weather icon Clear

Raiders suffer through 2019 with death of family members

Updated December 7, 2019 - 7:14 pm

OAKLAND, Calif. — Mark Davis had dinner with George Atkinson in Kansas City last week, the night before the Raiders would lose to the Chiefs and all but fall from the race for the AFC West Division title.

The two were then together flying home, Davis the team owner who always considered Atkinson more father figure than merely one of the franchise’s past greats.

“Shortly after we landed, George was told what happened,” Davis said. “When I learned about it … no words.”

If it’s true the goal shouldn’t be to live forever but instead create something that will, the sense of family born and nurtured within the Raiders’ organization has been tested beyond comprehension in the past year.

No one left behind. No one forgotten.

The Raiders host the Titans on Sunday in what can be fairly described as a must-win situation for Oakland should it continue to harbor thoughts of earning a wild-card playoff spot, a final silver-and-black moment from a week that again pierced the franchise’s heart in the most sorrowful of ways.

They are dying off, former players and coaches and even children of them, the Raiders having lost several souls of late.

One by one, time passes and more funerals are held, more obituaries written, more tears shed.

Atkinson buried his son Josh, who hanged himself at age 26, last December.

Then, this past week, Josh’s twin brother, George III, died shortly after penning a letter about struggling with the guilt following his brother’s suicide and the loss of their mother, who died from Crohn’s disease complications in 2018.

The cause of death for George III, who earlier had been committed for psychiatric evaluation, has not been released.

Cliff Branch died at 71 in August. Willie Brown went at age 78 in October. Clem Daniels was 81 when he died in March. Dan Conners was 77 when he died in April. Cedrick Hardman died in March at 70.

Neiron Ball died in September. He was 27.

“It has been a really tough year,” Davis said. “A lot of the Raiders family has been affected. It has been devastating. We’re all here to support each other. It’s part of us. The most valuable asset of the Raiders is family. Each (death) hurts more than you can imagine.”

Fans also hurting

The rain was slow and steady outside Ricky’s Sports Theatre & Grill on Saturday, not 15 minutes from the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, the landfill from which Davis will move his team to Las Vegas in 2020.

The chairs inside are silver. The tablecloths are black. It is the pre-eminent gathering place of all Raiders past and present, where Al and Mark Davis and the team’s gridiron greats came at one time or another to celebrate among the most devoted of fans, where the jerseys of Blanda and Stabler and Plunkett and Atkinson and others hang from the walls.

Kamuela Schaumburg is here with his wife, Catherine, to attend Sunday’s game. They are from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a place known for its strong sense of family.

“Just like the Raiders,” Schaumburg said. “Back home, everyone is welcome, taken care of, nobody goes hungry. That’s why I have been a Raiders fan since 1987. The culture of family built by Al Davis and carried on by Mark. For some reason, we’ve lost a lot more people this year. It’s the cycle of life, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

In one corner near the bar, where the Big 12 championship game between Oklahoma and Baylor had reached overtime on one of several large screens, sat the Cunningham brothers — James (55), Jerry (63) and Terry (67).

They have bled everything Raiders since the AFL Championship of 1967, having mourned each loss on and off the field.

“Ken Stabler was my hero,” James said. “When he passed away (in 2015) … that was so tough. The organization’s foundation is built on its former players. It’s hard seeing all these guys go. They’re the legacy.

“Our legends are all dying.

“Our heroes are going away.”

Taking its toll

More and more return each summer, Raiders alumni gathering in Napa for training camp, the brainchild of Mark Davis some years back to keep those from the past close and involved and feeling very much part of things.

Years pass and greats die. It happens to every franchise.

Alzado. Matuszak. Tatum. Stabler. Chandler. Christensen. Upshaw. Dalby.

But it has been especially trying this year, almost as if once the Raiders exhale from another death, the telephone rings.

“It has taken a serious toll,” said John Tournour, better known as JT The Brick, a longtime TV reporter for the Raiders and national radio host. “Those who are part of the DNA and so closely connected to Al Davis and Mark Davis and Mrs. Davis are leaving us. When they say, ‘Once a Raider, always a Raider,’ they mean it, whether you played a year for them or your entire career.

