Here is where we look at some of the athletes and sports figures we’ve lost in 2023. That includes hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, former MLB catcher and broadcaster Tim McCarver, former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, soccer legend Just Fontaine, college basketball announcer Billy Packer, pro wrestlers Jay Briscoe and Lanny Poffo, former Boston Celtic Chris Ford, and A’s infielder Sal Bando.
Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant died, the Minnesota Vikings, who he guided to four Super Bowl appearances, announced Saturday. He was 95.
Grant was the 1969 NFL Coach of the Year after leading the Vikings to a 27-7 win over the Cleveland Browns in the final championship game before the NFL-AFL merger. He became the first coach to lose four Super Bowls.
Before joining Minnesota, he coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, after playing for the team for three seasons. Grant won four Gray Cups, was the 1965 CFL Coach of the Year, and was later inducted into the Canadian Football HoF.
Grant was drafted by both the Philadelphia Eagles and the then-Minneapolis Lakers, in the 1950 NFL and NBA drafts, respectively. He was a reserve on the Lakers’ 1950 championship team, and spent two seasons with the Eagles. He played defensive end his first year before switching to wide receiver.
Former NFL player and scout Dick Haley died Friday. He was 85.
“We lost an amazing football mind and a better man with the passing of Dick Haley,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said. “He was a valuable part of this franchise for 23 years, the first 4 of those as a player and the final 19 as a member of the Player Personnel Department.
“Dick played an instrumental role in our unprecedented success in the 1970s during the second part of his career,” added Rooney. “He developed a unique eye for talent, and he ultimately helped identify and draft many of the players that allowed us to win four Super Bowls during that decade. My condolences go out to the entire Haley family during this difficult time.”
Haley was drafted in the ninth round of the 1959 NFL Draft. He played cornerback for Washington, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. Haley recorded 14 interceptions and scored two TDs.
During his tenure as the Steelers’ director of player personnel — from 1971 to 1990 — Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls (IX, X, XIII, and XIV). Haley is in the franchise’s Hall of Fame.
His son, Todd, was a longtime NFL coach.
Former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor died Thursday. He was 80.
Taylor was a two-time AFL champ (1966 and 1969), and one-time Super Bowl champ (IV). A three-time Pro Bowler, he racked up 7,306 yards and 57 TDs in his career. Taylor had two 1,000-yard seasons.
He died seven months after his former QB and friend Len Dawson.
“My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Otis’ wife Regina, his sister Odell and the entire Taylor family as we mourn his passing,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. “He was one of the most dynamic receivers of his era, and he helped revolutionize the position. Off the field, he was kind and dedicated to his community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Otis’ legacy will live forever.”
French footballer Just Fontaine died at 89, his former club Stade de Reims announced on Wednesday. The striker scored 13 goals for France in the 1958 World Cup.
Fontaine scored 21 total goals in 30 appearances for Les Blues — whom he later managed in 1967 — and more than 200 club goals for USM Casablanca, Nice, and Reims. In his post-playing days, Fontaine also managed the famed French club PSG for three seasons between 1973-76, and Morocco — where he was born — from 1979-81.
The Carolina Panthers announced that former owner Jerry Richardson died Wednesday at 86. Richardson was awarded the team in 1993. He owned the franchise from its inaugural season in 1995 until 2018 when he sold the team after an investigation by the NFL found him guilty of workplace misconduct, which included sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur.
David Tepper, who bought the team in 2018 for $2.27 billion, said in a statement, “Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic. With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. …”
Former Baltimore Colts defensive lineman Fred Miller died Sunday at the age of 82. He spent his entire career with the team, who drafted him out of LSU in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. The three-time Pro Bowler was a member of Baltimore’s 1968 NFL title and Super Bowl V-winning squads.
The world received some very sad news when we learned that legendary English football commentator John Motson, whose career spanned decades (and included very long stints in video games), had passed away at the age of 77.
Even the most casual English-speaking football fan will know his work, regardless of whether they knew his name or not. Motson was one of the most endearing commentators in the sport, beginning his career on radio in the 1960s before moving to TV shortly after. He didn’t retire until 2018, having covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and, incredibly, over 2,500 games in total, on both TV and radio, domestically and internationally.
-Luke Plunkett, Kotaku
Billie Joe “Red” McCombs, a Texas businessman who once owned the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Vikings, died Sunday, his family announced.
“Red was a visionary entrepreneur who touched many lives and impacted our community in immeasurable ways,” the statement from the family says. “But to us he was always, first and foremost, ‘Dad’ or ‘Poppop.’ We mourn the loss of a Texas icon.”
McCombs bought the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA, relocated the franchise to San Antonio — becoming the Spurs — and helped get the team into the NBA during the 1976 ABA-NBA merger.
