Here’s a look at the athletes and sports figures we’ve lost in 2021.
John Madden — December 28
An ambassador for the game of football, John Madden died the morning of December 28. As a head coach, Madden helped lead the Oakland Raiders to eight playoff appearances in 10 years, winning a Super Bowl during the 1976-77 season. He has the highest win percentage of any head coach since the AFL-NFL merger and required fewer games to reach 100 wins than anyone else in history.
In retirement, Madden continued to expand the public appeal of the sport as a color commentator. Madden’s insightful takes and simple, yet wise colloquialisms made him one of the most entertaining announcers to listen to. Even after leaving the broadcast booth, Madden continued working with the NFL as an advocate for player safety.
He is survived by his wife Virginia, sons Michael and Joseph, as well as the simulation-style video game franchise that bears his name. Madden is arguably the most recognizable name in the football world strictly due to how involved he was as an ambassador for the sport in various avenues. In a statement made by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the night of Madden’s death, Goodell said “Nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sound board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”
Demaryius Thomas — December 9
Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas died in his home Thursday at 33 years old. ESPN reports that his family believes his cause of death to have been a seizure. Thomas played at Georgia Tech and was picked in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.
He played in the league for nine years, spending eight seasons with the Broncos, during which they won Super Bowl L. Thomas had officially announced his retirement in June after four Pro Bowl appearances.
Thomas had back to back seasons of 100 catches and finished his career with 724 receptions and 63 touchdowns.
Former teammate Peyton Manning shared a statement that read, in part, “D.T. was a better person than he was a player, and he was a Hall of Fame player. That tells you how good of a person he was… Absolutely devastated.”
Al Unser Sr. — December 9
Al Unser Sr., a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, died Dec. 9 at the age of 82, after a nearly two-decade battle with cancer. Victorious at the Brickyard in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987, Unser had 39 career IndyCar wins, and showed his versatility with three top-10 finishes in five career NASCAR starts, including fourth in the 1968 Daytona 500. One of Unser’s most famous finishes was another race he didn’t win: in the first of Al Unser Jr.’s two Indy 500 victories, in 1991, the man they called “Big Al” finished third — a far better father-son result than Mario and Michael Andretti each failing to finish. The Unsers remain the only father-son duo to each win the 500.
Lee Elder - November 28
Lee Elder, the pioneer who was the first Black golfer to play the Masters, has died. He was 87.
Elder shattered the longstanding all-white tradition at Augusta National in 1975 when he played in the the Masters, becoming the first African-American to do so. Elder had received an invitation to play at Augusta after after winning the Monsanto Open the year prior.
Elder missed the cut that first Masters, but made history nonetheless, paving the way for Tiger Woods, born later that same year. Woods would become the first African-American to win the Masters in 1997.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Elder,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement. “Lee was an inspiration to so many young men and women of color not only through his play, but also through his commitment to education and community. Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to be celebrated.”
With the country undergoing a long overdue reckoning on race, Elder returned to Augusta in April to take part in the ceremonial first tee shots, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Elder would go on to win four PGA Tour events in his career.
Sam Huff - November 13
Sam Huff, the Hall of Fame anchor of the New York Football Giants defenses of the 1950s and 60s, died Saturday. He was 87. According to family, The NFL legend died of natural causes.
Huff led the Giants to six NFL title games, winning the championship in 1956. He was a five-time Pro-Bowl middle linebacker in Giants defense coordinator Tom Landry’s 4-3 defense.
Huff was traded to Washington after the 1964 season where he played five seasons. After his playing career, Huff went up into the booth, first calling games for the Giants before moving back to Washington where he called games for nearly four decades.
Huff grew up in a coal mining camp in Edna, West Virginia and attended West Virginia University.
Huff was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Jerry Remy - October 30
One of the most beloved figures in Red Sox history, Jerry Remy died on October 30 after a years-long struggle with cancer. He was 68.
Born in Fall River, Mass., raised in nearby Somerset, and a product of Roger Williams University just over the Rhode Island border, Remy was drafted by the Angels in 1971, debuted with California in 1975, and played there through 1977. He was then traded to the Red Sox, where he became an All-Star in 1978 and played through 1984, his career shortened by knee injuries.
Remy was beloved as a hometown hero as a player, but became a Red Sox icon as a broadcaster, his thick South Coast accent serving as the soundtrack of the reverse-the-curse years and beyond, and including, of course, the Fenway Park pizza incident and the classic line “and he’s been asked to leave the ballgame for ruining a good piece of pizza.”
There was also tragedy within Remy’s life, as his son Jared murdered his fiancee Jennifer Martel in 2013 — obviously not something that Jerry was directly responsible for, but which happened after years of Jared getting off the hook for various wrongdoings as a result of being Jerry’s son. Jerry wrote about that in a book, which was excerpted in Deadspin in 2019.
Ray Fosse - October 13
A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse died on October 13 after a battle with cancer. He was 74.
It’s important to remember that over the next few days you’ll see Fosse described as the guy who had his career and life altered by Pete Rose bowling him over in a goddamn All-Star Game.
But Fosse should not be defined by that interaction. He was great, both in the booth as a human. He won two World Series as a catcher for the A’s, went to two All-Star Games back when that used to mean something. That’s more than enough to know him for other than being at the unfortunate end of Rose being an utter psycho. Fosse shouldn’t have his passing unfairly defined by a weasel like Rose.
Sam Cunningham - September 7
Sam “Bam” Cunningham, who was a key figure in the integration of college football and played nine years in the NFL, died on Tuesday. He was 71.
Cunningham, a fullback for USC, rushed for 135 yards in a 42-21 win against Alabama on Sept. 12, 1970. It was the last season Bear Bryant fielded an all-white Crimson Tide team.