“No franchise is there for them in difficult times like the Raiders. None of that is by accident. Hearts are heavy right now.”

The Raiders host the Titans on Sunday, a must-win game for the team that is 5-1 at home this season, as critical a 60 minutes as 2019 has presented.

And, sadly, still …

“We take Sundays very seriously,” Davis said. “There is no question about that. But, no question, with all the loss we have suffered recently, everything is brought back into perspective.

“We’re hurting right now.”

More Raiders: Follow at vegasnation.com and @VegasNation on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

Like and follow Vegas Nation
Raiders Videos
Allegiant Stadium roof takes next step towards completion - Video
Safety netting is being laid across the stainless-steel cable net of Allegiant Stadium in preparation for the ETFE roof installation. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Stadium Insider Rick Velotta discuss the safety netting and the overall progress of the roof.
Allegiant Stadium roof continues to be key feature - Video
On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was given an updated tour of Allegiant Stadium. Seen on the tour, on the northeastern corner of the roof, was a tiny section of what eventually will be a 7-acre translucent plastic polymer roof.
Allegiant Stadium will undoubtedly be Las Vegas centerpiece - Video
As Allegiant Stadium readies to become home to the Raiders, it's no doubt that the 65,000-seat arena will be a centerpiece to the city of Las Vegas. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto is joined by Raiders beat writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Myles Simmons after his very first tour of the stadium.
Raiders could pursue Tom Brady in free agency - Video
Although the NFL free agency period doesn't open until March 18, many rumors have already been circulating regarding who will be the Raiders quarterback come the 2020-21 season. Vegas Nation's Cassie Soto and Myles Simmons discuss who the Raiders could pick up to replace Derek Carr, including Tom Brady.
Allegiant Stadium video screen will be largest in Las Vegas - Video
Outside of the Fremont Street Experience Viva Vision canopy, Allegiant Stadium's video screen will be the largest sign in the valley, approximately 27,600 square feet in area.
Raiders Potential Picks For 2020 Draft - Video
As the 2020 draft for the NFL approaches the first round of predictions for the Raiders picks have come out. Raiders beat writer Myles Simmons and Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto go over the potential players the Raiders will pick for the draft.
Raiders, Knights license plates favorites among Nevada drivers - Video
Fans of the Raiders have scooped up the team-themed Nevada specialty license plate at a steady pace over the first year of its availability, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the team’s charity.
Raiders know catching Mahomes is key to winning AFC West - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Raiders know that getting to the top of the AFC West means overcoming Kansas City and its electric quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes spoke about how he's handled his early success and his desire to stay in KC for his entire career during a media event during Super Bowl LIV week. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Yesco builds Allegiant Stadium signs - Video
The Las Vegas Raiders and Allegiant Stadium have partnered with Yesco to build signs for the upcoming 2020 season when the team plays their first game. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Raider Lincoln Kennedy talks Las Vegas Raiders, Allegiant Stadium, Super Bowl - Video
Former Raiders offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy says the 'Imperial March' should play for fans every time they walk into Allegiant Stadium
Goodell on how Las Vegas is embracing Raiders' move, possible Super Bowl for the city
During his Super Bowl LIV news conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke on the possibility that Las Vegas becomes a host city for a future Super Bowl and how he feels the city will embrace the Raiders in the coming season. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders have 12th and 19th draft picks, what did other teams do with those spots? - Video
The Las Vegas Raiders own the 12th and 19th overall draft picks for the 2020 NFL Draft. Las Vegas Review-Journal host Cassie Soto and Raiders beat writer Myles Simmons discuss what NFL teams with those same picks have done in previous years and what the Raiders are likely to do when on the clock.
Bird's eye view of Raiders facilities - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Mick Akers took a helicopter tour over Allegiant Stadium and the Raiders Henderson headquarters.
The Las Vegas Raiders give back - VIDEO
The Raiders are not even in Las Vegas yet but are already making a big impact on the community, giving out hundreds of hygiene kits to local vets and pledging $500,000 to eliminate school lunch debt in Nevada. (Le'Andre Fox and Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders and MGM Resorts announce partnership - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International and the Las Vegas Raiders announced their partnership Thursday morning, Jan. 23, 2020. MGM Resorts has been named the official gaming partner of the Raiders. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders help pack over 500 hygiene kits for local veterans - Video
