True Maverick: James Garner Was A Huge Raiders Fan

  • Rick Chandler

RIP, Rockfish. That’s what Isaac Hayes, who played semi-recurring character Gandolph Fitch in “The Rockford Files”, called Jim Rockford. It’s still the greatest of all TV detective series, and was James Garner’s most defining role.

As Rockford, Garner was essentially playing himself — impertinent, intelligent, strong-willed, vulnerable and with a soft spot for the human condition. He played by his own rules and damned the consequences, and that made Garner pretty much the quintessential Raiders fan.

Garner, who died on Sunday at the age of 86, became a Raiders fan when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1982. He loved the silver and black so much that he often sat on the bench during games, and became good friends with owner Al Davis. (That’s Garner with former Raider John Matuszak above).

It made perfect sense. In the conservative-leaning, straight-laced NFL, Davis was a vociferous iconoclast. And Garner was as well — he marched with Martin Luther King, battled with networks and studios over actors’ rights, and was a lifelong Democrat.

He was also heavily into sports — he was a regular at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, played football, baseball and golf in high school (Norman, Oklahoma), and was a huge Oklahoma Sooners booster. He also owned an auto racing team.

In addition to his two biggest TV roles, in “The Rockford Files” and “Maverick”, Garner was featured in more than 50 movies. My favorite of his characters was in “The Great Escape”, in which he successfully broke of a notorious Nazi prison camp, making his way the mountains and into Switzerland and safety. Garner himself was a two-time Purple Heart recipient in the Korean War, having first enlisted in the military at the age of 17.

So goodbye, Rockfish — forever your own man, in a trailer on the beach, making $200 a day plus expenses.