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"Dr. Death" Was Key to the Raiders' Famed Soul Patrol

Cornerback Alonzo “Skip” Thomas was a member of the Oakland Raiders’ famed Soul Patrol defensive backfield but he had another nickname, “Dr. Death.”
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Cornerback Alonzo “Skip” Thomas was a member of the Oakland Raiders’ famed Soul Patrol defensive backfield but he had another nickname, “Dr. Death.”

Many people believe that Thomas received that one because he was such a hard-hitter on the field, but actually, it came from Hall of Fame tackle Bob Brown, who said that the cornerback looked like the cartoon character “Dr. Death.”

Teammates began calling him “The Doctor,” and one season a Raiders rookie had a headache when the team was on the road and knocked on Thomas’ hotel room door to ask for some medication. When Thomas told him he didn’t have any, the rookie exclaimed, “But you’re ‘The Doctor,” and kept knocking on the door after Thomas closed it, and eventually went away unconvinced.

The Raiders selected the 6-1, 205-pound Thomas out of USC in the seventh round (No. 176 overall) of the 1972 NFL Draft, and he became a part-time starter in his second season before taking over the cornerback spot opposite Hall of Famer Willie Brown the next year.

Thomas intercepted six passes in his first full season as a starter, returning them for 70 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown.

However, Thomas was known as much for his bruising tackles as he was for his pass defense.

“The Raiders had three safeties on the field when Dr. Death was playing cornerback,” Raiders legendary radio play-by-play man Bill King once said.

When the Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI at the end of the 1976 season, Thomas and the Soul-Patrol terrorized wide receivers, Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad.

Everybody remembers safety Jack Tatum knocking White’s helmet off with a vicious shot from behind, but Thomas also was in on the play with a powerful hit with his right forearm like a club, which at least helped knock the helmet off.

Thomas made four unassisted tackles in the game and defended against several passes, including a bomb from quarterback Fran Tarkenton down the left sideline intended for White that Thomas knocked away with a big flick of his outstretched right arm.

“There was nothing like them,” Hall of Famer Tarkenton said of “The Soul Patrol.” “In 1979, the NFL created the five-yard chuck rule because of (safety George) Atkinson, Tatum, Brown, Thomas, and the Raiders.

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“Wide Receivers could not get off the line of scrimmage against them. Brown, Atkinson, Thomas and Tatum were so physical and strong that I’d have to wait and hope my guys could get open before I got killed.”

The least-heralded member of “The Soul Patrol,” Thomas made 17 interceptions for the Raiders in his six-year career, which was cut short by injuries.

“He probably never got the credit due him because of the secondary we had,” Brown said. “He was a great basketball player in high school, and everything seemed to come naturally to him.”

Thomas died of a heart attack on July 24, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo., three days shy of the one-year anniversary of the death of former teammate and close friend Tatum.

“We are saddened by the passing of Alonzo ‘Skip’ Thomas,” the Raiders said in a statement. “He proudly wore the Silver and Black from 1972-78. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He was a true warrior, a great Raider, and will be sorely missed.”

Brown, who returned an interception of a Tarkenton pass 75 yards for a touchdown to put the final touches on that Super Bowl victory, passed away on Oct. 21, 2019. That leaves Atkinson, who had six unassisted tackles in that game, as the last member of “The Soul Patrol” who is still alive.

However, they never will be forgotten by Raider Nation.

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