Celebrity athletes, actors compete in Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic | SierraSun.com

Celebrity athletes, actors compete in Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Retired sports celebrities need little convincing to compete in the Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic.

The annual tournament held on Monday pays tribute to the former Hall of Fame lineman, who was a close friend to many of the participants, while also raising funds for cancer care and traumatic brain injury research.

The venue isn't shabby, either, with fresh mountain air, mild summer weather and an emerald-green course at Schaffer's Mill Golf Club in Truckee.

"It's a first-class tournament," said five-time Pro Bowl running back Ricky Watters, who knew Upshaw well. "He was a great man who did some great things. It was really sad to see him go as early as he did. But I love what they are doing here for cancer and also for brain awareness. That's obviously a serious thing with us players. So this is definitely something to get behind and be a part of."

Upshaw, a 15-year veteran with the Oakland Raiders and later the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, owned a second home in Truckee and frequented the North Lake Tahoe area. He died of pancreatic cancer at Tahoe Forest Hospital in August 2008.

The next year, his wife Terri helped start a fundraising celebrity golf tournament in his honor. Since that inaugural event, the Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic has raised more than $825,000 for cancer research and care. The efforts also helped fund the state-of-the-art Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center.

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"I'm amazed we're going into our seventh year," Terri Upshaw said before Monday's tournament. "We hope, fingers crossed, that we might make it over $1 million with this year's event. All the celebrities are real excited about being able to play. It's a fun time."

The tournament, which was previously held at Gray's Crossing, featured a field of more than two dozen former athletes and TV celebrities. Many of them are ex-Raider greats and regulars in the event, including Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, Raymond Chester and Tom Flores.

Others highlighting this year's tournament included former Major League Baseball players Vida Blue, J.T. Snow, Scott Erickson and Shawn Estes, as well as actors Frankie Muniz from "Malcolm in the Middle" and Kevin Sorbo from "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys."

Former pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce and Truckee Olympic ski racer Daron Rahlves also participated, while Truckee High football coaches and players helped lend a hand.

"I get to play in a lot of these events — I call them hit-and-giggle events," said Blue, a Cy Young-award-winning pitcher who played for both the A's and Giants during his 17-year career. "But it's always nice to raise a few bucks for a worthwhile cause. When you know somebody who has been affected by cancer, you really want to give your all to be a part of these things and raise money."

With a field of mostly retired athletes, the tournament naturally gets competitive, with plenty of friendly banter before the start.

"I'm just out here to entertain. It's not about winning here," Allen, the Hall of Fame running back, said within earshot of Watters, who quipped with a laugh, "Yeah he doesn't want to say anything in front of me."

Said Brown, the soon-to-be-Hall of Fame receiver: "You always come out to compete. I always want to win. But you've got to be realistic about what you are, too."

Former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, who made the trip from his home in Carmel, had no illusions of victory.

"I'm out here for the charity and to be with all the guests. I'm not a good golfer by any stretch of the imagination. I know that," he said. "I just like the camaraderie with all the guys. But there are some good golfers out here — like Sterling (Sharpe) and Tim (Brown). They're serious about it and practice."

At the end of the day, Sorbo and his group of four participating sponsors claimed the win with a low score of 102. Former NFL tight end Ted Kwalick's team finished runner-up with a 105, and former running back Marshall Faulk's team was third with a 106. The Brown and Sharpe gangs tied for fourth (107) and were followed by the groups with Pearce (108), then Blue and Chester (109).

Roy Tuscany and Patrick Bruce of the Truckee-based High Fives Foundation played on Pearce's team.

"I am really excited to be here, playing with the likes of all these amazing humans, but then at the same time for an amazing cause as well," said Tuscany, whose foundations supports action sports athletes who have suffered life-altering injuries.

"I think the cancer center really puts Truckee on the map as a very special community, just for such a small town to have such a specialized facility that does so many high-end things. So we're super lucky, and to be able to play golf today to raise money for it makes it even better."

In addition to rubbing shoulders with the stars and raising money for cancer, Tuscany said he also accomplished the goal he set out to achieve after learning that Muniz would be in the tournament.

"I got a picture of myself and Steve Wallace from our foundation with Frankie Muniz in the middle, and I hashtagged it 'Malcom in the Middle.' Seriously."