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Safety Powers Was a Ballhawk for Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders have a legacy built by men like Warren Powers with a lineage of great defensive players.

Safety Warren Powers was another member of the Oakland Raiders’ vaunted Eleven Angry Men of Defense in the 1960s, and although he didn’t have the notoriety of some of the others, he certainly did his part.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Powers signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 1963 but was traded to the Raiders before the start of that season and after moving into a part-time starting role in his rookie season he became a regular in 1965.

The Raiders’ front line of Ben Davidson, Tom Keating, Dan Birdwell, and Ike Lassiter recorded an American Football League record 67 sacks in 1967 and put applied constant pressure during those years, which forced quarterbacks to get rid of the ball before they wanted.

That played right into Powers’ hands.

Powers made 22 interceptions and returned them for 366 yards and two touchdowns in the 63 games he played for the Silver and Black over six seasons. He ranks 11th in interceptions in franchise history.

“Warren Powers has a nose for the football,” one member of the Raiders’ defensive coaching staff said. “When the ball is in the air, he has almost as much of a chance to get to the ball first as the intended receiver, and often they get there at the same time.

“That often leads to an incomplete pass, or an interception. But he’s a complete player and when a running back breaks into the secondary, he often is the one who is there to make the tackle.”

Powers recorded five pass interceptions in three straight seasons from 1964-66, and in 1967 when the Raiders won the AFL Championship on their way to Super Bowl II against the Green Bay Packers he had six picks and returned them for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yarder, and added a fumble recovery.

Once again, tackles were not an official statistic in those days, so we don’t know how many stops Powers made, but he was a hard-hitting safety who like a lot of defenders in those days led with his helmet, which unfortunately led to an unknown number of concussions.

That would come back to haunt him later in life.

Powers sustained one of those concussions while tackling tight end Marv Fleming of the Green Bay Packers early in Super Bowl II, won by the Pack, 33-14, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and had to be carried off the field.

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The concussions led to Powers retiring from the Raiders in 1978 and he went into coaching, serving as defensive backfield coach at Nebraska from 1969-76 under legendary head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, before becoming head coach at Washington State in 1977 and leading the Cougars to a 7-4 record.

Powers, an all-state quarterback at Bishop Lillis High School in Kansas City, had played for Devaney’s first Nebraska team in 1962 in his final year with the Cornhuskers.

Then he was hired as head coach at Missouri in 1978 and took the Tigers to a 46-33-3 record and five bowl appearances, including three victories, from 1978-84. Missouri upset fifth-ranked Notre Dame in his first season, 3-0, and second-ranked Nebraska, 35-31, both on the road.

Powers was named Walter Camp Coach of the Year in 1978 for turning around a struggling Missouri program with an 8-4 record, including a 20-15 upset victory over LSU in the Liberty Bowl, but after six straight winning seasons, the Tigers went 3-7-1 and he was relieved of his coaching duties.

In 2017, Powers was elected to the Missouri Hall of Fame.

Late in his life, apparently because of those concussions, Powers was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and he passed away at a memory care facility in St. Louis on Nov. 2, 2021.

“My brother, John, and I were at the Super Bowl when the Raiders played in Miami,” D.J. Powers, Warren’s brother recalled. “He played defensive back. He was knocked unconscious early in the game. Rather than take a time out, they just carried him off the field and sent in his replacement.

“He had many concussions in his career, which the family always thought contributed to his Alzheimer’s. Warren was a very dear younger brother. We were best buddies even though he was three years younger.”

Warren Powers’ wife, Linda, who had been his caregiver, died a few weeks earlier on Sept. 23, 2021.

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