Long Beach Poly football and Tupac come face to face in little known story from that fateful day in 1996

To walk around Long Beach and see, hear, or talk about a superstar is not uncommon.  Long Beach Poly High School alone has produced the likes of Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G, and boasts over a dozen current and former NFL players including Willie McGinest, DeSean Jackson, and, most recently, Juju Smith-Schuster.

As luck would have it back in 1996, the paths of Long Beach Poly football and one of hip-hop’s greatest icons would cross on a fateful day in September.

To most rap fans, Sept. 7, 1996, will forever be remembered as the day Tupac Shakur was fatally shot to death. But in a story nearly lost to the history of that day, Bleacher Report’s Jeff Pearlman tracked down the members of the 1996 Long Beach Poly football team to recount their near standoff with mortality as they encountered Shakur hours before his death at a Barstow, California In-n-Out on their way home from a loss in Las Vegas:

After the two buses pulled into the allotted parking spaces along the northern side of the In-N-Out, players wearily rose from the green vinyl seats, when Robert Hollie, the Jackrabbits’ backup quarterback, gazed out a window and said, softly at first, “Yo, it’s Pac!”

“It’s Tupac!” he yelled. “It’s Tupac!”

With the help of members of that Long Beach team, Pearlman recounts the surreal story and the players near brush with tragedy.

At one point, Tupac heard the approaching footsteps and spun. Meanwhile, two of his colleagues pulled out what looked to be Glocks. Hollie, Barnes and the others stopped in their tracks. “Bloods, you can’t be walking up on me like that!” Tupac yelled. “You don’t know me like that!”

“He was extremely paranoid,” Croom says. “He started cursing—he was irate. We were just kids, so it was definitely an overreaction.”

“He yelled, ‘Don’t run up on me!’” Lewis says. “The guys with him were big dudes. Really big.”

According to Rideaux, Tupac looked over the Long Beach Poly group, noted the collective youth and seemed to calm down. Around this point Knight had returned from inside the In-N-Out, and the players were equally shocked to be in his presence. “It was crazy,” Lewis says. “Not your ordinary rest stop break.” Tupac realized the teenage boys did not pose a threat.

There is a reason why Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg have done so many collaborations: Long Beach Poly attracts talent, and when on campus, the talent attracts talent. This has also been the case in athletics as the football program has been built into a national powerhouse and sends handfuls of  athletes to colleges on full-ride scholarships each year. The stars that Poly has produced, too, never stray far from their roots. Snoop Dogg’s ‘Snoop Youth Football League’ pipelines players to Poly and other high school’s in the Greater Long Beach area.

For the musical talent from Long Beach, the 1990s proved to be the most successful decade as two heavyweights Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg paired with Compton collective N.W.A.: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, and D.J Yella, all culminating in the founding of Death Row Records – a record label known most notably for the personalities of Suge Knight and Tupac. Similarly, the Long Beach Poly football program began its dominance of the CIF in the same era. The soon-to-be college and NFL players of the 1996 Long Beach Poly football team identified with the rise to prominence of the famous and local rappers, but could also relate to them on a deeper level. The life experiences expressed through Tupac’s music were accessible to the young Long Beach Poly players, but on that day, they were confronted with the difference between a life of falling victim to those experiences and finding a catharsis through sport.

It seems that Tupac only speaks the truth in his lyrics: “Worldwide, let them recognize from Long Beach to Rosecrans,” the Poly football team was allowed to recognize, but they should have known to recognize the “Flossing, but have caution.”