He was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in 1973 and rushed for 516 yards as a rookie. He played nine seasons for New England, with a career high 1,015 yards in 1977. He finished with 5,453 yards and 43 touchdowns.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of yet another loss to the Patriots family this week and our hearts ache for Sam Cunningham’s family and all who are mourning his passing today” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham was one of my favorite players throughout the ‘70s and my sons all loved him. After I bought the team in 1994, it was my honor to welcome him back to the team on multiple occasions, recognizing him as a 50th anniversary team member and again for his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
His younger brother, Randall, had a storied 16-year career as a quarterback for the Eagles and Vikings.
Rod Gilbert - August 22
Rod Gilbert, the hockey Hall of Famer known fondly as Mr. Ranger, died on Sunday at the age of 80.
Born in Montreal, Gilbert spent his entire 18-year career on Broadway playing for the Rangers from 1960 to 1978. His 404 goals and 1021 points are both franchise records. And his No. 7 jersey was the first retired in the Original Six team’s long history.
“Everyone in the Rangers organization mourns the loss of a true New York icon,” Rangers President Chris Drury said in a press release. “Growing up a young Rangers fan, one of the first names I ever heard about was Rod Gilbert — he was synonymous with Rangers hockey.”
After his playing days, Gilbert continued as an ambassador for the sport of hockey, the Rangers and the Garden of Dreams Foundation an outreach program for kids in the community.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Rod Gilbert — one of the greatest Rangers to ever play for our organization and one of the greatest ambassadors the game of hockey has ever had,” Rangers owner James Dolan said in a statement. “While his on-ice achievements rightly made him a Hall of Famer, it was his love for the Rangers and the people of New York that endeared him to generations of fans and forever earned him the title, ‘Mr. Ranger.’”
Mr. Ranger was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.
Bill Freehan - August 19
Bill Freehan, one of the best catchers of the 1960s, died at age 79, according to the Detroit Tigers.
Freehan played 15 years, all of them for Detroit. He was an 11-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner. Freehan hit .262 with 200 homers and got on base any way he could, even leading the league in hit-by-pitch three times. He finished third in AL MVP voting in 1967, and second to battery-mate Denny McLain, who won 31 games, in 1968. That was the year the Tigers won their first World Series since 1934, beating the St. Louis Cardinals. Freehan is the fourth member of that Fall Classic to pass away in the past 16 months (Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson).
Longtime teammate Willie Horton mourned his friend: “Bill Freehan was one of the greatest men I’ve ever played alongside or had the pleasure of knowing. I’ll always cherish our childhood memories together and our journey from sandlot baseball to Tiger Stadium.”
Joe Walton - August 15
The head coach of the Jets in the 80s who led some of the best and worst teams in the franchise’s sordid history, and is most remembered for the chant from the stands of Giants Stadium “Joe Must Go,” died Sunday. He was 85.
Walton grew up in Beaver Falls, Pa., the same hometown of the Jets’ greatest player, Joe Willie Namath. Walton coached the Jets from 1983 to 1989, winning 11 games in 1985 and 1o in 86, with the help of The New York Sack Exchange, a feared four-man front led my Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko.
But Walton only recorded one other season over .500, when the Jets finished 8-7-1 in ’88. A year later, Walton’s Jets won just 4 games, as the “Joe Must Go” chants engulfed him, leading to his firing at season’s end. Walton’s Jets head coaching career ended with a 53-57-1 record.
Walton eventually found a new life as head coach at Robert Morris, creating a program he would coach for 20 years, compiling a 115–92–1 record, winning six conference titles. And in 2005, Robert Morris opened Joe Walton Stadium.
Walton spent seven years as a player in the NFL with the Giants and Washington.
Tony Esposito - August 11
Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito died Tuesday night, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. He was 78. The legendary goalie, who played 15 of his 16 years for the Chicago Blackhawks, won three Vezina Trophies.
He began his career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1968-69 but Chicago obtained him for $25,000. Esposito, the younger brother of Bruins goal-scoring king Phil Esposito, won the Calder and Vezina Trophies in his first season with the ’Hawks, posting a team record 15 shutouts. Competing against the likes of Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent, he also won the Vezina in 1971-72 and 1973-74. He finished with 423 wins, 10th all time.
A statement from Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz called him “one of the most important and popular figures in team history.
The statement read:
He was tireless, reliable and a great teammate. If you were a new player in Chicago, Tony and Marilyn always made you feel welcome and comfortable. Rookies were invited to their home for countless dinners, and when the Espositos held their annual Christmas party, everybody associated with the Blackhawks was there. Everybody, whether you were an established veteran or an awed rookie.
Esposito was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, joining his brother. In 2017, he was named one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history.
Bobby Bowden - August 8
Legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden has passed away at the age of 91. In July, it was announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Bowden is most known for his successful run as the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles, which helped make him the second-winningest football coach in Division One history, behind Joe Paterno. Bowden was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. His son, Terry Bowden, confirmed to the AP that Bowden died at home in Tallahassee, Fla., surrounded by his family.
J.R. Richard - August 4
J.R. Richard, whose brilliant career was cut short due to a stroke at age 30, died on Wednesday, according to MLB. He was 71.
Richard stood 6-foot-8, a strapping 222 pounds at his peak. He was armed with an overpowering fastball, reportedly 100 mph and a 94 mph slider, and he was wild enough to make every at-bat uncomfortable. Richard led the National League in strikeouts with 303 in 1978 and 313 in 1979. Before 1980, the Houston Astros signed Nolan Ryan to team up with Richard.
It was Richard, not the legendary Ryan, who was more dominant in 1980. Richard was on his way to a Cy Young caliber season, going 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA. He was chosen to be the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game. He suffered a stroke three weeks later.
In his 10-year career, all with the Astros, he went 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA.