The Las Vegas Raiders are continuing to make an impact in the Las Vegas community, this time helping pack over 500 hygiene kits for local veterans. Raiders alumni in attendance included Jim Plunkett and Darren McFadden.
Derek Carr on the Raiders' Official Las Vegas Announcement - VIDEO
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr reacts to the team's official rebrand to the Las Vegas Raiders after the announcement was made Wednesday afternoon.
Las Vegas Raiders React To Name Change - Video
The newly named Las Vegas Raiders react to the name change with the move to the city and how the fans are embracing the team's move.
Las Vegas Raiders official name change - Video
The Las Vegas Raiders official name change came on Wednesday, Jan. 22 with Allegiant Stadium as the backdrop for the announcement. Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr says he can't wait to bring his new city a championship and is excited to get to work.
Raiders officially Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders announced that they will officially be known as the Las Vegas Raiders on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
2020 NFL Draft plans announced - Video
NFL and tourism representatives have announced the plan for the 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas, an event expected to be one of the biggest events in city history. Las Vegas Review-Journal's Cassie Soto and Mick Akers discuss the details, including staging areas and road closures.
Raiders Serve Lunch at Jack Dailey Elementary - VIDEO
On Tuesday, Raiders fullback Alec Ingold and tight end Darren Waller visited Jack Dailey Elementary to serve lunch and interact with the students (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NFL 2020 Draft Announcement - Video
The city of Las Vegas and the NFL have announced their plans to host the 2020 NFL draft announcement including multiple locations on the strip and a stage at the Bellagio fountains.
Jon Gruden Tours Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden toured the team's new home Allegiant Stadium for the first time.
Dana White fuels rumors of Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders - VIDEO
UFC president Dana White believes there is a real possibility he will be watching his good friend Tom Brady taking snaps for the Las Vegas Raiders from White’s suite at Allegiant Stadium next season. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NFL’s Roger Goodell says Las Vegas could be Super Bowl City - Video
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday morning that Las Vegas has everything a city needs to host a Super Bowl, and more.
Allegiant Stadium Set to Open on Time - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Stadium Authority board was informed during their meeting on Thursday that Allegiant Stadium will be completed on time.
Conor McGregor says he'd be honored to be the first to fight at Allegiant Stadium
Raiders PSLs sold out
Raiders personal seat licenses for Allegiant Stadium have sold out. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Josh Jacobs Named PFWA's Offensive Rookie of the Year - VIDEO
On Tuesday, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Stadium roof completion date pushed back yet again - Video
Allegiant Stadium's roof, a signature feature of the building, was expected to be installed by fall but is now planned for completion by mid-May. Las Vegas Review-Journal host Cassie Soto discusses the set back with business writer and stadium insider Rick Velotta.
CES 2020: 5G could enhance fan engagement in Allegiant Stadium - Video
The integration of 5G could help enhance fan engagement at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the future Las Vegas Raiders.
Raiders Sign Richie Incognito to Contract Extension, Hope to create Continuity - VIDEO
The Raiders announced that they signed guard Richie Incognito to a contract extension, hoping to create some continuity on a team that had so much turnover this past season.
Raiders excited for the Vegas transition - VIDEO
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Monday that the team is excited for the move from Oakland to Las Vegas. The team will hold their offseason programs in Oakland and Napa before officially debuting as the Las Vegas Raiders next season.
Raiders foundation set for move to Vegas - VIDEO
While the season may not have gone as the team would have liked, the Raiders understand that they have a solid foundation for their new home. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders roller coaster season ends with a tough loss in Denver - VIDEO
The Raiders lost to the Broncos after a failed 2-pt conversion and finish their up-and-down season 7-9.
Roger Goodell tours Allegiant Stadium
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell toured $2 billion Allegiant Stadium and called Las Vegas a "Super Bowl city" on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019.
All hail Tyson Fury, King of the heavyweight division

Without question, the world’s heavyweight champion is the Gypsy King, who pummeled Deontay Wilder until the American’s corner threw in the towel at 1:29 of the seventh round Saturday night.