Gene Upshaw vs. Art Thoms was an annual replay at Raiders training camp – Sports Illustrated Las Vegas Raiders News, Analysis and More

    the las vegas raiders are in the middle of training camp, and that brings back a lot of memories from many previous training camps.

    although what happened off the field when the oakland raiders held training camp at the tropicana ranch hotel in the 1979s received more attention, silver and black actually squared off on the practice field .

    Reading: Oakland raiders training camp news

    hall of fame coach john madden made them work hard twice a day and one of the raiders players said “training camp didn’t really start until gene upshaw and art thoms got into a fight at the field during practice.”

    The 6-5, 260-pound upshaw, perhaps the greatest shooting guard in pro football history, was an eight-time all-pro, a six-time pro bowl selection, a future pro football hall of famer. , and was selected to the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.

    Thoms, who was also listed at 6-5, 260, played for the Raiders from 1969 to 1975 and started most of that time at right defensive tackle but missed the Silver and Black’s win over the Vikings from minnesota. due to injury.

    “Winning Super Bowl XI was great, but bittersweet for me,” Thoms said. “He had played for the team for seven years and we got to the super bowl, but he was injured. I was on injured reserve for the big game. We won and I got a ring, but man, I wanted to play.”

    despite being highly regarded by his teammates, thoms never received much external recognition.

    That didn’t matter one bit when he and upshaw went one-on-one in practice.

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    “art was a very good player and very underrated because he didn’t get the recognition he deserved,” recalled upshaw, who was executive director of the nfl players association when he died of cancer in 2008 at age 63 .“He was smart, quick on the ball and had good movements.

    “We went head-to-head all the time in practice, especially in seven-on-seven drills during training camp, and we had a lot of great battles. and, yes, we ended up rolling on the ground a few times, but there was no animosity there. when it’s over, it’s over.

    “we were all friends on that team.”

    thoms, who is white, played alongside fellow defensive tackle and good friend otis sistrunk, who is black, and they called themselves “salt and pepper.”

    and thoms vividly remembers those battles with upshaw.

    “gene and i used to do it at least once in every boot camp because i got frustrated with him hugging me so much and it made me tired,” thoms recalled. “But it probably helped me, because when guys held me back in games, I knew what to do to handle it.

    “in fact playing upshaw, jim otto and art shell, three future hall of famers, pretty much every day in practice obviously made me a better player. in boot camp, we practiced for 21 days straight and full pads. Because we practiced against these great players, it was often easier when we got into the games.

    “the training camp in santa rosa was incredible. We work very hard, but we also have a lot of fun.”

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    raiders personnel scout ken herock said the raiders drafted thoms with the 22nd pick in the 1969 nfl draft out of syracuse because he was the fastest defensive lineman in the senior bowl at mobile, Alabama, that year.

    However, to some people, laid-back Thoms didn’t seem like the standout soccer player he was.

    said steve sabol of nfl films: “art thoms looked like a 6 foot 5 amish pimp.”

    thoms was a free spirit who fit perfectly into the last years of the hippie era in the san francisco bay area, with his shoulder-length hair, boots, long leather jackets, flared jeans and crazy hats.

    after playing one season with the philadelphia eagles, thoms retired from the nfl and for years has been a businessman in alameda next to oakland. He has been with his wife, Darlene, for almost 50 years and they have four children, three sons and one daughter, as well as nine grandchildren.

    but those who were there in santa rosa remember him mostly for the great battles he had with upshaw.

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