He owned the Nuggets for a short period in the 1980s, and owned the Vikings from 1998-2005.
McCombs, a co-founder of Clear Channel Communications (later iHeartCommunications), was 95.
Former EPL forward Christian Atsu died in Turkey during the recent earthquake.
“Atsu’s lifeless body was found under the rubble. At the moment, his belongings are still being removed,” his manager Murat Uzunmehmet told private news agency DHA.
At the club level, Atsu played for Chelsea, Newcastle, and most recently Hatayspor, and internationally with Ghana. He was 31.
Former MLB All-Star and two-time World Series champion Tim McCarver died, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
McCarver spent 21 years in the bigs, which included 12 years with the Red Birds, and stints with the Phillies, Expos, and Red Sox. A left-handed hitting catcher, he finished second in the MVP voting in 1967 after batting .295/.369/.452 with 14 home runs and 69 RBI. He won his second ring with the club that year; the first was in 1964.
After retiring from baseball in 1980, McCarver became an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster who called 24 World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer was 81.
Former professional wrestler and promoter Jerry Jarrett died Tuesday. The father of WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett, was 80. The cause of death is unknown. The elder Jarrett, along with Jerry “The King” Lawler, created the Continental Wrestling Association, which later became the USWA after a merger with World Class Championship Wrestling. Jerry and Jeff co-founded TNA in 2002.
Former NFL lineman Conrad Dobler died Monday. The 10-year pro was dubbed “football’s dirtiest player” — accused of punching, spitting on, and kicking opposing players. Dobler was a three-time Pro Bowler. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound guard played for the Cardinals — who drafted him out of Wyoming in the 1972 NFL Draft — Saints, and Bills.
“He was the kind of tough, physical and fierce player that you love to line up with as a teammate and hate to line up against as an opponent. On the field, Conrad was a big reason for the success of the Cardiac Cards of the 1970s,’’ Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said in a statement.
Dobler was 72.
Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner died Feb. 12, the team announced. Lerner, a billionaire real estate developer, was 97. His family purchased the team from MLB in 2006 for $450 million. The Nationals won a World Series in 2019.
“The Genius” has passed. Professional wrestler Lanny Poffo died on Thursday at 68 due to unknown causes. Longtime friend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan announced Poffo’s passing on social media. Poffo was the real-life younger brother of “The Macho Man” Randy Savage, who died in 2011. Poffo’s last appearance in professional wrestling came at the 2018 event “All In” while his final showing with the WWE was to posthumously induct Savage into its Hall of Fame. Outside of wrestling, Poffo published two books and was a motivational speaker.
“Arriving in WWE in 1985 alongside his brother, “Leaping” Lanny Poffo was one of the first high-flyers in WWE. While he achieved some success as a fan favorite reading his own poetry and throwing Frisbees to the crowd, he reached new heights as The Genius while managing Mr. Perfect,” WWE wrote on its website.
Bobby Beathard, an exec who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2018, died on Monday. His son Casey told The Washington Post that his father, 86, died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
He was part of the front office for four Super Bowl-winning teams — two in Miami, and two in Washington.
After serving as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, Beathard was director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins from 1972 — when the team went undefeated — until 1977. He was the GM of the then-Redskins from 1978-88, hiring coach Joe Gibbs, and drafting Hall of Famers Art Monk, Russ Grimm, and Darrell Green.
He also selected notorious draft bust Ryan Leaf as the Chargers’ GM.
Bobby Hull, the hockey Hall of Famer known as “The Golden Jet” died, his former team the Chicago Blackhawks announced on Monday.
The winger, whose NHL career lasted from 1958 until 1980, was 84.
Hull played in 1,063 games for the Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, and Hartford Whalers, tallying 1,170 points A 12-time All-star, he won a Stanley Cup in 1961. Hull is Chicago’s all-time leading goal scorer with 604, including 98 game-winners.
Hull was inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1983. His son, Brett, was enshrined in 2009. They are the only father-and-son duo to each win the Hart Trophy.
College basketball announcer Billy Packer died Thursday, according to a tweet from his son, Mark. He was 82.
During his broadcast career, Packer worked 34 Final Fours for both NBC and CBS. He was a color analyst or play-by-play guy for each tournament between 1975-2008.
Mark told The Associated Press that his dad had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.
“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer told AP. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”
Longtime Portland Trailblazers play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely died Saturday. He was 93.
Schonely served as the team’s play-by-play guy from its inaugural season in 1970 until 1998. Known as “The Schwonz,” he coined the term “Rip City.”
Former MLB infielder and executive Sal Bando died Friday after a battle with cancer. Bando spent 16 years in the majors, including 11 in Oakland, winning three World Series trophies with the A’s in the early ‘70s.
The four-time All-Star finished his career with the Brewers, later serving as Milwaukee’s GM from 1991-99.
