So many greats gone, much hope gone. Last year, we said final farewells to hall-of-fame talents, iconic mentors, trailblazers and up-and-comers. This is a glimpse at certain sporting related fatalities from 2020. Some famous celebrities died young, including Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, while others, including Georgetown’s John Thompson, Auburn’s Pat Dye and CBS Sports’ Phyllis George, enjoyed good, storied lives. People died in many different circumstances. Some stood out as experts. Some became once-upon-a-time college greats. It was just getting started. Here’s to the sporting icons we’ve missed.
He is the best among any coach in NFL history. Nobody else guided an NFL squad to a flawless season. Nobody is Don Shula. From 1963-1995, the retired defensive back and coach captured 328 regular-season games and 19 postseason games, including back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Shula passed away on May 4. He was 90.
Gale Sayers would still be the “Kansas Comet,” a star running back from 1962-1964. For Bears supporters, he would still be the great who blazed his path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the basis of a 68-game resume. He is still recognized as a collaborator in the gridiron relationship that spawned the tale of Brian Piccolo and his fight with cancer. Halas said to Sayers, “There will never be another like him.” Sayers died Sept. 23. He was 77, and had been fighting dementia.
The great former Lakers player, who guided the Lakers to five NBA championships, died on Jan. 26. He was 41. Kobe Bryant retired from the game in 2016. He spent 20 seasons in the NBA: all of them with the Lakers.
Life can be humbling, also for golden boys. Paul Hornung was an all-around gridiron hero who earned the Heisman Trophy and the NFL MVP award as a part of the champion Green Bay Packers. He was subsequently banned for betting on sports, but went on to earn election into the hall of fame for his college and pro football achievements. He died Nov. 13 at age 84.
George Perles died Jan. 7 at age 85. He was a legend at Michigan University. He was a player, teacher, athletic director. He is regarded as a great defensive player, too.
After Bob Gibson’s historic 1968 season, in which he permitted only 38 earned runs in 304.2 innings, MLB lowered the starting mound by five inches. Gibson himself could never be trimmed down to size. The Hall of Famer collected 251 games, two World Series rings, two Cy Young awards and a Major League MVP trophy in a 17-year tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals. He died Oct. 2 at the age of 84.
Curly Neal was a hallmark member of the Harlem Globetrotters for years. He died March 26. He was 77. Neal’s No. 22 jersey was discontinued by the Globetrotters in 2008.
Phyllis George’s big TV career began when she earned the Miss America crown; she left her mark when she entered the TV pregame show “The NFL Today,” in 1974. Her major TV career ended when she died of a blood disease at age 70.
Pat Dye died at 80. The former Auburn coach had been hospitalized for lingering kidney issues for several weeks and was diagnosed with COVID-19 with asymptomatic symptoms. He had been hospitalized in Atlanta but was recently transported back to the Auburn area to be closer to his loved ones.
Tom Seaver had Lewy body dementia then COVID-19. Tom Seaver completed 311 games, punched out 3,640, and won three Cy Young honors. The Baseball Hall of Fame-honored pitcher died Aug. 31 of complications. He was 75.
A world-famous soccer hero from Argentina guided his countrymen to two consecutive World Cup finals, including the 1986 title. His legend was based on events such as the “Hand of God” goal from the 1986 World Cup run. He died Nov. 25 in Argentina at age 60.
Patterson was also a visionary in the world of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), the precursor of today’s WWE. The first WWE Intercontinental Champion, Patterson was renowned for his controversial battle with Sgt. Slaughter in the ring at Madison Square Garden in 1981.
Joe Morgan was 5’7″. He was the MVP for the National League in the years 1975-1976. He won the World Series for the Reds. He played for 2 franchises, one in San Francisco and one in Houston. After his Hall of Fame playing days, he served as an MLB analyst. He died on Oct. 11, 2015 at age 77.
John Thompson was a towering figure in the history of college basketball. He became the first Black head coach of a men’s college basketball team to earn the NCAA championship. He also led the U.S. men’s basketball team to the bronze medal at the Olympics. He was on Georgetown’s staff from 1967-2002.
