Note: Updated with reaction from Raiders as well as comments from former Raiders coach Tom Flores and former Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek
Charlie Sumner, a former Raiders assistant coach associated with one of the most famous plays in franchise history, died Friday from complications following gall bladder surgery.
Sumner, 84, passed away in Maui, according to his son, Colin Sumner.
“The Raiders are deeply saddened by the news of Charlie Sumner’s passing,” the club said in a statement. “Charlie was an esteemed part of the Raider family and was instrumental in some of the Silver and Black’s greatest triumphs. Our deepest sympathies are with Charlie’s family at this time.”
A veteran of seven NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings from 1955-60, Sumner served three tours under Raiders owner Al Davis as a defensive assistant, coaching defensive backs from 1963-68 and as defensive coordinator from 1979 to 1984 and from 1986 to 1989.
In 1985, Sumner was head coach of the Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League, leading that team to the league championship game.
Sumner was an innovator who helped an obscure linebacker named Jack Squirek become a hero in the Raiders’ last Super Bowl victory on Jan. 22, 1984 against Washington. With Washington backed up on its own 12-yard line with 12 seconds to play in the first half, the situation called for a run to kill the clock.
However, Sumner had a hunch based on a play in a 37-35 loss to Washington in the regular-season. In that game, quarterback Joe Thiesmann threw a screen pass to running back Joe Washington, who raced 67 yards to set up a field goal just before the half.
Based on that play, Sumner sent Squirek in for Millen to shadow Joe Washington.
Millen pleaded with Sumner to remain in the game, telling him, “Don’t take me out! They can’t handle me.”
Squirek intercepted the Theismann pass and ran it 5 yards into the end zone to put the Raiders up 21-3, helping to fuel a 38-9 victory for the Raiders.
Said former Raiders coach Tom Flores: “The thing I remember is Millen going ballistic on the sidelines. A few minutes later, he’s picking up Charlie and hugging him.”
Sumner told reporters in matter-of-fact fashion following the game how he had diagnosed the play.
”When they were backed up in that game, they threw a screen pass to Joe Washington for 67 yards,” Sumner said. ”I just knew it was coming again, that’s why I wanted Squirek in there. It was just an adjustment.”
Squirek, 56, runs a cleaning and janitorial business in the Cleveland area and said in a phone interview he is still asked about the play about once a week and even more often during Super Bowl week.
“I remember Charlie saying, `We’re going to be playing a prevent zone but I want you to cover (Joe) Washington man-to-man,’ ” Squirek said. “One of the last things he said was, `Don’t go for the interception and miss it.’ ”
Flores said the anticipation of the play was typical of Sumner, with whom he won two Super Bowl rings.
“Charlie had a great overview of the whole picture,” Flores said. “He worked on drills and techniques, but his overall input on game day was what I thought was most impressive.”
Another Sumner wrinkle that paid big dividends came in the wild card playoffs againt the Houston Oilers on Dec. 28, 1980. Although Davis was never a big believer in the blitz, Sumner dialed up a corner blitz to make life miserable for former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler in a 27-7 win at the Coliseum.
The Raiders sacked Stabler seven times, with cornerback Lester Hayes coming free from the blind side and getting him twice.
“They were a two tight-end team and mostly a left-handed team because of Stabler,” Flores said. “So when he dropped back from the tight end side, we brought the extra guy and he couldn’t be blocked from the backside. Charlie saw the weakness in their pass protection.”
Two Raiders Hall of Fame players, defensive end Howie Long and linebacker Ted Hendricks, thanked Sumner in their acceptance speeches.
Sumner was also a defensive backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1972 and defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 1973 to 1978. After leaving the Raiders, Sumner had a short stint with the New England Patriots and then worked as an assistant with the Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football in 1991 and 1992.
Although Sumner had offers to return to coaching, he instead went to Maui on vacation “and never came back” according to Colin Sumner.
A 6-foot-1, 194-pound safety out of William & Mary, Sumner was a 22nd-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 1954.
Sumner died with his partner June Raymond by his side. Sumner is survived by sons Colin and and Terry Sumner and by his ex-wife Barbara. Sumner’s ashes will be scattered at sea in Maui this week in keeping with his wishes.