The date Dec. 21, 1974 is one of the most famous in Oakland Raiders history. It’s a Sunday that ended in a “Sea of Hands” in the Oakland Coliseum end zone – a miraculous touchdown catch in the final seconds by Clarence Davis that gave the Raiders to a 28-26 playoff victory and dethroned the two-time defending champion Miami Dolphins.
Greenbrae native Tom Wickert had one of the best seats in the house that day. Interestingly, he likes to remember the first – rather than last – time the referees raised their hands signaling a touchdown that day.
“When we took the field, the place was buzzing,” said Wickert, a backup offensive tackle who played mostly on special teams as a rookie for the Dolphins that season.
“I was in the wedge on the opening kickoff when Nat Moore went 89 yards for a touchdown. It got real quiet after that.”
After making a key block that paved the way for his teammate, Wickert chased the speedy Moore into the end zone. “The fastest I’ve ever run,” the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder noted recently from his home in Alameda.
Wickert played that season for Don Shula, undoubtedly the most famous in a long line of impressive coaches with whom Wickert feels blessed to have been associated.
That began at in the late 1960s, when the hard-throwing right-hander – one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the Kentfield-Greenbrae Little League – considered himself a better prospect in baseball than football.
“I loved all sports; I loved all my coaches,” the 59-year-old gushed. “Coach (, Coach (Jess) Payan, Coach (Phil) Roark, Coach (Wes) Price, Coach ( … they were not only coaches, teachers and mentors, but a lot of times they became lifetime friends. I have great appreciation for each coach and what they did for me.”
And vice versa, no doubt. Wickert was such a two-sport force at Redwood, he was recently selected to the 2011 class of the Marin High School Sports Hall of Fame.
The enshrinement will take place Nov. 5 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Rafael.
The 1970 Redwood graduate went on to play for Jim Sweeney at Washington State and Hank Stram with the New Orleans Saints. Along the way, his line coaches included Joe Tiller and Monte Clark.
He is so appreciative, he’s working on launching a Web site – tomwickert.com -- next month that he hopes will adequately pay tribute to all these great men in his life.
“Each and every one of them shaped me in some way to get to where I am today,” the five-year NFL player said. “It’s very satisfying because I have such good memories.”
Memories … he’s got ‘em by the dozens.
On playing for Bob Troppmann at Redwood: “I remember one day it was really hot. I said, ‘Coach Troppmann, it’s hot out here.’ I was thinking about quitting. He said, ‘It’s only 35 degrees Celsius.’ So I kept practicing. I never quit. It took me a couple of days to figure out how hot 35 Celsius was.”
On former Redwood teammate Pete Carroll: “I spent a lot of time at Pete’s house, swimming and playing pool. The first time I went there, I came home and told my mom, ‘The Carrolls really like me.’ My mom asked why I would say that. I told her, ‘Pete’s mom said I could have two sandwiches and swim anytime I wanted.’”
On choosing football over baseball after high school: “I thought I would play professional baseball. But I hurt my arm in Santa Cruz in a tournament. I pretty much had no decision to make. My mind said go, go; my body said no, no. The football scholarship came up and I took it.”
On playing for Joe Tiller at Washington State: “One day we were going through drills. I was working hard, but I couldn’t get one thing. Coach Tiller came over and threw down his watch. It broke. He shouted, ‘Wickert, you’ve got to make that block, you’re driving me crazy.’ I was really down for 2-3 days. Then I ran into Mrs. Tiller and she asked me, ‘How come you didn’t come to dinner Monday night?’ I said, ‘I think Coach is angry with me.’ Then she said, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you, those watches are $1.99. He bought a dozen of them.’”
On his first training camp with the Dolphins: “The first day, I bumped into somebody in the (food) line. I said, ‘Who are you, a guard?’ He said, ‘No, I’m the starting fullback.’ I knew I was in trouble because the fullback was as big as me.”
Wickert returned to Marin after his playing days and served as an assistant coach at Redwood, Drake and College of Marin. But soon the financial realities of coaching prep and community-college football forced him in a different direction.
“When I was at College of Marin,” he recalled, “my mom called and said I have to talk to you a minute. ‘Is it true they paid you $3,700 to coach for six months.’ Yes. ‘Is it true you spent $14,000?’ That was true, too. I knew my sister had ratted me out.
“If I could afford it, I would volunteer every year. But at age 59, it’s just impossible.”
So, Wickert plans to give back in the way of his Web site. Not only will the site express thanks to all his great coaches, but he also will take some of what he was taught and redirect it back to today’s athletes.
At the same time, he will be working on his Hall of Fame speech.
“This is one of the two best awards I’ve ever gotten,” he assured. “Being captain for my football and baseball teams at Redwood was No. 1.”
He can thank his coaches for that, too.