1-Man’s Opinion on Sports-Friday “2021–Saying Goodbye to Sports Heroes”
Out with the old (covid)…In with the new (2022).
But as we say goodbye to a very tough year on our society, we say farewell to a cross section of really special sports people.
Legendary players (Henry Aaron), to iconic coaches (John Madden) and everyone and anyone in between.
As the year dragged on we often lose sight of the great ones who departed (Bobby Bowden), the sad ones who died, and the stories attached to many of them.
Good people (Vincent Jackson)….sad people (Tunch Ilkin)…people we respected (Walter Gretzky-LeeElder).
A look back at names you will remember, courtesy of 24/7 website.
ByJOAL RYAN Dec 28, 6:50 PM
This is a look back at the sports stars we said goodbye to this year: John Madden, the football triple threat (head coach, broadcaster, gaming icon); Demaryius Thomas, the Pro Bowl wide receiver; Colt Brennan, the beloved Hawaii quarterback and onetime Heisman finalist; Hank Aaron, the baseball home-run king; Terrence Clark, the Kentucky standout and might’ve-been first-round NBA draft pick; Leon Spinks, the underdog boxer who bested Muhammad Ali in the ring; multiple coaching legends — and more.
These favorites made their marks on college football, college basketball, the NFL, MLB baseball, the NBA and beyond. Some were retired greats; one was a high-school junior. All were competitors. These are their stories — the stories of sports stars who died in 2021.
SLIDE 1 of 48JOHN MADDEN
(Photo: Bettmann, Getty)John Madden wasn’t so much an icon as he was three icons: a Pro Football Hall of Fame-honored NFL head coach who led the then-Oakland Raiders to 103 regular-season wins and a Super Bowl victory from 1969-1978; an acclaimed TV-game analyst for CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC who engaged fans from 1979-2008; and, since 1988, the namesake of the still-blockbuster Madden NFL video game.
Madden died unexpectedly on Dec. 28, 2021, the NFL announced. He was 85. “Nobody loved football more than Coach,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. “He wasfootball.”
SLIDE 2 of 48DEMARYIUS THOMAS
(Photo: Getty)When Demaryius Thomas announced his retirement from the NFL before the 2021 season, he said “football had done a lot [for him].” Teammates and fans alike would attest that Demaryius Thomas did a lot for football, too.
A first-team All-ACC star at Georgia Tech, a first-round pick of the NFL draft, and a four-time Pro Bowler, the 6-foot-3 receiver hauled in touchdown passes from Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning in a 2010-2017 run with the Denver Broncos that culminated with a win in Super Bowl 50. After being traded to the Houston Texans, Thomas played one final season in 2019 with the New York Jets.
On Dec. 9, 2021, only months into his formal retirement, and weeks before his Christmas Day birthday, Thomas was found dead in his Georgia home. A family member told the Associated Press it was believed Thomas suffered a seizure while showering. He was 33.
SLIDE 3 of 48VINCENT JACKSON
(Photo: Donald Miralle, Getty)Vincent Jackson emerged from Northern Colorado to become a leading NFL wide receiver of the 2000s. In a 12-year pro career, Jackson lit up scoreboards for the Chargers and Buccaneers. The three-time Pro Bowler was found dead Jan. 15 in a Brandon, Florida, hotel room. He was 38.
An autopsy showed Jackson suffered from chronic alcoholism, while Boston University’s CTE Center said its study of Jackson’s brain indicated the football veteran had stage 2 CTE.
SLIDE 4 of 48TATE MYRE
(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty)When a gunman opened fire at Michigan’s Oxford High on Nov. 30, 2021, “everybody in that school was running one way,” Oxford coach Ross Wingert told the Detroit Free Press, “and Tate was running the other way.”
Tate was Tate Myre, a Class of 2023 college football hopeful who played running back and linebacker for Oxford’s Wildcats. And when the Nov. 30 incident began, Wingert said, relaying what he said he’d been told by students, #42 took a path toward the shooter. Myre went “the other way.”
Myre, who also wrestled for the high school, was one of four Oxford students killed in the shooting. The youngest was 14. The oldest was 17. Myre was 16.
SLIDE 5 of 48BOBBY BOWDEN
(Photo: George Gojkovich, Getty)Bobby Bowden was an Alabama-born football lifer who, after a season as a player with the Crimson Tide, and an early career run as head coach at West Virginia, became a Florida State institution.
As Seminoles head coach from 1976-2009, Bowden won two national championships, 300-plus games — and commitments from likes of Deion Sanders, Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks.
Bowden died Aug. 8, 2021. He was 91, and had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
SLIDE 6 of 48COLT BRENNAN
(Photo: Lucy Pemoni, Getty)By the time the sun set on Colt Brennan’s Hawaii career, the quarterback had passed for more than 14,000 yards, and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.