Bobby Eaton - August 4
Chances are, if you’ve ever watched wrestling, you’ve seen a tag team match.
And a big reason for the popularity boom of tag team wrestling resulted from the 1980s, in which the Midnight Express played an integral part of. The Midnight Express originally debuted in the early 1980s with Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose, later joined by Norvell Austin. But in 1983, debuting in the famed Mid-South territory, the Midnight Express began to embark on their greatest run, which specifically featured Condrey and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, later Eaton and Stan Lee, while managed by Jim Cornette. Eaton passed away Wednesday. He was 62.
The cause of his death is not yet revealed, but his sister Debbie Eaton Lewis confirmed the news on Facebook. Many staples of the wrestling community emerged to tribute Eaton after his passing, including the National Wrestling Alliance and Ric Flair, who called the Midnight Express “one of the greatest tag teams in the history of the business.”
The Condrey and Eaton run led to great success in the 1980s, where the Midnight Express became NWA World Tag Team Champions, two-time Mid-South Tag Team Champions, and were the NWA American Tag Team Champions in World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas. They were named the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Tag Team of the Year in 1986, were inducted (with Rose) into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2019, and were named the 21st best tag team of the PWI Years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2003. Eaton and Lane were 32nd on that same list, and they also won tag team of the year by the Observer in 1987 and 1988. The Midnight Express is also widely known for their feud with the Rock n’ Roll Express, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson.
As recently as this year, The Rock and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, endorsed the Midnight Express for the WWE Hall of Fame, which Cornette reacted to.
Dick Tidrow - July 10
Dick Tidrow, a two-time World Series champion as a reliever for the Yankees, died on July 10, at the age of 74. Nicknamed “Dirt” because of his tendency to get his uniform messy, even though he was a pitcher, Tidrow pitched in 620 games over 13 seasons, starting with Cleveland before going on to become one of just four players to appear for both New York teams and both Chicago teams (David Aardsma, Lance Johnson, and Charley Smith are the others). Tidrow, known for his Fu Manchu mustache and extraordinarily high leg kick, won 100 games and posted 55 saves.
After his playing career, which included titles with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, leading the majors in appearances for the 1980 Cubs, and an ALCS appearance with the 1983 White Sox, Tidrow became a Yankees scout, then joined Brian Sabean in the Giants’ front office, helping to build San Francisco’s dynasty of the early 2010s, with three World Series wins in five years.
Matīss Kivlenieks - July 4
Matīss Kivlenieks, a goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets, died Sunday night from chest trauma suffered from an errant “fireworks mortar blast,” according to an autopsy in Oakland County, Michigan.
Police say the fireworks tilted and shot towards people on Sunday night. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub with others and tried to evade the blast.
It took responders less than five minutes to arrive at the scene after receiving a 911 call. Kivlenieks was rushed to a local hospital, where he was soon pronounced dead.
Kivlenieks was just 24 years old.
Earlier this morning, though, the accident was thought to be an apparent head injury.
Before the autopsy revealed the chest trauma, Police said the NHL player was believed to have slipped and fallen on concrete while running from fireworks.
In a statement, the Blue Jackets called Kivlenieks death a “tragic accident.”
The Riga, Latvia native signed with Columbus in 2017. That year, he was also named the 2017 USHL Player of the Year.
Kivlenieks first game in the NHL was January 19, 2020, in Madison Square Garden. There, he stopped 31 of 32 shots and helped Columbus beat the Rangers 2 to 1. The young goaltender finished his NHL career with a 2-2-2 record, 3.09 goals-against average, and an .899 save percentage.
“We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matīss Kivlenieks, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his mother, Astrida, his family and friends during this devastating time,” Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said. “Kivi was an outstanding young man who greeted every day and everyone with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten.”
“Life is so precious and can be so fragile,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen wrote in a tweet. “Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”
Tom Kurvers - June 21
Tom Kurvers, the 1984 Hobey Baker Award winner as the NCAA’s top hockey player and a Stanley Cup champion with the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, died on June 21, two years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 58.
A seventh-round pick out of high school in 1981, Kurvers played four years at Minnesota-Duluth and became a star at the collegiate level, winning the Hobey Baker his final season. He finished 11th in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1984-85 after posting 45 points in 75 games as a defenseman for Montreal. The following season, Kurvers tallied seven goals with 23 assists in 62 games, but did not appear in any postseason games during the Habs’ playoff run.
Kurvers, who also played for the Devils, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Canucks, and Mighty Ducks before wrapping up his career with one season in Japan, got his communications degree from Duluth in 1991 and spent a season doing radio commentary for the Phoenix Coyotes, for whom he then became a scout. Kurvers also worked in the Lightning and Wild front offices, including a stint as interim GM for Tampa Bay in 2009-10.
Milkha Singh — June 18
Milkha Singh, one of India’s most legendary athletes, passed away on Friday night due to complications from the coronavirus.
He was 91.
Singh, known as the “Flying Sikh,” was an Indian sprinter who represented the nation in three summer Olympics: 1956 in Melbourne, 1960 in Rome, and 1964 in Tokyo. He won multiple gold medals at the Asian Games and the National Games of India. He was also the first Indian athlete to win gold at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1958.
For his spotting achievements, Singh was awarded the Padma Shri — one of the highest civilian awards in the country.
Singh was married to Nirmal Kaur, once a captain of India’s national volleyball team. She also died of COVID a few days before her husband.
Long before sprinting, Singh was born in a village in undivided India — now Pakistan. In his early years, he watched his parents and siblings die in a mob attack during the Partition of British India. Singh managed to escape by fleeing into the jungle. There, he found a train to take him to New Delhi. He later joined the Indian Army, where he learned about track and field.
