LaMarre: My 60 Years With the Raiders

The Oakland Raiders played their first game in the Oakland-Alameda Country Coliseum against the Kansas City Chiefs on on Sept. 18, 1966. USA TODAY Sports photo by Kirby Lee

Tom LaMarre

  • (Tom LaMarre is a native of Oakland who has seen the Raiders play in every stadium they have called home. This is an update of a story he wrote last season, when it looked like the Raiders were about to play their last game in the Oakland Coliseum, which actually is happening this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

by Tom LaMarre

My Dad took me to my first Oakland Raiders game in 1960, their first season of existence, against the Buffalo Bills at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

That was nothing new, since he had taken me to watch the San Francisco 49ers at Kezar, plus baseball games involving the Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, and then the San Francisco Giants when they moved west from New York.

But this began my association with the Raiders that has lasted for 60 years, and I have watched their games at every stadium they called home – Kezar and Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Frank Youell Field and the Coliseum in Oakland, Memorial Stadium at the University of California in Berkeley, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

My love for sports came from my Dad, Lt. Col. W.O. “Frenchy” LaMarre, who crossed France with the 5th Armoured Division in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during World War II.

Dad and my Mom, Agnes Pauline Schmidt LaMarre, grew up on opposite ends of North Dakota, but met in San Francisco late in the 1930s.

When Dad was 14 in 1924, he came out West on the train and for one year attended St. Mary’s High School, which in those days was located in downtown Oakland along with St. Mary’s College. “The Brickpile,” as it was known, was located on Broadway on the site of several used car lots today.

Dad fell in love with Oakland and the Bay Area, so when came home from the War, he and Mom settled in Oakland to raise their family—which eventually included seven children, including a son named John Thomas (me), who was born nine months after he returned in September of 1946.ucindm

When I was young, I would grab the Oakland Tribune off the front porch, sit on his lap and read the sports page with him as he sipped an Old Fashioned or Tom Collins to relax before dinner.

I turned 17 in September of 1963 and my Dad bought me a Corona portable typewriter for my birthday and set me on the path to become a sportswriter, something he would never experience because he died a month later at the age of 53.

With my typewriter in front of me, I would watch football games on television and then pound out game stories on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. My Mom showed the stories to our friend, Lonnie Wilson, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Tribune, who brought the stories to Sports Editor George Ross.

On Jan, 31, 1964, during my senior year at Skyline High, I went down to the Tribune for an interview with Ross in the Sports Department, and not only did he hire me on the spot, he had me stick around that evening to take phone calls from high school stringers and write stories on the games played that day.

With my first paycheck from the Tribune, I bought 1964 Raiders season tickets.

I remember the first game the Raiders played at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, which was built specifically for them, on Sept. 18, 1966, against the Kansas City Chiefs. But, I wasn’t there because I was in the U.S. Army Reserve and was on active duty at Fort Lewis, Wash., so I watched the game on TV.

However, my future wife, Cheryl, was there and she was on the field with her pom-poms as a member of the Skyline High song girl troupe, as the Raiders had invited the spirit squads of the six Oakland Athletic League high schools to take part in the opening day festivities.

When I came back from active duty in the Army, George Ross offered me a job as a full-time sportswriter with the Tribune and early in the 1971 I became the Raiders beat writer.

The Tribune had the first four seats on the front row of the Coliseum press box at the 50-yard-line, right next to the glass booth where Bay Area legends Bill King and Scotty Stirling broadcast the games over Raiders Radio.

As sports editor, George had seat No. 1, while I had No. 2, and for me it was the best seat in the house.

From there, I watched some of the greatest games and players of the era, and for the Raiders that included Hall of Famers Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Willie Brown, Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, Ted Hendricks, George Blanda, Dave Casper and Ray Guy.

This is where the Raiders beat Joe Namath and the New York Jets in the famed “Heidi Game,” and where Stabler threw the “Sea of Hands” touchdown pass to Clarence Davis that ended the Miami Dolphins’ two-year reign as Super Bowl champions.

And then there were all those playoff games, including victories over the New England Patriots and reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976 that led to the Raiders winning their first world championship in Super Bowl XI over the Minnesota Vikings at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

There was “The Black Hole” behind the South end zone, Biletnikoff’s corner on the right side of the same end zone, and Cliff Branch’s corner in the opposite end zone, with the homemade “Speed Kills” signing hanging down from the stands.

And there were bigger than life characters such as owner Al Davis, head coaches Davis, John Madden and Tom Flores, linebacker coach Don Shinnick, Big Ben Davidson, John “The Tooz” Matuszak, “Snake” Stabler, “Mad Stork” Hendricks, “Marvelous Marv” Hubbard, Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, Phil “Foo” Villapiano, Marcus Allen, Bill Romanowski, Bo Jackson and Sebastian “Seabass” Janikowski.

When Davis moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1980, I was already there, working on the Sports Copy Desk of the Los Angeles Times, and I saw almost every game at the Los Angeles Coliseum because a friend of mine had season tickets.

However, when the Raiders moved back to Oakland I was overjoyed because I will always believe that’s where the Silver and Black belong.

Although much of Oakland and the Eastbay still loves the Raiders, in those days they knew them because the players were part of the community, drinking beer with them in the Coliseum parking lot after games and hanging out with the fans at Clancy’s in Jack London Square, Pier 29 in Alameda and the bar at the Concord Inn.

However, those days are long gone and soon the Raiders will be too, as they will play their last game at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I will be there for that one, too, although not in seat No. 2, but with Cheryl and my brother, Mike, in our seats in the upper deck on the 40-yard-line.

My Dad and George Ross will be there, too, in my heart and mind.

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