Monday, February 26, 2018

Golden boys: Raiders who took part in the Olympic Games

Former Olympian Tommie Smith lights the Al Davis torch. Photo by Bob Carr Photography; used with permission.
When Sam McGuffie headed to the recent 2018 Winter Olympics as a bobsledder, he joined a small but elite group of Raiders alumni.

McGuffie, who had put up strong numbers at two positions for two colleges, was only an Oakland Raider briefly, spending training camp with the team in 2013 as a wide receiver after signing as an undrafted free agent.

But, five years later, when he headed to PyeongChang, South Korea, in February 2018 as part of Team USA, he added his name to the list of two-sport athletes who could claim to be both Olympians and NFLers.

About 40 NFL alumni have both played in a regular-season game and have taken part in the Olympics (unlike McGuffie, who spent time on practice squads with the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots, then played in the Canadian Football League, but never suited up in the NFL).

Most were participants in the Summer Games as track and field athletes, though there are a few exceptions. And the late Al Davis had a well-earned reputation as loving all things speed when it came to his Raiders, and that meant the Silver & Black's Olympic alumni have been weighted heavily toward the sprinting side of the Games.

Of the six Raider Olympians, in fact, four were sprinters, including two members of Team USA's 1984 gold medal-winning 4x100 meter relay team at the Los Angeles Games: Ron Brown and Sam Graddy, who were teammates on the 1990 Los Angeles squad.

Brown, who the Raiders listed as a cornerback, but had also played receiver, was one of the team's primary kick returners during his lone season in L.A., bringing back 30 kicks for a 19.2-yard average, second in both marks to teammate Jamie Holland. Brown spent 1984 through 1989 with the Los Angeles Rams, and re-signed with the Rams for a season when the Raiders let him go in 1991.

Graddy spent three seasons with the Silver & Black, from 1990 to 1992, catching a total of 16 passes as a big-play threat and returning 27 kicks. He had spent the 1987 and 1988 seasons with the Denver Broncos, missing 1989 with an injury before signing with L.A. as a "Plan B" free agent.

The 1990 Raiders also featured a wide receiver who lost out on his chance to actually compete in the Olympics. Willie Gault was slated to participate as a sprinter in the 1980 Summer Olympics, possibly in the 4x100 or the 100-meter dash. But a United States boycott of the Games held in Moscow meant the team did not participate, and Gault missed his chance, and a later attempt at qualifying as a bobsledder came up short.

Overall, Gault spent six years with Raiders, primarily as a starter, though he never caught more than 50 passes in a season. He had spent the first five years of his career with the Chicago Bears before a trade to Los Angeles.

When you factor in players like Gault, Graddy, wideouts Swervin' Mervyn Fernandez and future Hall of Famer Tim Brown, plus Ron Brown and fellow corner Terry McDaniel, a college sprinter, you could make the case that even a squad that made the AFC Championship Game in 1990-91 might have fared better on an Olympic track.

A few years later, another Team USA sprinter, the appropriately named James Jett, was also a gold medalist for Team USA in the 4x100, at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Jett, who then signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 1993, went on to a lengthy career with the team as a deep-threat receiver.

Jett played an even 10 years for the Silver & Black, making highlight reel plays and frustrating drops in near equal numbers, while serving as an occasional kick returner to try to take advantage of that Olympic speed.

The first Raider Olympian was Bo Roberson, who was a long-jumper at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where he won a silver medal.

Roberson joined the Raiders in 1962 and lasted four years as a running back, receiver and kick returner. His single-season highs included 89 carries in 1962, 44 catches in 1964 and 38 kick returns in 1963. He had spent 1961 with the San Diego Chargers, and played for the Buffalo Bills in 1965 and the Miami Dolphins in 1966.

The Raiders have had their share of track stars at the collegiate and even international levels who were not part of the Olympic Games, of course.

One, William Hinchcliff, was even described in the 1992 media guide as a member of New Zealand's 1988 Olympic teams in three very different sports, the 100 meters and long jump in the Summer Games and the bobsled in the Winter Games. However, in reality, Hinchcliff's only major international competition actually was the 1990 Commonwealth Games, as a long jumper; his track career was stifled by a failed drug test.

Like McGuffie, Hinchcliff, a wideout project who the team had signed and assigned to the World League of American Football in the spring of 1992, failed to make the Raiders' regular-season roster.

And an Olympian who did not play for the Raiders, but nevertheless has Raider ties, was Tommie Smith, one of two African-American runners to protest with raised, black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.

Smith, who was briefly a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, actually caught a pass against the Raiders in 1969. And, before the Raiders' 2016 game in that same Mexico City, he was invited by Mark Davis to light the Al Davis Memorial Torch for the Silver & Black.

Sources: Raiders media guides; NFL.comSports-Reference.comWikipediaTeam USA website; Team New Zealand website;

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