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All-time best undrafted 49ers, Raiders


Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys executive, has a must-read list on

nfl.com. He ranks the top 75 NFL players never drafted.

While most fans, understandably, are still deep into NFL draft weekend and its implications on the future, I embrace Brandt's list, relishing football history.

These are the ultimate pro football versions of Cinderella — players who became Hall of Famers or carved out distinguished careers after initially having to beg for a job.

Brandt picks Kurt Warner as the No. 1 all-time best undrafted NFL player. I can't disagree. But what I'd like to do here is take a somewhat detailed look at the 49ers and Raiders on Brandt's list.

Willie Brown comes in at No. 5, and that's a well-deserved accolade for the Hall of Fame cornerback who was among the first group of true stars in the old American Football League.

Brown, out of Grambling, made the Denver Broncos' roster in 1963. A year later, he earned the first of his nine All-Star or Pro Bowl selections and the first of his five All-AFL or first-team NFL All-Pro picks.

Brown was traded to Oakland in 1967, just as the Raiders were about to establish a winning reputation that the organization still lives off. Brown was a key player on Raiders teams that made the playoffs in 10 of the next 11 seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances, with a championship after the 1976 season. In Super Bowl XI, he intercepted a Fran Tarkenton pass and returned it 75 yards and a touchdown, a sprint the late, great broadcaster Bill King described as "Old Man River."

Joe Perry is No. 7 on Brandt's list, and 49ers fans who know their team's history don't need me to tell them about "the Jet." He came to the 49ers undrafted out of Compton Community College in 1948, when the Niners were one of the few teams in the rebel All-America Football Conference that played NFL-quality football. In a 16-year career, he played 14 for San Francisco.

Perry, also a Hall of Famer, led the AAFC in rushing in 1949 and led the NFL in 1953 and '54. He was also a threat as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

Dave Grayson is No. 19 on Brandt's list of the NFL's best undrafted players. Grayson's name might not be familiar to younger fans, but AFL old-timers, especially old Raiders fans, know the name well. Grayson, out of Oregon, was a six-time All-Star and four-time first-team All-AFL cornerback who played in some of the most significant games in AFL history.

With the Dallas Texans, he played in the double-overtime championship game victory over the Houston Oilers, responsible for one of the five interceptions off George Blanda. With the Raiders, he played in Super Bowl II, and in the 1968 and '69 AFL title games.

Jeff Garcia ranks 31st on Brandt's list. A quarterback out of San Jose State, he came to the 49ers in 1999, after five years in the Canadian Football League. Garcia had several tough acts to follow: A couple of guys named Montana and Young and five Super Bowl titles. Garcia was a three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the 49ers to a 39-38 playoff win over the Giants in which he threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown and engineered a 17-point fourth-quarter rally.

I loved seeing Fred Williamson's name on Brandt's list, at No.49. "The Hammer," out of Northwestern, was slightly before his time: a boastful, trash-talking defensive back who would become a Hollywood action star. He made the Steelers' roster in 1960, but blossomed with the Raiders (1961-64) and Chiefs (1965-67), for whom he played in the first Super Bowl.

Brandt's list is a wonderful, and sometimes surprising glance at NFL history. Some of my favorite non-Raiders and non-49ers rated the best undrafted players in NFL history include Lou "the Toe" Groza and Dick "Night Train" Lane.

I bet there aren't any players in this weekend's draft who have nicknames as cool as those.

Robert Rubino can be reached at robert.rubino@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5261.