In 2013, Singh’s life story was brought to screen in the hit Bollywood film, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, whose title translates to “Run Milkha Run.”
Sang Ho Baek - June 12
Sang Ho Baek, a college pitcher at George Mason University, died after complications due to ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, otherwise known as Tommy John surgery. That’s according to a GoFundMe page created for Baek by one of his teammates.
“After battling through injuries throughout the season, Sang required Tommy John surgery,” the page stated. “He suddenly passed away due to complications with his surgery. As a team, we are all mourning his passing.”
Baek’s father, Seong Han Baek, said that his son went in for the fairly common surgery for baseball pitchers on June 8. Baek died on Saturday, June 12. He had recently completed his freshman year of college.
“Our family is devastated and we want answers to why our healthy son would die so suddenly after routine surgery,” Seong Han Baek said.
“We are devastated by the passing of Sang,” George Mason baseball head coach Bill Brown said in a statement a day after Baek died. “Sang was an incredible teammate who was loved by everyone associated with Mason baseball. He will be missed and forever cherished in our hearts. Right now, our thoughts are with Sang’s family at this unbearably difficult time.”
“Sang embodied everything you would want from a student-athlete,” George Mason Assistant Vice President/Director of Athletics Brad Edwards added. “He was an excellent student, dedicated teammate and friend to so many. We are committed to providing support and resources to Sang’s teammates and all those in the Mason family who loved him.”
This season, the freshman appeared in seven games for the George Mason Patriots. He made his collegiate debut on March 12 against UMBC. Before his tragically short college career, Beak helped James M. Bennett High School baseball team win the 2019 3A Maryland State Championship.
Sang Ho Baek was just 20 years old.
Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant - June 12
Jim “Mudcat” Grant, a trailblazing pitcher who reached stardom with the Minnesota Twins, has died at age 85, according to Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame.
Grant pitched seven seasons with Cleveland before moving on to Minnesota, where he became the first Black pitcher to win 20 games in the American League. His 21-7 season in 1965 helped the Twins to their first World Series, and he became the first Black AL pitcher to win a World Series game, although the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Grant later formed an exclusive club dubbed the Black Aces for the African American (and, in the case of Fergie Jenkins, Canadian) pitchers who won 20 games in a season. The members are Don Newcombe, Sam Jones, Earl Wilson, Al Downing, Bob Gibson, Vida Blue, Jenkins, J.R. Richard, Mike Norris, Dave Stewart, Doc Gooden, Dontrelle Willis, David Price and CC Sabathia.
Grant pitched 14 seasons in the majors with seven teams, winning 148 while losing 119, with an ERA of 3.63.
Jim Fassel - June 7
Jim Fassel, the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1997, died of a heart attack while under sedation at a Las Vegas Hospital. He was 71.
After playing a few years pro football in the 1970s, Fassel transitioned to a job on the sidelines. His first gig was an assistant position with the Hawaiians (World Football League). He worked his way up the college ranks, coaching offense and specialty positions like quarterback, receiver, and running back.
His first head coaching position was with the University of Utah from 1985 to 1989. Then, he moved to the NFL.
After years as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for various teams, Fassel took over as head coach for the New York Giants. In his first of seven seasons, he was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. During his tenure, he achieved a 58-53-1 NFL head coaching record.
Later, Fassel would coach the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League. The team won two, back-to-back championships during his time.
Mark Eaton - May 29
Mark Eaton has died at age 64, the Utah Jazz confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune Saturday morning.
Eaton was one of the O.G. defensive specialists in NBA big-man lore. In 1985, he became the first center to win Defensive Player of the Year (in its third season as an official award) and was the first big man to repeat the feat in the 1988-89 season. The 7-foot-4 California native is the league’s all-time shot blocker per game (3.5) and also stands fourth in total blocked shots (a category he led the league in four different times) with 3,064. He was also named to an All-Defensive Team five consecutive years from 1985-1989.
Eaton spent his entire 1982-1993 career with the Utah Jazz, who selected him in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft. The UCLA alum averaged 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds through his career, and started beside Karl Malone and John Stockton on the 1991-92 Jazz team that made the Western Conference Finals.
KUTV-2 reported that Eaton had gone for a bike ride Friday evening and did not return home. No foul play was suspected, but a cause of death was not immediately determined.
Lee Evans - May 19
American speedster Lee Evans, who won two golds and set world records at the racially-charged 1968 Mexico City Games, died Wednesday in a Nigerian hospital after suffering a stroke. He was 74.
Evans ran the fastest 400M time in history in Mexico City, breaking the 44-second barrier with a time of 43.86, a record that stood for 20 years. He won a second gold anchoring the 1,600-meter relay, setting another record.
But what Evans will be most remembered for is his involvement in the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which, after seeking a boycott of the Games, used the Mexico City Games to raise awareness to the mistreatment of Blacks in America.
Prior to winning the 400M, two of Evans’ fellow members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem while on the medal stand, as a means to protest the violence and discrimination Blacks were subject to in the U.S.
Smith and Caros were derided by the press and sent home by the International Olympic Committee.
Evans wore a black beret — a clear tribute to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense — onto the medal stand, along with fellow Black American sprinters Larry James (silver) and Ron Freeman (bronze). The three men removed their berets during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. After the anthem, Evans raised a fist and smiled.
Likely due to the fact that he removed his berets during the anthem, Evans was not punished by the IOC and later competed in the 1600M Relay.
“I feel I won this gold medal for Black people in the United States and Black people all over the world.”
Evans attended San Jose State University, a hotbed of track talent in the 1960s that also featured Smith and Carlos. After Mexico City he coached track for many years in the States and in Africa.
Rennie Stennett - May 18
Rennie Stennett, a smooth-fielding second baseman who played nine years for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died Tuesday in Coconut Creek, Fla., following a battle with cancer, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He was 72.
