Family ends search for Cooper

Marquis Cooper's family has called off a private search for the Raiders linebacker and two other men missing in the waters off the Florida coast.

Cooper's family had hired their own search crew, including boats and planes, to look for the three men after the Coast Guard called off its own search on Tuesday. But on Friday, Cooper's father released a statement saying the family was ending the search and beginning the process of dealing with the situation.

Whatever happened to the three men in the choppy waters may never be fully known, which makes it all the more troubling for their friends and families.

Even if the facts are known, it's never easy to handle when a young athlete is taken from us before what we as a sporting public deems is his time.

This certainly isn't the first time tragedy has struck close to home for the Raiders. Eric Turner. Leon Bender. Stacey Toran. Each man passed away seemingly in the prime of their lives and each time it left a resonating effect within the Raiders' franchise.

Turner was just 31 years old when he died from complications of stomach cancer, leaving behind a young son and a well-deserved reputation as arguably the greatest safety in college history at UCLA who had developed into an equally tough, hard-hitting safety in the NFL while playing for Cleveland and the Raiders.

Because of a variety of minor injuries that seemed to plague him throughout his brief stay in Oakland, Turner wasn't able to have the type of impact with the Raiders that Al Davis expected. But Turner was very much a valuable player in the locker room whether he played or night, a veteran leader whose advice was often sought out by several of the team's younger defensive backs.

Turner was also one of the most outspoken players on Oakland's teams back then, brash, loud but always smiling. He was the exact same way off the field, too, especially when it came to playing dominos.

During training camp one year, Turner and I spoke several times and each time the conversation would eventually turn to dominoes. He would click off the names one by one of the teammates who had challenged him and lost.

Figuring there was more bark to his game than bite, I threw down a challenge to Turner myself and he quickly accepted. After giving me the number to his hotel room, he told me to meet him 20 minutes later.

When I arrived, Turner had already beaten his roommate James Jett, who had grabbed the Wall Street journal and mumbled something as he walked out of the room as I settled into my chair across the table from Turner. As he ‘washed' the dominoes, Turner began hammering at me with his rat-a-tat-tat style he used to needle opposing wide receivers and running backs before nailing them with a chinstrap-snapping hit.

By the time the game ended -- I vaguely remember the score being 150-65 -- my head was spinning because Turner never let up, not on the game and not with his mouth.

When I learned of his death a year later, it numbed me. Not because I had played dominoes with him or gotten to know him somewhat. Like most people, it just didn't seem right that someone so young, so seemingly healthy, that elite-level of an athlete, could be gone so quickly.

It was the same way when Toran died in 1989 in a car accident after leaving a party that had been given and attended by many of his Raider teammates. Toran was a 28-year-old promising young defensive back who was just starting to come into his own as a safety, a ferocious hitter who had just a touch of Jack Tatum to him.

I was working at a small newspaper in the Central Valley when Toran died and I had that same feeling of numbness. The Raiders were in Los Angeles at the time and some fans draped a sheet over the black gate outside of Toran's house with the words RIP Stacey Toran stenciled across. An Associated Press photo of it came across the wire and I grabbed it off, hanging it on the wall behind my desk where it remained until I quit.

Bender was a little different in that he had never gotten a chance to play in the NFL, having attended only a handful of workouts after being drafted with the first pick in the second round of the 1998 draft.

A promising young defensive lineman who spoke anxiously of beginning his professional football career with the Silver and Black, Bender sounded like a kid on Christmas morning. Giddy, you might say.

Five weeks later Bender's body was discovered on the floor at the home of a friend of his agent. The official cause of death was a seizure disorder.

All three men -- Turner, Toran and Bender -- had plenty of football left in them. All three were in top physical shape. Their passing simply made no sense at all.

Neither does Cooper's.

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