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Tyrone Wheatley shares emotions behind lighting the Al Davis Memorial Torch

"WOW!" was Tyrone Wheatley's instant response shortly after lighting the Al Davis Memorial Torch.

This conversation took place in the back of the suite during the Las Vegas Raiders-Kansas City Chiefs game on November 26 at Allegiant Stadium where Wheatley gracefully gave the interviewer time and attention amid game action. The exchange began with a hearty greeting reserved for old acquaintances making a positive reunion.

However, the emotions began to flow days before performing the prestigious honor prior to kickoff.

"First and foremost, when I received the call, I got emotional because of what Al Davis meant not only to the organization but to me personally," said Wheatley, who played for the Raiders from 1999-2004. "Then to light that torch, it just brought back all the things that he wanted for this organization — family, brotherhood. Then to get to see the crowd in Las Vegas while lighting the torch, it was amazing."

Ironically, Wheatley offered those expressions as current Raiders running back Josh Jacobs broke though the line, stiff-armed a defender and raced 63 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Chiefs. After a brief look to take in the highlight moment by a fellow RB, Wheatley immediately jumped back to the questions at hand.

That same concentration, respect, mindfulness and attention to detail is who No. 47 was over 20 years ago after joining the Silver and Black as a free agent during the preseason in 1999. He was an integral part of the team's three straight postseason appearances in 2000, 2001 and 2002 that included representing the AFC in Super Bowl XXXVII. It's who he is: the leader of young men as head football coach at Wayne State University.

We wanted to know his recollections on a run that Raider Nation will forever remember, versus the Chiefs to begin the new Millennium when Wheatley broke seven tackles on the way to the end zone in the Raiders' overtime win.

The final game of the 1999 season was being played on January 2, 2000, and while the Raiders were out of the playoff picture, they knocked the Chiefs out of the postseason with a 41-38 overtime victory at Kansas City. Just before halftime, Wheatley put the Raiders ahead 28-24, taking a perfectly executed screen pass from Rich Gannon 23 yards to the end zone.

The Raiders were keeping it close in the first thanks to two early Gannon touchdown passes — 12 yards to fullback Zack Crockett, and 22 yards to running back Napoleon Kaufman — and a Marquis Walker punt block which Kenny Shedd returned 20 yards for a touchdown.

With the Raiders trailing 31-28 in this see-saw battle between original American Football League foes, the Silver and Black mounted a drive that consisted of just three plays to re-take the lead. Kaufman returned a kickoff 25 yards, followed by a Gannon 42-yard connection with Tim Brown to place the ball at the plus-26.

Here was CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle's account of the play that was hailed the NFL's Run of the Year: "Wheatley, hurdling. Tyrone Wheatley trying to cut it to the outside. Wheatley remains on his feet. Wheatley won't go down. Touchdown Raiders. Incredible!"

Those previous details were important to share because the way Wheatley saw it —

while discussing as Jacobs zoomed past the suite's TV screen — the credit went to his teammates for making plays.

When asked if he looks back on that moment, that run, Wheatley responded, "I don't."

"The reason that I don't is because, people may think that run was a great run, don't get me wrong. But before that run, we were down in that game and our team had done so much to get us back to that point, including a blocked punt. It was a simple draw and I just thought about us climbing back into the game.

"All the plays that the guys had made and for me, it was just one of those deals, if I could get a chance to put us up and get us going, why not do it and that is what it was. I don't really think of the run as huge as the blocked punt and the things that went on before that run to get us back to that point."

Wheatley went on to lead the Silver and Black in rushing in 1999, 2000 and 2003. He surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing once when he amassed 1,046 yards in 2000. His 32 career rushing touchdowns rank sixth on the Silver and Black's all-time list and his 3,682 yards are ninth in franchise annals.


Wheatley's athletic prowess was evident early on as he enjoyed a decorated career beginning at Robichaud High School in the Detroit suburbs, where he was the state of Michigan's football Player of the Year, a multiple event titleholder in track and field and a prominent member of the basketball team.

He stayed local for college at the University of Michigan, where he was a three-time All-Big Ten performer. Wheatley was a highlight reel as a sophomore, earning conference Offensive Player of the Year honors in a year capped by being named Rose Bowl MVP after rushing for 235 yards. He continued his multi-sport career, also standing out in track and field as a sprinter/hurdler in Ann Arbor.

Wheatley was selected by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, was traded to Miami in 1999, released in training camp and immediately snapped up by Al Davis and the Raiders. He joined an already talented running back room that included the aforementioned Crockett and Kaufman (who the Raiders drafted one pick after Wheatley was taken) as well as Randy Jordan and Jon Ritchie.

He also immersed himself in the community, including teaming up with the Oakland Police Department and the Coaches Against Gun Violence campaign to host free football camps for high school students.

After retiring from the NFL in 2004, he embarked on a coaching career that spanned the high school, college and professional levels.

He has served stints as head coach at his alma mater, Robichaud High, Ohio Northern (running backs coach), Eastern Michigan (running backs coach), Syracuse (running backs coach), Buffalo Bills (running backs coach), his college alma mater, Michigan (running backs coach), Jacksonville Jaguars (running backs coach), Morgan State (head coach), the Denver Broncos (running backs coach), and now serves as head coach at Wayne State, located in the area in which he scored many a touchdown, won many a race and slammed many a dunk.

Members of Wheatley's family — wife Kimberly and their two youngest children, daughters Tiana and Tamari — were on hand to bear witness to him lighting the torch in honor of, and in tribute to, Al Davis, who declared that: "The fire that burns the brightest in the Raiders organization is the will to win."


The clan also includes sons Terius, who played running back at Morgan State in 2021 while his father was the school's field general, and Tyrique, who were watching from afar. Tyrone Jr. was a little busy as he is a member of the New England Patriots who spent time during the 2022 preseason on the Raiders roster. Those Wheatley boys donned their share of Silver and Black onesies and kids gear and used to run around the Raiders facility in Alameda.

During his stay with the Raiders, Wheatley Jr. shared a humorous story with "We were in the weight room and my little brother got on the treadmill," he recalled. "I told him to get off and he fell and scraped his face. [Athletic trainer Scott] Touchet, who's still here helping us now, ended up patching him up and helping him out."

Wheatley Jr. laughed thinking about that day at work with his father, but vividly remembered Senior not being happy at all. "My dad was pretty mad at us that day," he said. "That was the one thing he said to us. He said, 'Stay off the treadmill' and we went right to the treadmill."

Wheatley Sr.'s circuitous road in athletics led back to the Raiders, not just for one post-Thanksgiving Sunday in November, but for a lifetime.

"This is truly the epitome of 'Once a Raider, Always a Raider,'" Wheatley related. "When I was coaching for that other team in the division with the little horse on their helmets, I kind of always felt like I was doing something wrong on that sideline, but it was a job I had to do. But no matter where I went, Always a Raider!"

Get an exclusive look at the gameday entertainment from the Raiders' Week 12 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium.

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