Born in Panama, Stennett was a rookie in 1971 and was part of the first all non-white lineup in major league history on Sept. 1. The Pirates, led by Roberto Clemente, would win the World Series that year.
Four years later, Sept. 16, 1975, Stennett became the only 20th century player to have seven hits in seven at-bats in a nine-inning game. The Pirates won that game, 22—0, over the Cubs.
In 1977, Stennett was having a career year, hitting .336, when he broke his leg while sliding into second. He missed the rest of the season. He was never the same hiitter after that, batting between .230 and .244. Stennett remained a fine fielder, and was part of the 1979 “We Are Family” team that won the World Series. Stennett got a hit in his only World Series at-bat. Another member of that team, Grant Jackson, died earlier this year.
Stennett finished his career playing two seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
Geno Hayes - April 26
Geno Hayes, an NFL linebacker for seven seasons, passed away from liver disease. He was 33.
Hayes was diagnosed with the condition two years ago. And days before his death, he moved into hospice care at his parents home in Georgia. He also told ESPN he was on a waiting list for a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine.
In 2008, the Florida State standout was drafted to the Buccaneers in the sixth round. Hayes spent most of his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But after his four years in Tampa, he had a year long stint in Chicago, then finished his career in Jacksonville.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, the Bucs wrote:
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Geno Hayes’ passing. During his time with the Buccaneers, Geno was a beloved teammate and often the first player to volunteer his time to our efforts in the community. He frequently visited schools and had a remarkable ability to connect with children. Losing him at such a young age is heartbreaking. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Terrence Clarke - April 22
Kentucky freshman guard Terrence Clarke, who recently declared for the NBA draft, died in a car accident in Los Angeles on Thursday night. He had just finished a workout with Wildcats teammate BJ Boston, who was in a car behind him. Clarke was just 19 years old.
“We are stunned by this sudden, heartbreaking tragedy,” said Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart in a statement posted to the university’s website. “Terrence was a young man who was so full of life and so full of promise. We hurt and grieve with his family, his friends, and his teammates and coaches, and our prayers are with all of them in this unimaginable loss.”
Luke Ratliff - April 2
Luke Ratliff was an Alabama student and men’s basketball superfan known around campus as “Fluffopotamus.” Last week, he made the trip to Indianapolis to watch the Tide in the Sweet 16. Ratliff was in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday for the game. After UCLA pulled off the upset that night, he returned to Tuscaloosa the following day. Later in the week, he was hospitalized and died of complications related to COVID-19. He was only 23.
“He had a personality that was bigger than this world, never met a stranger,” Ratliff’s mother told the New York Times on Saturday.
Howard Schnellenberger - March 27
Legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger died on March 27 at the age of 87, his family announced.
Schnellenberger was an All-American end at Kentucky in the 1950s, then quickly moved into coaching as an assistant at his alma mater. He moved to Alabama in 1961 and became offensive coordinator under Bear Bryant, recruiting Joe Namath to the Crimson Tide and winning three national championships before moving to the NFL to become an assistant coach with the Rams.
After serving as the offensive coordinator for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, Schnellenberger got his first head coaching job, with the Baltimore Colts. While that didn’t work out, Schnellenberger did become a wildly successful college coach at Miami, where he mined local talent en route to winning the national championship in 1983. Schnellenberger also coached Oklahoma and Louisville, then built the program at Florida Atlantic from the ground up — the Owls’ stadium is now named in his honor.
Dr. Bobby Brown - March 25
The last living member of the 1947 World Series champion Yankees, Dr. Bobby Brown died on March 25 at the age of 96, in Fort Worth, Texas.
A third baseman who hit .279 over eight major league seasons — and .439 in four World Series with the Yankees, all of which the Bronx Bombers won — Brown was best known in baseball as the president of the American League in the 1980s.
Calling Brown “Doctor” wasn’t just an honorific, he was a cardiologist who started saving lives even before he was a doctor. In 1943, Brown and fellow Stanford student Robert McClean swam from the California beach to save the life of Coast Guard Radioman Henry Kind, who survived a plane crash that killed Navy pilot Dale Burroughs during an anti-submarine reconnaissance mission.
Brown continued to appear at Yankee Stadium for Old Timers Days through 2019, always receiving a warm welcome as a Yankee and American hero.
Mike Bell - March 26
Mike Bell, the bench coach of the Minnesota Twins and a third-generation major league player along with his brother David, died on March 26, two months after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Bell, 46, a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 1993, made it to the majors in 2000 with the Reds and played for several organizations before joining the Diamondbacks’ player development staff after his playing career. He became the Twins’ bench coach in 2020.
Oscar Frayer - March 23
Three days after playing for Grand Canyon University in the Antelopes’ first-ever NCAA Tournament game, Oscar Frayer was on his way home to visit family in California on March 23 when he was one of three people who died in a car crash on Interstate 5. Frayer, who was 23, had finished his studies at Grand Canyon and was set to graduate with a degree in communications in April.
Elgin Baylor - March 22
From Minneapolis to Los Angeles – Elgin Baylor, a Hall of Famer yet still one of the most underrated players in NBA history, died Monday of natural causes, the team announced alongside a statement from his family. He was 86.
Playing during the same era as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Baylor is often overlooked. He never won an MVP, nor did he win a championship, but his career averages of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game puts him in the conversation of all-time greatness. Baylor is 3rd all-time in points per game behind only Michael Jordan and Chamberlain, and is 10th all-time in rebounds per game. He is one of only three players to be in the top-10 in both categories.
Baylor’s number 22 is retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and a statue for the legend stands outside the Staples Center.
