By: Greg Rector
This is a tribute to those in the world of sports who left us in this terrible year of 2020. May they not be forgotten. Rest In Power. Any omissions are unintended.
Jan 1st – David Stern (77) NBA Commissioner for 30 years 1984-2014. Led the league that was on the brink of collapse just a few years earlier to a global force.
Jan 1st- Don Larsen (90) Baseball. The only pitcher with a perfect game in the World Series 1956
Jan 9th- Pete Dye (94) Golf course architect TPC Sawgrass home of the Players Championship
Jan 26th- Kobe Bryant (41) 5 NBA Championships 2 Olympic Gold medals 18 time all-star NBA MVP 2 time NBA Finals MVP. The defining player of his generation beyond a shadow of a doubt. Died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 others.
February 15th- Tony Fernandez (57) Dominican baseball player Blue Jays, Padres, and Indians
March 17th- Roger Mayweather (58) Boxer and Trainer both a super featherweight and super lightweight world champion, he was even better known as the trainer for his nephew Floyd Mayweather Jr from 2000 to 2012.
March 29th – Jim Lambright (77) Former head coach for the University of Washington Huskies
April 1st- Ed Farmer (70) Baseball player and for nearly 30 years a broadcaster on Chicago White Sox radio broadcasts
April 4th- Tom Dempsey (73) Born without toes on his right foot Dempsey was a place-kicker for the Saints, Eagles, Bills, Oilers, and Rams. For 40 years he held the record for the longest field goal at 63 yards. He also was not a soccer-style kicker. The first former professional athlete of note to die from COVID-19.
April 6th – Al “Mr.Tiger,” Kaline (85) 22 seasons as a player, 27 seasons as the color commentator on Tiger TV broadcasts.
April 12th- Jim Frey (88) Baseball Manager Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs.
May 1st- Matt Keough (64) MLB pitcher Oakland A’s. New York Yankees, St.Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and the Chicago Cubs.
May 4th- Don Shula (90) Legendary NFL coach of the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins. Most career wins at 347. coached for 33 seasons overall. Two-time Super Bowl Champion VII and VIII. His Super Bowl VII team is also the only undefeated team in NFL history. Was the losing coach with Baltimore when the upstart New York Jets led by Joe Namath upset the establishment Colts in Super Bowl III. Coached from an era of run dominated football in the ’60s into the late 80″s aerial assault led teams of Dan Marino fame.
May 14th- Phyllis George (70) CBS NFL Today, Miss America 1971, George made history as the first woman to be featured on a pre-game studio show. She was the fore-runner for Erin, Michelle, Kristina, Suzy, and all the other female reporters now covering not just the NFL. but all professional sports leagues.
May 14th- Pepper Rogers (88) College football coach at Georgia Tech, Kansas, and UCLA.
May 14th- Bob Watson *74) MLB player Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves. He was the first black General Manager of a World Series champion in 1996 when the Yankees won the title.
May 22nd- Jerry Sloane (78) A legendary basketball coach with the Utah Jazz for 23 seasons, Sloane also had a very good career as a player on the Chicago Bulls for 11 seasons. Sloane’s Jazz teams went to two straight NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, running smack dab into the Bulls who were on their 2nd three year run of titles. Sloane’s first NBA head coaching job was with the Bulls pre Michael Jordan.
May 23rd – Eddie Sutton (84) NCAA basketball coach Creighton Bluejays, Arkansas Razorbacks, Kentucky Wildcats, and Oklahoma State Cowboys. Sutton coached for 37 years at the college level. A member of the NCAA “Gang of Eight.” the coaches who have amassed over 800 wins.
June 1st- Pat Dye (80) NCAA Football coach and athletic director East Carolina Pirates and Auburn Tigers.
June 3rd- Johnny Majors College Football Hall of Fame member won the SEC MVP in 1955 and 1956, the latter year finished second to Paul Hornung for the Heisman Trophy. Went on to coach at Iowa State, University of Pittsburgh, His alma mater Tennessee, and one final run back at Pitt. His Panthers led by future NFL great Tony Dorsett won the NCAA Championship in 1976 going 12-0.
June 20th – Jim Kiick (73) Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos. Played for Don Shula’s Dolphins teams that won back to back Super Bowl titles in 1973 and 1974. Paired with famed fullback Larry Csonka, the duo was known as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” (Paul Newman and Robert Redford 1969 Film)
July 25th – Lou Henson (88) NCAA Basketball coach at New Mexico and Illinois.
July 25th – Eddie “The Entertainer,” Shack (83) NHL player from 1957 to 1975. Eddie missed a lot of school as a child because of illnesses and subsequently was illiterate. He won 4 Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the ’60s including their last in 1967. Eddie was a tough customer but he had a “Gentleman’s Agreement,” with Mr.Hockey himself Gordie Howe, that they would not fight one another. So loved there was even a song recorded about Eddie called Clear The Track, Here Comes Shack. This passing was personal as he played Old-Timers hockey with my cousin Joe Carveth an NHL player in the ’40s and 50’s.