A walk-on at Auburn, he powered his way to the Tigers’ starting roster after spending the majority of his undergraduate career on the school’s Army ROTC intramural squad. In the 1985 NFL Draft, he was a fifth-round selection. He would go on to appear in three All-Pro seasons, earn the 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, and participate in six Pro Bowls. After a 15-year NFL career, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
The actor Chadwick Boseman portrayed Jackie Robinson differently than the real-life Jackie Robinson played himself in the movie 42. He played Vontae Mack in Draft Day (2014) and Black Panther (2018) too.
Tarvaris Jackson spent 10 years playing quarterback in the NFL. A second-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Alabama State, he died April 12 in a car crash. He was 36 and had been serving as a QB assistant with Tennessee State.
Whitey Ford pitched more in World Series games than certain starters could in a whole career. A part of the 1950s New York Yankees championship squad, Ford grew up as a 21-year-old and later immediately served in the Army during the Korean War. And with interference, Ford’s career will finish with 236 victories, 10 World Series games, and six World Series championships. Ford died Oct. 8. He was 91.
WWE fans might not know Joe Laurinaitis’ name, but they certainly recognize his ring name: Road Warrior Animal. Laurinaitis, a professional WWE wrestler, used his 6-foot-2, 300-pound body to pound rivals alongside his mate from the 1980s until the 2003, when Hawk died of a heart attack. Laurinaitis died on Sept. 22. He was 60.
Chance Williams was a 3-star prospect out of Texas Big. He spent 43 games at Baylor from 2014-2017. The university confirmed the death of their former protection. Cause of death not announced. Waz was 25-years-old.
Mr. Tiger, as Al Kaline was known, batted 399 home runs in 22 years, earned a World Championship, and got a plaque at Cooperstown. Kaline died on April 6. He was 85 years old.
Hall of Famer, Jon Runyan, died of natural causes. He was 54. He was recruited by the Steelers out of college by his success in wrestling. Pitt-Johnstown had no football team, but he headed to the Jets.
The Dallas Cowboys did a brief homage to Markus Paul prior to their Thanksgiving Day game. Paul, the strength and fitness coach, died on Nov. 25 after experiencing a heart attack at the Cowboys’ workout center. He was 54. The longtime All-American spent six years in the NFL before joining coaching. Paul is a Dallas Cowboy coach.
Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya was an Australian figure skater participating in the 2018 Olympics. In July, she died in an apparent suicide in Moscow. Alexandrovskaya was 20 years old when she ended her life.
The running back out of Wyoming had a decent career in the NFL. Don Shula guided the Miami Dolphins to two Super Bowl victories and is the team’s all-time leader in wins. He died on June 20. He was 73.
Central Michigan receiver Titus Davis was a record-breaking receiver for his degree. He died on Nov. 11. The Titans’ older sibling, Corey Davis, was newly diagnosed with kidney cancer.
The University of Arizona under coach Lute Olson recruited potential NBA players Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, and others. He had a long career at the school and several trophy awards. His Wildcats won it all. Olson previously was effective at Iowa from 1974-1983. Olson retired in 2006-2007. He died on Aug. 27. He was 85.
Prep standout J.B. White committed to New Mexico in 2019. The pickup of the Mountain West school was lauded by this location. White was a four-star, 2020 prospect out of New Mexico’s Santa Fe Big. But Little Red never got to play with the Lobos. White was shot Aug. 1 in Santa Fe. He was 18.
He ran away with the hearts of St. Louis Cardinals supporters just like he ran away with bases after bases after bases. Brock will rob more than 900 bases and strike more than 3,000 times in a 19-year MLB career. The inductee died on September 6th at age 81. A statue of him was erected outside the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium in 1999.
Rickey Dixon died on August 1. Hall of Fame inductee was diagnosed with ALS in 2014. Dixon was seen here on the field with the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1988 Orange Bowl. He was the fifth overall selection in the 1988 NFL Draft but will be best known for his college heroics. “He was one of the greatest players ever played the Sooners!” Barry Switzer tweeted.
