By David Mullen
As is this column’s tradition at the beginning of a new year, we look back at sports participants and personalities who passed away in the previous year but had a profound impact on the sports that they served.
Edward Aschoff, 34. A football reporter for ESPN, he died on his birthday Christmas Eve of a brief illness linked to pneumonia.
Cedric Benson, 36. Popular University of Texas running back died in a motorcycle accident.
Jim Bouton, 80. Former New York Yankees pitcher shook up the establishment with his behind-the-scenes look at baseball in “Ball Four.”
Pat Bowlen, 75. Hall of Fame owner of the Denver Broncos.
Cliff Branch, 71. Three-time Super Bowl champion, the speedy Oakland Raiders wide receiver is in final consideration for well-deserved Hall of Fame recognition.
Willie Brown, 78. An Oakland cornerback, the NFL Hall of Famer had a 75-yard touchdown interception return against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Announcer Bill King forever immortalized the play with the call “Old Man Willie! Touchdown Raiders!”
Bill Buckner, 69. Outstanding hitter with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox but unfortunately best known for an error in the 10th inning of game six of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets.
King Kong Bundy, 63. At 6-foot 4 and more than 450 pounds, he was a famous WWF and WWE wrestler.
Nick Buoniconti, 78. Anchor of the defense on the great Miami Dolphins teams of the 1970s, he was an announcer, lawyer, businessman, agent and cause activist starting the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in honor of his son Marc, who suffered a spinal cord injury while playing football.
Nick Cafardo, 62. The respected Boston Globe baseball writer succumbed to an embolism.
Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, 85. Won the 1955 Heisman Trophy while at Ohio State.
John Coughlin, 33. Disparaged U.S. pairs skating champion committed suicide.
Gunther Cunningham, 72. German-born college and NFL coach who learned English through football.
Alice Dye, 91. Wife of noted golf architect Pete Dye, she is credited with designing the famous island green at the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
Ron Fairly, 81. Slick-fielding Dodgers first baseman turned baseball broadcaster.
Hayden Fry, 90. Former SMU, North Texas State (now UNT) and Iowa head football coach and mentor to many, Fry died in Dallas of cancer.
Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, 85. First African-American player in Red Sox history.
Forrest Gregg, 85. Born in the East Texas town of Birthright, he was a lineman for the Packers of the 1960s, won three Super Bowls (including a ring in his only season with the Dallas Cowboys) and was head coach of SMU.
John “Hondo” Havlicek, 79. Basketball Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics.
Harry Howell, 86. Played the most games in the history of the NHL’s New York Rangers, which retired his number 3 jersey.
Dan Jenkins, 89. Noted author and Sports Illustrated writer, he covered golf and football and died in his hometown of Fort Worth. He wrote best sellers “Semi Tough” and “Dead Solid Perfect.”
Johnny “Lam” Jones, 60. Olympic sprinter became an NFL wide receiver.
James Kennedy, 73. South Carolina high school’s football fixture and inspiration for movie “Radio.”
Niki Lauda, 70. Formula One champion helped make the sport a worldwide phenomenon.
Harold Lederman, 79. High pitched judge on HBO boxing broadcasts.
Ted “Terrible Ted” Lindsay, 93. An eight-time All-Star and member of the NHL Hall of Fame, he was part of the Detroit Red Wings “Production Line” with Gordon Howe.
Gene Littler, 88. PGA professional who won the 1961 U.S. Open and whose swing was the envy of tour players.
Gino Marchetti, 93. Baltimore Colts defensive star and NFL Top 100 player faced the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship game dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Don Newcombe, 92. The Brooklyn Dodgers legendary pitcher won the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP awards and, in 1955, led Brooklyn to their only World Series win.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund, 76. The bald-headed ambassador and voice of WWE, you knew it had to be a big match if “Mean” Gene was holding his microphone.
Peter Magowan, 76. Managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants.
Frank Robinson, 83. Major League Baseball’s first black manager, Robinson is the only player in baseball history to win the MVP award (with the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles) in both leagues.
Charles Rogers, 38. Born in Saginaw, Rogers was an All-American wide receiver at Michigan State but was a bust as a first-round pick by his state’s NFL team, the Detroit Lions. He died bankrupt and never recovered from addiction.
Rosie Ruiz, 66. Became famous for faking a victory in the 1980 Boston Marathon.
Scott Sanderson, 62. Former major league pitcher with seven teams, agent and broadcaster.
Tyler Skaggs, 27. Prior to a start against the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels pitcher died at the team’s hotel in Grapevine of a drug overdose.
Marilyn Smith, 89. Had 21 tour wins, credited with starting the LPGA and was the first woman to broadcast men’s golf on TV.
Bart Starr, 85. Flying back to Dallas from Green Bay a few years ago, I sat next to a lovely woman who said in a southern drawl, “You are in my husband’s seat.” Putting two and two together, I said “Is your husband Bart Starr?” “Why, yes he is,” she beamed. Starr was legendary at the University of Alabama, in the NFL and was MVP for the Packers in Super Bowl I and II. He and wife Cherry were married for more than 60 years.
Mel Stottlemyre, 77. Yankees hurler best known as a pitching coach after his playing career.
Jack Whitaker, 95. Classy EMMY-winning sportscaster noted for his prolific commentary.
Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, 55. Olympic gold medalist and champion boxer.
Wade Wilson, 60. Quarterback with five teams including the Dallas Cowboys, where he was also a quarterback’s coach.
Others deaths included co-founder of YogaWorks Maty Ezraty, 55; women’s basketball coach at Cathy Inglese, 60; Dolphins six-time Pro Bowl guard Bob Kuechenberg, 71; and inspirational Purdue University football fan Tyler Trent, 20.