As you have heard Raiders cornerback Skip Thomas passed away yesterday. Not only is he the second starter in the 1976 Raiders secondary to pass away he is amongst a group of graying, aging former Raiders who are slowly fading away into history.
I will turn 35 in November and with that in mind I was born in November on 1976 the same year that the Raiders won their first Super Bowl. Skip Thomas is the sixth Raider from that football team to pass way. Here is just a quick look at these six men and ironically five of the six were starting Raiders in 1976.
John Matuszak-->Born in 1950 "The Tooz" lived life to the fullest. He is best remembered by non-Raider fans because he protrayed Sloth in a 1980s classic film called Goonies. Tooz played a long career with the Raiders after short stints in Washington and Kansas City. He was the starting defensive end for the Raiders in both Super Bowl 11 (1976) and Super Bowl 15 (1980). After retiring he pursued a career as an actor. Besides Goonies he also had guest television spots on many 80's classics like Cheers, Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team and Silver Spoons. Matuszak died in 1989 of heart failure. He was the first '76 Raider to pass on. RIP Tooz!
Neal Colzie (1953-2001)--> Neal was a formr first round pick of the Raiders and a reserve defensive back during the 1976 season. Colzie excelled as a punt returner on special teams. In his first NFL season, he recorded 655 punt return yards, the most ever by an NFL rookie. Overall, Colzie returned 170 punts for 1,759 yards during his career. One of his more notable performances was in the Raiders' 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings
in Super Bowl XI. Colzie recorded four punt returns for a Super Bowl record of 43 yards, including a 25-yard return that set up a Raiders touchdown, and a 12-yard return that set up a field goal. The former Ohio State Buckeye left the Raiders following the 1978 season and spent the reminder of his career with Miami and Tampa Bay. Like Matuszak, he succumb to heart failure in 2001 at the tender age of 48.
Dave Dalby (1950-2002)-->Dave Dalby served as the Raiders starting center from 1975-1985 and never missed a game in 14 years. He was the Raiders starting center for five AFC Championship Games and all three Raider Super Bowl wins. Moreover during that '75-85 span the Raiders made the playoffs eight times with Dalby snapping the football to signal callers Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett. Another intereting tidbit regarding Dave is between 1960-1994 the Raiders had just three starting centers and that span lasted 35 years. (Jim Otto, Dave Dalby and Don Moesbar were the starting centers) Dalby died in 2002 in a car accident that may have been alcohol related. He was just 51 years old.
Gene Upshaw (1945-2008)-->Gene Upshaw was the second player from the 1975 Raiders offensive line to pass on. Upshaw is the only player in Professional Football history to play in three Super Bowls with the same team in three different decades. In 1999, he was ranked number 62 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Upshaw is considerd by some to be the greatst left guard to ever play pro football. A six time pro bowler, a member of the NFL's 75th Anniv. team and a member of the Pro Football hall of fame it is impossible for me to list all the great things that made Gene Upshaw such a great player. Always a tough guy he served as the executive director of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA.) During the summer of 2008 he began to complain to his wife that he felt ill. After visits with doctors he was dignosed with pancreatic cancer and died on August 17, 2008. During the 2008 season the Raiders wore a patch on their jerseys with his intials and his jersey number. Upshaw never suffered through a double-digit losing season with the Raiders during his entire career with the team which spanned the 1967-1982 seasons. The 2008 Raiders finished 5-11.
Jack Tatum (1948-2010)-->Everyone who is a true Raiders fan knows of Jack Tatum. During his college career at Ohio State the great Woody Hayes called Tatum the greatest defensive player that he ever coached. was an American football defensive back who played ten seasons from 1971 through 1980 for the Oakland Raiders
and Houston Oilers in the National Football League. He was popularly known as "The Assassin." He was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (1973–1975) and was a member of one Super Bowl-winning team in his nine seasons with the Raiders.
Tatum earned a reputation as a fierce competitor, and was considered one of the hardest hitters ever to play the game. In a 2006 poll by Sports Illustrated on the century's best defensive backs, Tatum finished with eight percent of the vote. He is also known for a hit he made against New England Patriots
wide receiver Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game. The hit paralyzed Stingley from the chest down. Tatum was also noted for his involvement in the Immaculate Reception play during a 1972 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers
. After his career he wrote two books on his career and served as a National Football League employee by checking players uniforms prior to league games and issuing fines for violations. Tatum eventually faced his own disability challenges, as all five toes on his left foot were amputated in 2003 due to a staph infection caused by diabetes He also suffered from an arterial blockage that cost him his right leg; he used a prosthetic limb thereafter. Tatum worked in increasing awareness of diabetes. To facilitate this goal, he created the Ohio-based Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful Diabetes, which finances diabetes research. In 2010 Tatum died of an heart attack.
Skip Thomas (1950-2011)--> Thomas played for the Oakland Raiders his entire professional career between 1972 and '77. He had back to back six interception seasons in '74 and '75. His fierce tackling gave him the nickname "Doctor Death". On of his most famous moments came during Super Bowl 11 when he held Vikings reciever Sammie White to zero receptions during the first half. Thomas died of a heart attack on July 24, 2011.
So almost 35 years has passed and slowly these gray beards are slowly fading away. I hope this post helps remember those who have already passed. RIP guys and thanks for being great Raiders.