Marvin Hagler - March 13
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, who spent eight years as the world middleweight champion, died on March 13. He was 66 and had not been known to be ill — in announcing his death, Hagler’s wife Kay wrote on Facebook that he died “unexpectedly.”
Hagler was 62-3-2 in his professional career, with 52 knockouts, and was named Boxing Illustrated’s Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s.
Hagler claimed the middleweight belt with a TKO of Alan Minter on September 27, 1980, in London, then made 12 successful title defenses over the next five and a half years, most memorably a unanimous 15-round decision over Roberto Durán and a TKO of Thomas Hearns.
When Hagler finally lost, it was a controversial split decision to Sugar Ray Leonard, and Hagler never got a rematch. Hagler went 11 years between his previous loss, to Willie Monroe in 1976, and the Leonard fight, which marked the end of his career.
After his boxing career, Hagler became an action movie star in Italy. He was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walter Gretzky - March 4
Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, died on Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson’s. He was 82.
Wayne Gretzky announced his passing late last night on Twitter.
“For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey,” he said. “He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey but in life. We will miss him so much, but know that he’s back with our mom and that brings me and my family peace.”
Although he never played professionally, Walter Gretzky is credited with teaching his son the finer points of the game, particularly in anticipating the play. He also helped the future “Great One” meet and develop what would be a lifelong relationship with hockey legend Gordie Howe.
Irv Cross - February 28
Irv Cross who became a fixture in American living rooms each football Sunday for 15 years on The NFL Today has died. He was 81.
Cross spent nine years in the NFL playing cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, twice named to the Pro Bowl. But it was his switch to TV and CBS where Cross became an integral part of the network’s popular pregame show as co-anchor — the first black anchor in the network’s history — along with Brent Musburger.
“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’ passing,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with THE NFL TODAY. He was a true gentleman and a trailblazer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed.”
Cross greeted football fans each Sunday morning during football season from 1975 to 1989, providing analysis and insight on the day’s games.
Musburger released a statement via the Eagles.
“I’ve been around all kinds of people, from every walk of life. I don’t know that I could give you one person who was nicer than Irv Cross. He was a constant gentleman.”
In 2009 he was presented with the Pete Rozelle Radio-Televsion Award for his contribution to the NFL.
Juan Pizarro - February 18
Juan Pizarro, perhaps the greatest Puerto Rican pitcher in MLB history, died on Thursday night of cancer, according to ESPN Deportes. He was 84.
Pizarro, a left-hander with a blazing fastball, broke into professional baseball in 1955 in Puerto Rico, the same year his countryman Roberto Clemente made his MLB debut with the Pirates. He was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956, and joined them in 1957 as a 20-year-old rookie. The Braves won the World Series that year, the only championship of his and teammate Hank Aaron’s careers.
After 1960, the Braves traded Pizarro and pitcher Joey Jay to the Cincinnati Reds for 31-year-old shortstop Roy McMillan. That trade may have kept the Braves from winning another title with Aaron as McMillan, a brilliant fielder but weak hitter, batted just .237 in four years with the Braves and Jay became a two-time 20-game winner. Pizarro, however, was traded to the Chicago White Sox without pitching an inning for the Reds. He blossomed in Chicago, going 14-7 and leading the league in strikeouts per inning. He was an All-Star in 1963 and 1964, going 16-8 with a 2.39 ERA and 19-9 with a 2.56 ERA, respectively.
Pizarro also pitched for Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs, Oakland and Houston, finishing his career in 1974 with a 131-105 record, a 3.43 ERA and 1,522 strikeouts.
For his entire professional career, Pizarro won 392 games: 66 in the minors, 38 in Mexico and 157 in Puerto Rico while playing winter ball. He is a member of the Caribbean Confederation and Puerto Rican Hall of Fames.
Vincent Jackson - February 15
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson was found dead at a Homewood Suites hotel in Brandon, Florida on February 15th. He was 38 years old.
Jackson was a big-body wide receiver and one of the best downfield threats in the game during his prime, being named to the Pro Bowl three times in a four-year period. Not including an injury-shortened 2010 season, Jackson amassed six straight 1,000+ receiving yard seasons in his 12-year career.
Off the field, Jackson founded the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, created to provide support to military families, focusing on the education, emotional, and physical health for the children of military personnel. Jackson and his wife Lindsey wrote three children’s books designed to help kids and their parents cope with the emotional issues of deployment. The foundation also held youth camps, scholarships, baby showers for military moms, and much more.
Jackson leaves behind his wife and four children.
Marty Schottenheimer - February 8
Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer died on Monday, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Schottenheimer, who had been battling Alzheimer’s for years, had been moved to hospice earlier this month. He was 77.
Schottenheimer coached in the NFL for 21 years, compiling a 200-126-1 record. His 200 regular-seasons wins ranks him seventh all-time. He had stints with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington, and the San Diego Chargers.
While he never coached in the Super Bowl, Schottenheimer coached in the AFC Championship Game three times. He was victimized by John Elway twice, losing heartbreaking games remembered for The Drive (1987, Elway drove 98 yards on 15 plays) and The Fumble (1988, Ernest Byner fumbled at the 1-yard line while trying to score a potential tying touchdown).
Schottenheimer, who played linebacker in the AFL for the Buffalo Bills and the Boston Patriots, retired from coaching in 2006 season after leading the Chargers to a 14-2 record, the best mark of his career. His son, Brian, recently agreed to become the passing-game coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tom Konchalski - February 8
Legendary basketball scout and New York City native Tom Konchalski passed away at 74 due to cancer on Monday, according to his family and friends. Konchalski’s sizeable contribution to grassroots basketball began in the northeast but rippled nationally as his reputation grew for being one of the art form’s foremost authorities at the high school level. The basketball world collectively expressed a great deal of sadness at Konchalski’s passing, beginning with many folks connected to New York City basketball and extending to national individuals deeply connected to the sport. If you watched a documentary about a New York City-raised basketball talent, chances are, the producers and documentarians sought out Konchalski’s perspective. And if you were in the same room, gymnasium, or arena as Konchalski, you knew you were in the right place. Konchalski peacefully passed away at the Cavalry Hospital in the Bronx. Per Adam Zagoria’s feature in Forbes, Konchalski is survived by his older brother Steve, his wife, Charlene, and their three adult children, Chris, Julianne, and Maria.
