History is so important. The smartest people I know have great knowledge of history. We need to never forget and remember that our history lays the foundation for us all, and that we should learn about it and learn from it. I thought about that today. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the great Tejano singing star Selena’s passing. She touched millions with her spirit and her amazing heart and talent.
What does that have to do with football? Well it reminded me of the great loss that is felt when someone in their prime passes away. Unfortunately death has been a cruel mistress in our large family, and in reality the pain never goes away, it just gets a little easier to tolerate. The Oakland Raiders have known pain; a great deal of it.
I wanted to write about three young lives that were lost to the Oakland Raiders far too soon. I hope that all Raider fans; young and old; will remember and appreciate their lives and their part in creating the history of the Oakland Raiders.
Eric Turner, CB. 9/28/1968 to 5/28/2000
Charles Woodsen would look at Eric Turners photo before he would go on the field. Ray Lewis as a young linebacker said that he loved watching Eric Turner play. Eric Turner was a Southern California legend. A great player and leader. He starred at Ventura High School and UCLA. He was a hard hitting playmaking safety that at times seemed to be everywhere. E-Rock was the second overall pick in the 1991 draft going to the Cleveland Browns. Still the highest draft pick for a defensive back in the modern era of the NFL.
He soon became an all pro for Cleveland and for the Baltimore Ravens when they moved. The Raiders picked up Turner later in his career and he still played well, but he was not the same Eric Turner.
When Turner played though the Raiders winning % was shockingly near 80% and he became a fan favorite. He could still make plays. He complained about an ulcer to many but towards the end of his life he lost a lot of weight. When he took a leave of absence in 1999, he would not disclose his illness to his friends or the press. Like some selfless people, he just didn’t want to be a burden.
In May of 2000 many people were worried about him but he stated in the press that he was not gravely ill. Two weeks later, a stunned NFL world heard the news that Turner was gone. He was only 31 years old. It sent a shockwave throughout the NFL.
To have someone so young and physical to be gone so quickly. Rumors swirled but in the end, he died of intestinal cancer that was just found too late. Many believed he played with cancer during the last part of his career. It remains a sad ending for a good man and a great player. His leadership and his selfless mentoring will never be forgotten by those who played with him.
Leon Bender, DL; 8/8/1975 to 5/30/1998;
Leon Bender’s family were Raider fans so they were thrilled when he was chosen by the Raiders in the 2nd round of the 1998 NFL draft. Along with first round choice Charles Woodsen, the Raiders felt they had immediately upgraded their defense. He was the type of player Jon Gruden loved; passionate, athletic, and always hard working. He had a great attitude and was constantly trying to please his coaches. He was fun loving and always had a smile on his face. Leon was still somewhat raw but most scouts said the same thing; the sky is the limit. In regards to Bender, at worst he would be a good NFL player for 7-10 years. At best? Who knows.
The Raiders were looking forward to Bender teaming up with USC’s Darrell Russell on the defensive line. He was big, athletic and had a big motor. It wasn’t meant to be though. Bender died before playing for the Raiders and Russell was soon out of the league due to failed drug tests. Bender was one of the key contributors to the resurgence of the Washington St. Cougars football team. He helped them reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years, with quarterback Ryan Leaf leading the way. The excitement in the Palouse had never been higher.
The Raiders were very excited to add Leon to their roster but sadly he died of an epileptic disorder at the friend of his agents house. He was found in the bathroom. An ambulance was called and efforts to revive him failed. He was 22 years old. No alcohol or drugs were found in his system and no foul play was suspected. Bender had been treated for epilepsy since childhood but it had been under control for the most part for years.
Benders lifestyle reminds me of the present Raiders QB Derek Carr. Bender was married with a child and had a loving spiritual family. He volunteered at times at a drug rehab wanting to help others. Two weeks before his death, the Raiders paid Bender his 1.2 million dollar signing bonus which his family got.
His mother Antoinette and his cousin Brantley attended the AFC championship game against the Tennessee Titans in Oakland. When the public address announcer called the starting line-ups, they sobbed uncontrollably. On Super Bowl Sunday, Antoinette didn’t watch the game of her Raiders; instead she visited Leon’s grave to say how proud she was of him.
Stacey Toran, Safety; 10/11/1961 to 8/5/1989;
Stacey Toran was a long shot to make the NFL. He was a 6th round pick for the Raiders in the 1984 draft. Al Davis saw in him though a great deal of toughness and athleticism and was excited to get him at that low of a draft choice. He would be a project that would soon pay dividends and Al Davis called him the steal of the draft.
Toran started out slow but after 3-4 years he started to show a grit and toughness that was needed in the Raiders defensive backfield. The Raiders were changing their scheme to an attacking style of defense and that suited the physical Toran just fine. He was now entrenched as a starter and big things were expected of him.
Toran was an amazing athlete and a born leader. He had great size for a safety too; 6’ 2” 205. He was a high school basketball and football all American and in the semi finals of the state basketball championship at Broad Ripple High School, he hit a 57 foot shot to win the game at the buzzer, eventually leading them to the title. He was the captain of both his high school football and basketball team. He soon went to Notre Dame and was a tough, hard nosed player that greatly improved the Notre Dame defense. At Notre Dame he was the co-captain of the team and an All American. The NFL combines felt he wasn’t fast enough to play in the NFL but Al Davis didn’t agree. People were excited about what the future held for Stacey.
