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More Classic Raiders Stories From Training Camp at the El Rancho

The Las Vegas Raiders have a rich history, and remembering the past, makes the success of today shine even brighter.
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Many fascinating stories have been told and written about the Oakland Raiders and others who attended their unorthodox training camp held at the El Rancho Tropicana Hotel in Santa Rosa, Calif., during the 1970s—including some here on Raider Maven.

And there are more.

The late Jack Smith, who was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle and often covered the Raiders, worked the desk one evening in the City by the Bay and afterward went to Perry’s, a famous Irish pub, to have a few drinks.

Smith had to be at the El Rancho in the morning to cover the Raiders, so eventually, he walked out of Perry’s and found his car had been towed because he didn’t feed the meter, so he hailed a taxicab, hopped in the backseat and told the driver to drive him to Santa Rosa, which is 55 miles away.

The cab driver balked, telling Smith how expensive it would be.

“Don’t worry about it,” Smith told him, showing the driver his credentials. “I cover the Raiders for the Chronicle and I have to get back up there. You’ll get your money.”

So the driver drove Smith to the El Rancho, where Smith directed him to Room 147, which served as the Raiders’ office during the car. Smith, who had become good friends with Raiders Coach John Madden, didn’t have enough money, so he jumped out of the car and said he would be right back.

Instead, Madden came out the door and opened his wallet, then paid the cab bill.

“Thanks for getting Jack here safely,” Madden said to the cab driver. “And have a safe trip back to San Francisco.”

Another story from the El Rancho involving a vehicle is about guard George Buehler.

The 6-2, 260-pound Buehler was drafted in the second round (No. 50 overall) out of Stanford by the Raiders in the 1969 NFL Draft and played 10 years for the Silver and Black, starting at right guard on a line that included center Jim Otto, guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Art Shell—all future Hall of Famers.

Buehler was considered a bit different by his teammates because of his intelligence, but strangely thought he was something of a failure because several people in his family were doctors, lawyers, or in other highly-respected professions.

One year, Buehler brought an unassembled remote-controlled toy tank to training camp and spent the first few days putting it together. Then he would stand outside his hotel room and send the tank with the remote controller on the walkway around to the Raiders' office.

Once the tank got to Room 147, Buehler would let public relations assistant Ken Bishop know by walkie-talkie that it was there. Bishop would place Buehler’s mail in the tank and say into the walkie-talkie: “OK, you’ve got it.”

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The Buehler would turn the tank around and guide it back to his room.

Another year, Buehler brought a remote-control airplane to training camp and was flying it around the practice field in between workouts when linebacker Ted Hendricks shot it down with a gun he used to shoot birds at the back of the El Rancho property.

“You have to understand about George,” quarterback Jim Plunkett said. “He’s the kind of guy who would be in the huddle and you’d be calling the play and, all of a sudden, he’d look up and watch a plane go by.”

Another year, several of the players had a contest to see who could get the most panties from the women that they dated in Santa Rosa, and not surprisingly, quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler was the winner and tacked his prizes on the wall in his hotel room.

And always, there was what running back Pete Banaszak proclaimed as “The Circuit,” five nightclubs and bars the Raiders would hit in the two hours between evening meetings and curfew at 11 p.m.

One of those clubs was Melendy’s.

“We always served a drink called ‘The Raider,’” recalled Rick Melendy, son of the late tavern owner Kenny Melendy. “It was grapefruit juice with a splash of soda. But if it was for a Raider, it had more octane—a splash of vodka.”

That was often the last drink for players before they headed back to the El Rancho in what resembled a NASCAR race, so they could make curfew at 11 p.m.

The Raiders trained at the El Rancho Tropicana from 1963-84 before moving their training camp to Southern California after Managing General Partner Al Davis moved the Silver and Black to Los Angeles.

Davis, who found the El Rancho Tropicana way back, in the beginning, one day on a drive up Interstate 101, moved the Raiders back to Oakland in 1985 and wanted to hold training camp there again but the hotel had closed a year before.

The El Rancho is gone, but the incredible stories remain to be told over and over.

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