Pedro Gomez - February 7
Longtime ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez died unexpectedly at his home Sunday. He was 58.
Gomez covered baseball for countless shows on ESPN, including SportsCenter and of course its Baseball Tonight broadcasts. According to ESPN, he covered over 25 World Series and over 20 All-Star Games. Gomez was instrumental in ESPN’s coverage of Barry Bonds and his assault on Hank Aaron’s home-run record.
Gomez is survived by his wife, Sandra, his sons Rio and Dante, and daughter Sierra.
“Pedro was far more than a media personality. He was a Dad, loving husband, loyal friend, coach and mentor,” the Gomez family said in a statement. “He was our everything and his kids’ biggest believer. He died unexpectedly at home this afternoon.”
ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro released a statement on Gomez’s passing.
“We are shocked and saddened to learn that our friend and colleague Pedro Gomez has passed away,” said Pitaro. “Pedro was an elite journalist at the highest level and his professional accomplishments are universally recognized. More importantly, Pedro was a kind, dear friend to us all. Our hearts are with Pedro’s family and all who love him at this extraordinarily difficult time.”
Before joining the World Wide Leader, Gomez wrote for the Miami News, the San Diego Union, the San Jose Mercury News, the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee.
Gomez’s son Rio pitches in the Boston Red Sox organization.
Leon Spinks — February 5
Leon Spinks, who won the Olympic gold medal as a light heavyweight in 1976, then upset Muhammad Ali in a split decision to become the undisputed world heavyweight champion in 1978, died on February 5 after a years-long battle with multiple cancers.
Born in St. Louis, Spinks served in the Marines, which is where he took up boxing. After leaving the service, he won back-to-back-to-back AAU national titles as a light heavyweight, leading up to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. There, Spinks dominated, winning one match by first-round knockout, his next three by unanimous decision, and the gold-medal bout against Cuba’s Sixto Soria on a third-round referee stoppage.
Two years later, the 24-year-old Spinks stunned Ali, who had just turned 35 and did not know what he was in for against a man in his eighth professional fight. Spinks decided to forego a bout with Ken Norton for the WBA title in order to have a rematch with Ali, which he lost by unanimous decision. Spinks boxed into the 1990s, but never enjoyed the same level of success. Then again, he didn’t have to: he was responsible for one of the only five losses that Ali suffered in his entire career.
Spinks and his younger brother Michael became the first siblings to be world heavyweight champions when Michael garnered the belt in 1985. They were later matched by the Klitschko brothers.
Butch Reed - February 5
Professional wrestling legend Butch Reed passed away at age 66 on Friday. A statement was released through his official Instagram page, confirming that Reed’s death was due to heart complications.
Following a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970’s, Reed turned to professional wrestling, where he became a staple during the 1980’s in Mid-South Wrestling, the then World Wrestling Federation, and NWA World Championship Wrestling (which became WCW in 1991). Reed was a three-time Mid-South North American Heavyweight Champion and co-starred on a tag team with Ron Simmons, named Doom. While managed by Teddy Long in 1990, the team became NWA World Tag Team Champions that May, defeating the Steiner Brothers (Scott and Rick) before dropping the titles to Fabolous Freebirds at WrestleWar 1991. It was during Doom’s run that the titles were renamed to the WCW Tag Team Championships, making them the first tag team titlists of the post-NWA era.
Former WWE Champion and one-half of the APA (along with Simmons) John Bradshaw Layfield offered his respects of Reed and Doom.
Reed is also known for the monikers of “Hacksaw” Butch Reed in the NWA, as well as “The Natural” Butch Reed during the then WWF. He was also the third entrant in the first-ever Royal Rumble held in 1988, where he was the first wrestler eliminated in the match. Throughout his career, he famously feuded with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Magnum T.A., The Honky Tonk Man, Junkyard Dog, Simmons, and Koko B. Ware, whom he defeated at WrestleMania III, his pay per view debut.
Grant Jackson - February 2
Grant Jackson, a lefthander who pitched in the majors for 18 years, died on Tuesday night due to complications from COVID-19. He was 78.
Jackson was an All-Star as a starting pitcher for the Phillies in 1969, but he spent most of his career as a reliever. As a member of the 1979 “We Are Fam-a-lee” Pittsburgh Pirates, he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series.
Jackson’s former teammate and friend Omar Moreno shared the news of his passing on Twitter.
“This pandemic has affected every family throughout our community, and the Pirates family is no different,” a statement from Pirates president Travis Williams said. “As the winning pitcher for the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, Grant was a World Series champion and All-Star, who remained dedicated to the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh since his retirement in 1982. He was an active board member of our Alumni Association who was always willing to help make an impact in our community. More so than any on-field accomplishment, Grant was a proud family man. Our sincere condolences and support go to his wife Millie [Milagro], his children Debra, Yolanda and Grant Jr., as well as his 10 grandchildren. He will be missed.”
John Chaney - January 29
Multiple sources have confirmed that legendary Temple basketball coach John Chaney died at age 89.