At approximately 11:30 pm on the night of Saturday, August 5th, 1989, Toran lost control of his 1984 BMW on Glencoe Avenue near Marina del Rey; a block from his home. An officer at the scene said the car jumped a curb and struck a tree, flipping over several times. Toran was ejected from the vehicle, struck his body and head on the pavement and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Later it was found out that his blood alcohol level was .32. Stacey Toran was only 27 years old. Al Davis was devastated. He said that Stacey was going to be a major part of their defensive scheme that year and he called him a friend and a great Raider.
Below is a list of prominent Raiders that are no longer with us in body, but always in spirit. I hope that Raider fans of all ages never forget the contributions that these men made to the greatness that is the Oakland Raiders, and that they will keep their families and friends always in their thoughts and prayers.
Once a Raider, always a Raider. Rest in peace.
Thomas Howard, linebacker, 2006-10: Died November 18, 2013, age 30 (auto accident).
Todd Christensen, tight end, 1979-88: Died November 13, 2013, age 57 (liver surgery complications).
Errol Mann, kicker, 1976-78: Died April 11, 2013, age 71 (unknown).
Demetrius Davis, tight end, 1990 draft pick: Died December 15, 2012, age 45 (heart attack).
Tom Keating, defensive tackle, 1966-1972: Died August 31, 2012, age 69 (prostate cancer).
Ben Davidson, defensive end, 1964-1971: Died July 2, 2012, age 72 (prostate cancer).
Chester McGlockton, defensive tackle, 1992-1997: Died November 30, 2011, age 42 (heart attack).
Al Davis, coach/owner, 1963-2011: Died October 8, 2011, age 82 (natural causes).
Charles “Bubba” Smith, defensive end, 1973-74: Died August 3, 2011, age 66 (natural causes).
Alonzo “Skip” Thomas, cornerback, 1972-77: Died July 24, 2011, age 61 (heart attack).
George Blanda, quarterback/kicker, 1967-1975: Died September 27, 2010, age 83 (unknown/natural causes).
Jack Tatum, safety, 1971-1979: Died July 27, 2010, age 61 (heart attack).
Elijah Alexander, linebacker, 2000-2001: Died March 24, 2010, age 39 (bone marrow cancer).
Marquis Cooper, linebacker, 2008: Lost at sea March 1, 2009, and presumed dead March 6, 2009, age 26 (boating accident).
Brad Van Pelt, linebacker, 1984-1985: Died Feb. 17, 2009, age 57 (heart attack).
Gene Upshaw, guard, 1967-1981: Died Aug. 20, 2008, age 63 (pancreatic cancer).
Curtis Whitley, center, 1997: Died May 11, 2008, age 39 (unknown/natural causes).
Jimmy Warren, cornerback, 1970-74, 1977: Died August 9, 2006, age 67 (unknown).
Darrell Russell, defensive tackle, 1997-2001: Died Dec. 15, 2005, age 29 (auto accident).
Scott Whittaker, offensive tackle, 1997: Died Dec. 2, 2003, age 29 (auto accident).
Dave Dalby, center, 1972-1985: Died Aug. 30, 2002, age 51 (auto accident).
Dwayne O’Steen, defensive back, 1980-1981: Died Sept. 15, 2001, age 46 (heart attack).
Neal Colzie, defensive back, 1975-1978: Died Aug. 19, 2001, age 47 (heart attack).
Bo Roberson, wide receiver, 1962-1965: Died April 19, 2001, age 65 (unknown).
Dan Turk, center, 1989-1996: Died Dec. 23, 2000, age 38 (testicular cancer).
Eric Turner, safety, 1997-1999: Died May 28, 2000, age 31 (abdominal cancer).
Eldridge Dickey, quarterback/wide receiver, 1968-1971: Died May 22, 2000, age 54 (stroke).
Tim Hall, running back, 1996-1997: Died Sept. 30, 1998, age 24 (drive-by shooting).
Leon Bender, defensive tackle, 1998 draft pick: Died May 30, 1998, age 22 (epileptic incident).
Bob Chandler, wide receiver, 1980-1982: Died Jan. 15, 1995, age 45 (lung cancer).
Dave Waymer, safety, 1992: Died April 30, 1993, age 34 (drug-related heart attack).
Mike Wise, defensive lineman, 1986-1990: Died Aug. 22, 1992, age 28 (suicide).
Lyle Alzado, defensive lineman, 1982-1985: Died May 14, 1992, age 43 (brain cancer).
Stacey Toran, safety, 1984-1988: Died Aug. 5, 1989, age 27 (auto accident).
John Matuszak, defensive lineman, 1976-1982: Died June 17, 1989, age 38 (heart failure).
Roger Hagberg, fullback/tight end, 1965-1969: Died April 15, 1970, age 31 (auto accident)
Thank you to the Silver and Black Report for the Memorial Wall. You can follow them here @ http://oak.scout.com/