“It is with a heavy heart, the Bando family is sad to announce the passing of its beloved husband and father, Sal, who last night lost his battle with cancer that began over five years ago,” the Bando family said in a statement on Saturday. “Sandy, Sal’s wife of 54 years, and sons Sal Jr., Sonny and Stef, send their love to family, friends and fans who mourn the loss of a humble and faithful man.”
Bando batted .254, slugged 242 home runs, and is a member of the A’s Hall of Fame. Outside of baseball, he had a cameo on a 2006 episode of “The Simpsons.” He was 78.
MLS defender Anton Walkes died in a boating accident Thursday. He was 25.
Walkes was a member of Charlotte FC, who drafted him in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft. The England native previously played for Tottenham, Portsmouth, and Atlanta United.
One-half of the best professional wrestling tag team of all-time to never get a chance in a major promotion died Tuesday night. Jay Briscoe was involved in a fatal car crash in Laurel, Delaware. Briscoe, whose real name was Jamin Pugh, was 38.
Delaware State Police were investigating the fatal two-car crash where a 27-year-old female driver veered into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with Briscoe’s truck. The female driver of the other vehicle was wearing her seatbelt, while Briscoe was not. Both were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Briscoe’s 12- and 9-year-old daughters were in the truck at the time of the crash and both wearing their seatbelts. Both were admitted to a local hospital in critical condition.
Briscoe was most widely known for his work alongside his brother, Mark Briscoe (real name Mark Pugh), as two of the founding fathers of Ring of Honor. The Briscoe Brothers were 13-time ROH World Tag Team Champions.
(Read more here.)
Former NBA player and coach Chris Ford died, his family announced through his former team, the Boston Celtics.
Ford was a member of the C’s 1981 NBA championship squad. He is credited with recording the sport’s first-ever 3-pointer.
He is one of four former Celtics to have won championships as both a player and coach, joining Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones. Ford was 74.
Former three-time All-Star Frank Thomas, who was with the New York Mets for their inaugural season, died on Monday, the team announced. He was 93.
For his career, Thomas batted .266 with 286 home runs. The OF/3B also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, the then-Milwaukee Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Houston Astros.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White died Wednesday. The star USC running back, who rushed for a still-standing school record 6,245 yards, was 64. The cause of death was cancer, according to the school.
White was Rose Bowl MVP in 1979 — the year he won the Heisman, and several other awards — and 1980. He was a key member of USC’s 1978 national title-winning squad.
White played nine seasons in the NFL with the Browns and Rams, leading the league in rushing in 1987.
A College Football Hall of Famer, White told Sports Illustrated that he smoked marijuana “almost daily” while at Southern Cal and tried cocaine a few weeks prior to the 1977 Rose Bowl. He dealt with drug and alcohol abuse and eventually sold his Heisman.
“Charles White was one of the all-time great Trojans,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said.
Former striker for Chelsea, Juventus, and Italy’s men’s national team, Gianluca Vialli died Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 58.
“I know that I probably will not die of old age, I hope to live as long as possible, but I feel much more fragile than before,” Vialli had said in a Netflix documentary.
He scored 167 career club goals, and 16 with Gli Azzurri. Vialli was on the Italy squad that finished third at the 1990 World Cup.
Vialli also spent time as manager of Chelsea, and Watford, and as an assistant with the Italian national team. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017.
Nate Colbert, the San Diego Padres’ all-time home runs leader, died on Jan. 5. He was 76.
The slugging first baseman joined the then-expansion squad in 1969, and was a three-time All-Star with the club.
During his time with San Diego, Colbert hit 163 of his career 173 round trippers.
Colbert spent 12 seasons in the majors with the Houston Astros, Padres, Detroit Tigers, Montreal Expos, and Oakland A’s, and also spent time in left field.
He finished eighth in MVP voting in 1972.
“An original member of the Padres in 1969, Nate was a trailblazer in the San Diego sports community. He was a three-time National League All-Star in brown and gold and became the Padres’ all-time home run king (163), a record that still stands today,” team chairman Peter Seidler said.
Former Texas Longhorns baseball coach Cliff Gustafson died on Jan. 2 at 91.
He guided the Longhorns to two College World Series titles in 1975 and 1983. Gustafson compiled a 1,466–377–2 record with Texas, and won 11 Southwestern Conference tournament titles. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Several of his players went on to the majors, most notably Roger Clemens.
Dubbed the “Father of Instant Replay,” former NFL official Art McNally died on Jan. 1. The Pro Football Hall of Famer — the first official inducted — was 97. He was a field judge for the 1959 season before becoming a referee for the next eight years.
McNally was the NFL’s Supervisor of Officials from 1968 until his 1991 retirement. He introduced instant replay to the league.