Tennessee Titans: 30 greatest players in franchise history
By John Buhler
- Pro Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2003)
- Tennessee Titans No. 65 jersey retired
- 8x Pro Bowl (1969, 1971-75, 1978-79)
- 5x Second-Team All-Pro (1969, 1973, 1975, 1978-79)
- 105 career unofficial quarterback sacks
Elvin Bethea was a third-round pick by the Oilers back in 1968. He wound up spending his entire 16-year NFL career with the team that drafted him as a star pass rusher in the 1970s. In his second season out of North Carolina A&T in 1969, Bethea made his first of eight career trips to the Pro Bowl and his first of five All-Pro Second Teams.
Bethea was relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback, as he totaled 105 unofficial sacks in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Keep in mind that sacks were not officially recorded until the 1982 NFL season. That was Bethea’s second to last season in the NFL. Being that he was past his prime as a player, only one of his sacks is official.
Bethea was an iron man for the Oilers along the defensive line. He did not miss a start until his 10th season in the league back in 1977. He only appeared in nine games that fall after breaking his arm. Bethea played in an impressive 210 games with the Oilers, starting in 191 of them.
Though never a First-Team All-Pro player, his best season with the team might have come in 1973. He set a franchise record of 16 quarterback sacks, doing so on an Oilers team that won only one game that fall. Keep in mind that teams that have leads tend to pound the rock to chew up the clock late in games, thus eliminating pass-rushing opportunities for the opposition.
Bethea proved to be a productive player with the Oilers into his mid-30s. However, his last two seasons with the team in 1982 and 1983 were nothing to write home about. He retired at the age of 37 after the 1983 NFL season. Though his body of work was impressive, Bethea had to wait 20 years to earn Canton enshrinement.
Then in 2003, Bethea would finally be able to join football glory, as he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the Oilers/Titans have had several outstanding pass rushers over the years including Robert Brazile, Ray Childress and Jevon Kearse, Bethea surpasses all them in franchise lore. His tenure with the team and his pass-rushing dominance in the 1970s has him coming in at No. 6 on this all-time list.