Harvey Updyke was not renowned for playing excellent baseball, he was famous for poisoning trees in Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner. In 2013, Updyke pled guilty to allegations relating to contamination of oaks with deadly quantities of the herbicide. After the Crimson Tide lost to Auburn in the 2010 Iron Bowl, an Alabama supporter sped off to reveal his deed to a nearby radio station. Updyke died on July 30th. The trees were chopped down in 2013.
Clifford Robinson was a standout at UConn before becoming a 19-year NBA veteran. This forward was a one-time All-Star who starred with the Portland Trail Blazers and other clubs. Robinson died on Aug. 29. He had a variety of health problems lately. He died of lymphoma.
ALLEN MERRICK AND JAMARI SMITH
Jamari Smith died on May 27 due to accidental drowning. Allen Merrick died on Aug. 14 after being injured in an unfortunate shooting. Both were in the UAB football family: rising senior and two-sport standout out of Robert E. Lee High in Montgomery, Ala.; freshman linebacker out of Gasden High in Gasden, Ala. We just let them feel they’re part of our UAB family forever.
Tom Dempsey, a former NFL kicker, died of complications of CVID. He was 73. Though born without a right foot, Daniel was once record holder for the longest field goal. Scott had several years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, and Buffalo Bills.
And after John Schlarman was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in the summer of 2018, he went going on guiding the offensive line. Schlarman was given the game ball during Kentucky’s 2020 victory over Tennessee. He died on the 12th of November. He was 45.
Oklahoma football coach John Blake, who played nose guard on the Sooners’ unbeaten national championship season, died July 23 of a heart attack. He was 59. Blake guided Oklahoma from 1996-1998. He was the school’s first Black head coach.
Jamain Stephens starred for the California University of Pennsylvania. Stephens, whose call was the same as his parent, died Sept. 8 at age 20. A relative claimed Stephens had tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced a catastrophic blood clot.
Florida A&M cornerback had a 15-season run with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ken Riley ties for fifth all-time in career interceptions. His greatest achievement was getting named to the College Football Hall of Fame. (Yet.) Riley died June 6. He was 72.
Isi Holani (center) graduated from Hilo High School in 2014 and also competed in basketball and track and field for the Vikings. Holani was a defensive tackle for Kansas from 2016-2018. Sadly, He died on August 22 at age 24. The cause of his death was not announced.
As a college athlete with Mississippi State University (MSU) from 2007 to 2010, D.J. However, he played an important part in the Bulldogs’ offensive line. He agreed to move to his alma mater as the tight-ends coordinator in 2017. Looney sustained a heart attack after an on-campus practice for the Louisiana-Lafayette. He was 31 years old.
Eddie Sutton won more than 800 games for universities in a career that spanned decades. He passed away on May 23. This guy was 87 years old and had been voted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in April of the same year.
Max Tuerk was a famous offensive lineman for the USC Trojans from 2012-2015. He was 26 years old when he starred for two seasons in the NFL. He died on June 20. According to autopsy results from the Orange County coroner’s office, the cause of death for former Santa Margarita, USC and NFL offensive lineman Max Tuerk was an enlarged heart.
Coach Johnson, who was the football coach for the Tennessee Volunteers from 1977-1992, recently died. Johnny Majors was 85 years old. He was head coach at Iowa State and Pittsburgh. Tennessee was his alma mater – a football home too. Said his wife, Mary Lynn Majors, in a quote, “He enjoyed dying as he spent his last hours looking out at the Tennessee River.”
UConn confirmed the death of Stanley Robinson on July 22. The forward known as “Sticks” played on the Huskies’ 2009 Final Four team, was only 32 when he passed away. The Huskies’ 2009 Final Four Team Member died of unknown circumstances.
The defensive end went from Pitt to the NFL to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Doleman, who played the majority of his 15-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings, died Jan. 28 after battling brain cancer. He was 58.
Wes Unseld was 74 when he passed away. He was an All-American at Louisville, an NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA Finals MVP with the then-Washington Bullets, and, finally, a coaching and front-office exec. Unseld died June 2 following “lengthy health battles,” his family said.