A career in the pros, from the NFL to the Arena Football League, didn’t pan out. Amid the on-the-field struggles, a 2010 car crash left him with a brain injury. Drug issues and arrests followed.
On May 10, 2021, the Hawaii favorite was found unconscious in a hotel room. He died the next day at a hospital. His family said fentanyl was to blame. Brennan was 37.
SLIDE 7 of 48HANK AARON
(Photo: Focus on Sport, Getty)On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth’s mark for all-time career home runs. His 715th round-tripper was, per Sports Illustrated, “a moon walk above one of the most hallowed individual records in American sport.” Lightning-quick wrists aided Aaron’s pursuit of history, as did perseverance in the face of racially motivated death threats and hate mail.
Aaron died Jan. 22, 2021. The Baseball Hall of Famer and American icon was 86.
SLIDE 8 of 48ELGIN BAYLOR
(Photo: Bettmann, Getty)About the only thing that eluded Elgin Baylor during a legendary basketball career, on and off the court, was an NBA title.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 1958 NBA Draft out of Seattle University, Baylor was honored as 1958-1959’s NBA Rookie of the Year and 2005-2006’s NBA Executive of the Year. In between, he was named to 11 NBA All-Star teams, and played in eight NBA Finals with the Minneapolis-turned-Los Angeles Lakers.
A longtime exec in the Los Angeles Clippers front office, Baylor passed away March 22, 2021. He was 86.
SLIDE 9 of 48AL UNSER SR.
(Photo: Alvis Upitis, Getty)Al Unser Sr. chased down victory time and again in a racing career that ran from 1957-1994, and was highlighted by four wins at the Indianapolis 500. The namesake father of fellow Indy 500 champ Al Unser Jr., the elder Unser died Dec. 9, 2021, at his home in New Mexico. He was 82.
SLIDE 10 of 48TERRENCE CLARKE
(Photo: Brett Carlsen, Getty)Terrence Clark was a five-star-rated shooting guard who was in a hurry to get to the next level. He reclassified to start his college career sooner, and after one season at Kentucky, signed with an agent with an eye on the 2021 NBA Draft.
On April 22, 2021, about a month after he was snapped in action here, the prospective NBA first-rounder died in a car crash in Los Angeles. He was 19.
SLIDE 11 of 48SAM HUFF
(Photo: Getty)Linebacker Sam Huff starred for the New York Giants and then-Washington Redskins in a Pro Football Hall of Fame career that saw the West Virginia product win an NFL championship and earn five Pro Bowl honors. In all, Huff’s NFL career ran for 13 seasons, from 1956-1969.
Huff’s college career was also the stuff of legend. A force with the Mountaineers, Huff was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
Huff died Nov. 13, 2021. He was 87, and had been diagnosed with dementia in 2013, the New York Giants reported.
SLIDE 12 of 48GREG CLARK
(Photo: Getty)Greg Clark didn’t quit. In a 1999 contest against the Minnesota Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers tight end played into the fourth quarter with a punctured lung.
Clark, who spent his entire 1997-2000 NFL career with the 49ers, died July 7, 2021, at age 49. His family said the Stanford alum had been “suffering from CTE symptoms.”
SLIDE 13 of 48DEL WILKES
(Photo: Collegiate Images, Getty)Del Wilkes lived two sports lives on the national stage: In the first, he was a consensus All-American offensive lineman for South Carolina. In the second, he was a professional wrestler best known as “The Patriot.”
Wilkes, who after his retirement from the ring would talk about the hazards of steroids, died of a heart attack on June 30, 2021. He was 59.
SLIDE 14 of 48MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER
(Photo: Bob Riha Jr/WireImage, Getty)Marvelous Marvin Hagler scored 52 KOs in 67 professional boxing matches from 1973-1987. The middleweight fighter defended his titles against the likes of Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
The retired champ died May 23, 2021. He was 66. And, yes, from the early 1980s on, Marvelous really was part of Hagler’s legal name — a fact that makes his legend that much more, well, marvelous.
SLIDE 15 of 48JULIO LUGO
(Photo: J. Meric, Getty)The starting shortstop for the 2007 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, Julio Lugo racked up more than 1,200 hits in a 12-season career that saw him play for seven different teams. Lugo last saw MLB action for the 2011 Atlanta Braves.
On Nov. 15, 2021, one day before his 46th birthday, Lugo died of a heart attack in his native Dominican Republic.
SLIDE 16 of 48TERRY DONAHUE
(Photo: Bernstein Associates, Getty)Terry Donahue was the face of UCLA football for 20 seasons — a 1976-1995 run that saw him win more games than any head coach in Bruin and Pac-12 history. His rosters included the likes of Troy Aikman, Ken Norton and Kenny Easley. After UCLA, Donahue worked in the San Francisco 49ers front office.
Donahue died July 4, 2021. He was 77.