August 1st Ricky Dixon (53) NFL player Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
August 27th – Lute Olson (85) NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame coach Arizona Wildcats, Iowa Hawkeyes, Long Beach State won 1997 Final Four with Arizona.
August 29th – Clifford Robinson (53) Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers primarily. Power Forward who was NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1993
August 31st- Tom Seaver Hall of Fame Pitcher with the New York Mets (1969 Miracle Mets) The Cincinnati Reds (Big Red Machine of the 70’s) and the Chicago White Sox. A three-time Cy Young Award winner, he was a dominant pitcher for both the Mets and Reds. He passed from a combination of dementia and COVID-19.
September 6th – Lou Brock (81) Chicago Cubs and St.Louis Cardinals. Brock was a two time World Series champion in 1964 and 1967 with the Cardinals. An eight-time stolen base king in the National League as well.
September 22nd – Joe Lauranitis aka Road Warrior Animal (60) If you grew up in the 80’s Animal and Hawk were the most feared, dominant tag team of the era. Another of the group of wrestlers from Minnesota like Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, and so many others of that era. Father of former NFL linebacker James Laurinaitis.
September 23rd – Gale Sayers (77) Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back from 1965 to 1971. His career was cut short by a knee injury in the days before arthroscopic surgery. Sayers was known as ” The Kansas Comet.” If you want to see poetry in motion look up Sayers on YouTube. He was also famous for his close relationship with his teammate Brian Piccolo, they roomed together and Sayers was with Piccolo every step of the way during Brian’s losing fight with cancer. The television movie “Brians Song.” starring Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, and James Caan as Piccolo, is a must-see.
September 26th – Jay Johnstone (74) A journeyman outfielder Johnstone was on two World Series teams the 1978 Yankees and the 1981 Dodgers. He became better known after his playing days as the host of the sports blooper show The Lighter Side of Sports in the 80’s. He passed from COVID-19
October 2nd- Bob Gibson (84) For 17 seasons Gibson was one of the most feared pitchers in Major League Baseball, all with the St.Louis Cardinals. He like Lou Brock earlier was also on the two World Series teams in the 60’s a two-time Cy Young award winner as well. He passed on the 52nd anniversary of his Game one 17 strikeout performance against the Detroit Tigers in 1968.
October 8th – Whitey Ford (91) Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for 16 seasons all with the New York Yankees. He was a member of 6 World Series Championship teams, was a 10-time all-star, and won 1 Cy Young and a World Series MVP award both in 1961.
October 11th – Joe Morgan (77) Baseball Hall of Fame 2nd baseman for Houston Colt .45″s, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Oakland Athletics. He was also known for his many seasons as a broadcaster most notably paired with Jon Miller on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.
October 14th – Fred Dean (68) Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49’ers. Was a member of two Super Bowl championship teams with the 49’ers.
October 18th – Sid Hartman (100) A fixture in sports journalism in the Minneapolis – St.Paul area for decades Mr. Hartman also was way back in 1947 the assistant general manager for the then Minneapolis Lakers and is credited for helping to build the first dynasty in the NBA.
November 8th- Tom Heinsohn (86) Legendary NBA basketball, coach and broadcaster for the Boston Celtics.
November 13th- Paul “The Golden Boy,” Hornung (84) Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Notre Dame in 1956. Pro Football Hall of Fame running back for the Green Bay Packers. The first Heisman winner to be drafted 1st overall. The first man to be inducted into both the college and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
December 2nd – Pat Patterson (79) The first man in the professional wrestling business to be openly gay. Patterson also created The Royal Rumble match.
December 2nd – Rafer Johnson (86) Won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.
December 5th- Peter Alliss (89) British golfer and commentator. If you watched The Open from the 1970’s onward you will remember Alliss’ poetic commentary.
December 7th – Dick Allen (78) Major League player for 15 seasons, most notably with the Philadelphia Phillies. NL Rookie of the Year in 1964 and AL MVP in 1972.
December 13th – Pierre Lacroix (72) NHL General Manager Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche. When the Nordiques left Quebec City and moved to Colorado, Lacroix built the Avalanche into a two-time Stanley Cup-winning organization. He passed from COVID-19.
December 21st – Kevin Greene (58) Greene ranks 3rd on the NFL sacks list with 160. Played for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49’ers.
December 26th – Phil Niekro (81) MLP Pitcher known as “Knucksies.” The knuckleballer spent 20 of his 24 seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He had 121 victories after the age of 40. Inducted into Cooperstown in 1996.
This year has been hard for so many reasons, however looking back at the names listed here, may there be memories of these folks that bring a smile to your face.
REST IN PEACE AND THANK YOU FOR THE MEMORIES