The well known NFL Sam Wyche, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1989, died Jan. 2 amid a battle with metastatic melanoma. He was 74 at that time. During his youth, Sam Wyche was a journeyman quarterback in the NFL. He also served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The former Stanford Cardinal had a very long NFL career from 1993-2000. Former Bears tight end Ryan Wetnight battled gastric cancer for 2 years before eventually passing away from complications on May 1. He was 49 at that time.
Jerry Sloan was best known as the longtime head coach of the Utah Jazz, but he also played 10 seasons in the NBA. Sloan led the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the 1990s. He died on May 22 when he was 78 years old. Years prior to his death, he had been battling Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
The four-year offensive lineman for the Navy died on Feb. 20 of an unexpected cardiac arrest. He was only 22 years old, and was set to graduate in May 2020.
Willie Davis, who captured two Super Bowls as part of his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, died at the age of 85 on April 15. In 1958, with the Cleveland Browns, Grambling State’s defensive end started his pro career.
Ben Williams was a revolutionary at Ole Miss, regarded as “Gentle Ben,” where he and James Reed were the first Black athletes to sign up for football scholarships at the school in 1971. He was subsequently picked as the first Black Ole Miss participant in the NFL draft. Williams went on to experiment with the Buffalo Bills for 10 years. He died at 65 years of age on May 18.
From 2013-2017, Michael Ojo used his considerable 7-foot-1 frame to play center for Florida State. He continued on to a job in professional basketball in Europe. When he sustained a devastating heart attack, he was playing with his Serbian-based squad on Aug. 7. Ojo was around 27.
In what police claimed was an unintended shooting, the basketball star for Virginia’s Chatham Hargrave Military Academy died March 2. He was 19, and in the 2020 recruiting class, he was a three-star prospect.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Pro Bowl linebacker died on July 14. Lewis, who quit USC, was a former football coach at Tampa Catholic High School in Florida and was the key member of the team. He was 65 when he passed away. However, the cause of death was not told.
Richardson was an athlete of the Arkansas Razorbacks from 1979-1982, He was among the state who passed away last April 9 due to COVID-19-related complications. He was 60 years old when he died.
Lee Green was a defensive standout who played on two NCAA Tournament teams for St. John’s from 1991-1994, Lee Green died of COVID-19-related complications on March 23. He was 49, and was a retired police officer.
Former Maryland football coach Roy Lester was a revered high school coach in Montgomery County. The former head coach died May 3 of complications from COVID-19. Lester was 96 when he passed away.Throughout 1969-1971, he led the Terrapins.
Young, West Virginia’s former head football coach, died on April 7. He had 77. Young worked on the Mountaineers staff from 1970-2012 until his own playing days at the school concluded. He spent more than 40 years working with the West Virginia football program in a variety of capacities.
Claudell Washington, as a child, burst into the major leagues and went on to play with a number of clubs for 17 years, including the Chicago White Sox. On June 10, the two-time All-Star expired. He aged 65 and was struggling with prostate cancer.
John Holmes was a 4.0 athlete who excelled at Michigan’s Grand Rapids Christian High School in basketball and football and was committed to playing for Brown on the gridiron. On June 20, he was killed in a single-car crash. He was eighteen.
Former Washington Redskins assistant coach Joe Bugel was regarded as one of the top offensive line coaches in NFL history. The esteemed NFL O-line mentor, who acted as head coach of the 1990-1993 Phoenix Cardinals and 1997 Oakland Raiders, died on 28 June. He’s been 80.
Among the nine people who died in the Jan. 26 Kobe Bryant helicopter accident were the Orange Coast College baseball coach, his wife, Keri, and a 14-year-old girl, Alyssa. John Altobelli aged fifty-six. Alyssa Altobelli and Gianna Bryant were friends on a Bryant-coached grassroots basketball program.
Reche Caldwell gave up a shot at high school to enter the Cincinnati Reds baseball organization in order to play professional football with Florida. With three franchises, including the then-San Diego Chargers, he continued on to a six-year NFL career. In his hometown of Tampa, Florida, Caldwell was shot and killed on June 6. He was around 41. No charges have been made in Caldwell’s slaying following release.