Chaney coached at Temple for 24 years, posting a 516-253 record. Previously he coached 10 years at Cheyney State, winning a Division II national title in 1978. He finished with 741 career wins, and became the first Black coach to win 700 NCAA games. He led the Owls to eight regular-season Atlantic 10 titles and six A-10 tournament titles
He took Temple to the NCAA Tournament 17 times, making the Elite Eight five times. His Owls were the top-ranked team in the country heading into the 1988 NCAA Tournament, but he never reached a Final Four.
Known for being tough and demanding, Chaney infamously threatened to kill John Calipari at a press conference in 1994, after accusing the then-Massachusetts-Amherst coach of influencing referees. The two later reconciled.
Chaney is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted in 2001) and College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006).
Sekou Smith - January 26
Longtime and beloved NBA journalist Sekou Smith passed away Tuesday after a battle with COVID-19. He was just 48 years old.
A member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Smith covered the NBA as an analyst for NBA TV.
“The NBA mourns the passing of Sekou Smith, a beloved member of the NBA family,” the league said in a statement. “Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league.”
Said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, “I’m just devastated. Crushing news. Sekou has been part of the NBA family for a long time...Just another awful day and we’re all so saddened.”
Smith graduated from the HBCU Jackson State University in 1997 and began reporting on the NBA, first covering the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star and then the Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He later switched to TV at Turner Sports working as an analyst for NBA TV.
Smith is survived by his wife Heather and three children.
Hank Aaron - January 22
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer and man many consider to still be the home run king, passed away at 86.
Few players have left a larger mark on the game of baseball.
Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934. After stints in the Negro Leagues and minor leagues, Aaron made his MLB debut with the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1954. His MLB career started with mediocre production – a .280 average with 13 home runs. Three years later, Aaron had ascended to the best in the game. In 1957, Aaron hit .328, with 44 home runs and 132 RBI.
Over his 23-year career, Aaron averaged 31 home runs per season, with eight seasons over 40. In his third-to-last season in the major leagues, Aaron left his indelible mark on the game.
On April 8, 1974, after battling months of attacks from racists sending him death threats, Aaron took a 1-0 pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing deep to left field, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-time record of 714 career home runs.
He finished his career with 755 home runs, a record that would stand for decades until the steroid era and Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
Ted Thompson - January 20
Former Packers GM Ted Thompson, who drafted Aaron Rodgers and helped build the team that won the historic franchise’s fourth, and most recent Super Bowl title, died Wednesday. He was 68.
Thompson not only led the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV title, he also presided over the transition from Hall-of-Fame quarterback Brett Favre to future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Rodgers, ending with Thompson trading Favre to the New York Jets in 2008.
The decision to draft Rodgers with the 24th pick of the 2005 first round was a controversial one to be sure, with Favre still productive, having led the Packers to the postseason after a 10-6 record. A gutsy call that paid off with a Super Bowl.
“I’m really thankful for Ted. The fact that I was his first draft pick will always link us together,” Rodgers said of Thompson. “I always appreciated his steady hand and the conversations that we would have. He always made things pretty clear about what he expected from the team and what he expected from me.”
Don Sutton - January 18
Baseball Hall of Famer Don Sutton died on Monday night, the Atlanta journal Constitution reported. He was 75.
Sutton won 324 games, 14th in history, in a 23-year career that started in 1966 with the Dodgers. His death comes a little more than three weeks after fellow 300-game winner Phil Niekro died, and 10 days after his former manager Tommy Lasorda. Sutton pitched 16 seasons for the Dodgers and is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, innings pitched, starts, strikeouts and shutouts, ahead of such superstar pitchers as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela and Clayton Kershaw. He also pitched for the Astros, Brewers, Angels and A’s.
After his playing career, Sutton worked in broadcasting for almost 30 years, most of them with the Atlanta Braves, his calls broadcast to the nation on Ted Turner’s TBS.
Tommy Lasorda - January 7
Tommy Lasorda, a Hall of Fame manager and one of baseball’s legendary characters who bled Dodger blue through and through, died at age 93.
The Dodgers, whom Lasorda pitched for in Brooklyn and managed to World Series wins in 1981 and 1988, announced the icon’s death on Friday. Lasorda died on Thursday night of a sudden heart attack. His record as Dodgers manager: 1599-1439 and won his division eight times.
Beyond his triumphs on the field, Lasorda will be remembered for a lot of comedy in baseball, some stemming from his own anger, like his protest of a non-call of interference on Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series.
Paul Westphal - January 2
Paul Westphal won an NBA title as a player for the Celtics in 1974 and an NAIA championship as coach of the Grand Canyon Antelopes in 1988. But he will be forever known for what he did with the Suns.
It was in Phoenix that Westphal helped the Suns reach their first NBA Finals in 1976, then was a three-time first team All-NBA guard, over the next four seasons, as well as winning the first All-Star HORSE contest in 1978.
A college All-American at USC, Westphal’s pro career also included stops with the SuperSonics and Knicks. After retiring as a player, Westphal started coaching at Southwestern Baptist Bible College, then went to Grand Canyon before returning to the Suns as an assistant and eventually their head coach, winning the 1993 Western Conference title.
Westphal also coached the SuperSonics and Kings, as well as Pepperdine University and stints as an assistant with the Mavericks and, from 2014-16, the Nets. Westphal was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
Diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2020, Westphal died on January 2. He was 70.
Floyd Little - January 1
Floyd Little was the first real star the Denver Broncos ever had, joining a downtrodden AFL franchise after being a three-time All-American at Syracuse, and making five Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame career in the NFL from 1967-75.
Little had the honor of wearing the storied No. 44 at Syracuse, following in the footsteps of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis. He kept the number in Denver, where it’s retired for him alone. He received honorary doctorates from both Syracuse and the University of Denver, giving the commencement speech at the latter in 2019.
Sadly, Little was diagnosed with cancer, and after going public with that last May, he went into hospice care in November.
Little died on New Year’s Day. He was 78.