Former Raiders QB Milan: ‘It was a great thing’
By Charles Whisnand
Nevada Appeal Sports Editor
Don Milan doesn’t dwell on what could have been. The former Oakland Raiders quarterback is just thankful for the chance he did receive to be a part of the NFL.
If the circumstances were just a little different ” and if hadn’t sustained a couple injuries along the way ” Milan may have received his shot to show what he could do as an NFL starting quarterback. But Milan, who lives in Minden with his wife, Wanda, and their son, 7-year-old Lee, doesn’t have any regrets.
“Any time you can be a part of something like that you count your blessings that you were able to be there as long as you could,” said Milan about his time in the NFL. “Just to be a part of it, it was a great thing.”
Milan signed with the Raiders in 1971 as a free agent out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “We would have played for free and we almost did,” said Milan, who attended the Carson City Raiders Booster Club’s Christmas Commitment fund-raiser on Sunday at Q’s Restaurant. The club holds the annual event to raise funds in its effort to assist homebound senior citizens.
With the Raiders, Milan was joining a team that already had two established quarterbacks in Ken Stabler and Daryle Lamonica. The team also had George Blanda, whose main position was kicker, but was coming off an outstanding 1970 season in which he came off the bench to play quarterback and save the Raiders in several games. “I probably should have had my head examined coming to the Raiders,” Milan said.
But in 1974, it looked like Milan’s status could change. Both Stabler and Lamonica signed with the newly formed World Football League, with Stabler signing with Birmingham and Lamonica signing with the Southern California Sun.
“They kind of stepped my program up,” said Milan about the Raiders.
Milan, though, sustained a shoulder injury, Stabler returned to the Raiders and Milan ended up with the Los Angeles Rams midway through the 1974 season. There the Rams already had established quarterbacks James Harris and Ron Jaworski.
In 1975, Milan joined the Green Bay Packers where he backed up John Hadl.
“I had a lot of support from John Hadl,” Milan said. “He was just a super guy.”
Hadl left the Packers after the 1975 season and Milan went into training camp in 1976 as the Packers’ No. 1 quarterback. But in the first exhibition game, Milan effectively suffered a career-ending injury when his wrist landed on a defensive end’s helmet.
Milan and Stabler were roommates when Milan was with the Raiders.
“He was definitely a guy you could have a few drinks with,” Milan said.
Being with guys like Stabler and being able to throw passes to receivers like Fred Bilitnekoff was a rewarding experience, Milan said. He also said it was a rewarding experience to associate with Raiders fans and that Packers and Rams fans were nothing like Raider fans.
While Packer fans are known for their support of their team, Milan said they don’t have the same kind of closeness to their team as Raider fans have to their club.
“They are shareholders,” said Milan, nothing that the Packers are owned by the community. “They’re a lot more conservative. It’s a whole different deal.”
Milan is still close to former Raiders coaches John Madden and Tom Flores. When Milan was with the Raiders, along with being the head coach, Madden was also the quarterbacks coach, so Milan obviously got to know Madden real well.
And yes, Milan was on the sideline during the 1972 playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium in which the Piittsburgh Steelers beat the Raiders 13-7 on Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception.”
Before Harris’ play, the Raiders had just taken a 7-6 lead when Stabler scrambled into the end zone.
“We just thought we’d won,” said Milan, who was charting plays at the time. “I remember throwing my clipboard in the air.”
It was really the first time ever in the NFL that the thought of instant replay could be used as the officials down on the field called up to the officials in the pressbox for help and Milan admitted the Raiders players were concerned for their safety.
“If they changed the play I think we would have been in danger,” Milan said.
While the Raiders were waiting for their plane at the airport, Harris came over to shake all of their hands.
“You didn’t deserve to lose that way,” Milan said about what Harris told the Raiders. “It Just shows you the class of a guy like that. That was a special moment.”
And nobody will likely never really know if Harris actually caught the ball.
“I’ve probably watched it a 100 times,” Milan said. “To be a part of it that was pretty neat.”
Milan said another great memory came when the Raiders beat the Miami Dolphins in 1973, ending the Dolphins’ winning streak. Miami was coming off its perfect 1972 season.
As far as the current Raiders, Milan said, “I think it’s just a matter of consistency.”
“Last week they showed the potential they had,” said Milan commenting on the Raiders’ 31-10 win over the Denver Broncos.
He also said quarterback JaMarcus Russell needs time to develop.
“He’s obviously got a lot of potential,” Milan said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s still on a learning curve.”
And Milan said he respects Al Davis.
“He’s done a lot of wonderful things for a lot of people,” said Milan about Davis helping out former players and coaches. “It’s just a lot of things people don’t realize.”
Milan and his wife and son moved to the area a little more than couple years ago. They had spent some time in the Tahoe area in the past and Milan, who owns a construction company based in the Bay Area, said he and his wife thought this would be a nice area to raise their son.
And Lee could be following in Milan’s footsteps.
“He’s got a great arm,” Wanda said.