Jordan Addison, who won the accolade in 2021, is the most recent winner.
Redwood, CA authorities discovered the slain body of Biletnikoff’s daughter Tracey on Canada College campus grounds on February 16, 1999. Police concluded she was strangled to death.
They later arrested her boyfriend and main suspect Mohammed Ali near the Mexican border. According to SFGate.com’s Stacy Finz, Ali used Biletnikoff’s 1988 blue Chevrolet Nova as his getaway vehicle.
A judge convicted Ali of first-degree murder in 2009 and sentenced him to 55 years in prison, per SI.com’s Emily Kaplan.
As a tribute to Tracey Biletnikoff, her father launched the Biletnikoff Foundation in 1999. It aims to help young people reach their full potential through community endeavors that combat issues such as substance abuse, human trafficking, and domestic violence.
— Biletnikoff (@ABiletnikoff25) February 7, 2021
The foundation helped raise funds for Tracey’s Place of Hope, a home for adolescent girls in Loomis, CA. The residence opened its doors in 2000.
According to Kaplan, all of the residents have substance abuse issues. They stay for around 12 to 15 months. During that time frame, they attend classes and therapy sessions, do CrossFit, and attend church. Fred Biletnikoff drops by every few weeks to share stories with the girls.
Fred Biletnikoff has his own wine brand, Biletnikoff Wines. Biletnikoff is also a golf fan who has been following 15-time PGA Tour winner Fred Couples during his retirement years.
Biletnikoff himself plays golf as a hobby. His other pastime is fishing in the rivers of British Columbia, Canada several times a year, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website.
In terms of musical preference, Fred Biletnikoff loves listening to music ranging from the 1950s until the 1970s. His favorite musical genre is 1960s rock n’ roll.
Biletnikoff singled out A River Runs Through It and Lonesome Dove as his two favorite movies of all time.
Among Fred Biletnikoff’s favorite dishes include osso buco, ravioli and sausage, bologna sandwich on white bread, and barbecued ribs.
Biletnikoff remains a rabid Florida State Seminoles football fan who watches every game he can. He also told Stipe in 2011 that he wears his FSU hat everywhere he goes.
Fred Biletnikoff won the Walter Camp Man of the Year award in January 2016. Doctors replaced both of his hips through surgical means the previous year.