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2018 Notable Sports Deaths

December 28, 2018
UNDATED: nine NFL games.

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Oct. 9 — Alex Spanos, 95, son of Greek immigrants who used a self-made fortune from construction and real estate to buy the NFL’s Chargers in 1984. Spanos he bought controlling interest in the San Diego Chargers from Gene Klein in 1984 for about $50 million. He eventually bought all but 3 percent of the team. Spanos hadn’t been in charge of day-to-day management of the Chargers since 1994, when he turned over the responsibilities to Dean Spanos, his oldest son.

Oct. 9 — George Taliaferro, 91, star running back for Indiana who in 1949 became the first black player drafted by an NFL team. Taliaferro was the leading rusher on Indiana’s 1945 Big Ten championship team. George Halas and the Chicago Bears drafted him in the 13th round. But Taliaferro had signed a week before with a team from the rival All America Football Conference. The AAFC merged with the NFL the following season. In the NFL, he played for New York, Dallas, Baltimore and Philadelphia. He played seven positions as a pro and earned Pro Bowl honors in 1951-53.

Oct. 10 — Tex Winter, 96, innovative “Triangle Offense” pioneer who assisted Phil Jackson on 11 NBA championship teams with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Winter published “The Triple-Post Offense” in 1962 and teamed with Jackson to use the system to great success with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Winter assisted Jackson on championship teams with the Bulls in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998, and the Lakers in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009. Winter spent more than six decades in coaching. He was 451-336 as a college head coach and he coached the Houston Rockets in 1972-74, going 51-78.

Oct. 13 — Jim Taylor, 83, Hall of Fame fullback. Taylor played on the great Green Bay Packer teams and was the league’s MVP in 1962. He won four NFL titles and scored the first rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history. Taylor spent 10 seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the second round by Green Bay in 1958 out of LSU.

Oct. 14 — Patrick Baumann, 51, secretary general of basketball’s world governing body, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Baumann was FIBA’s top administrator for 15 years, and an International Olympic Committee member since 2007.

Oct. 15 — Bob Spoo, 80, former Eastern Illinois football coach whose players included future NFL quarterbacks Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo. Spoo retired in 2011 after 25 years. He had a career record of 144-131-1 and nine FCS playoff appearances.

Oct. 15 — Paul Allen, 65, co-founder of Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates. Allen, who was an avid sports fan, owned the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Oct. 17 — Ian Kiernan, 78, accomplished round-the-world sailor who raced for more than 40 years. Kiernan competed for Australia at the Admiral’s, Southern Cross, Clipper, Kenwood and Trans Pacific Cup competitions. In 1986-87, Kiernan represented Australia in the BOC Challenge solo around-the-world yacht race, placing sixth out of a fleet of 25 yachts from 11 countries.

Oct. 19 — Dick Modzelewski, 87, star defensive tackle for the New York Giants in the 1950s and ’60s. Modzelewski spent 14 years in the NFL, eight with the Giants, including six title games. He teamed with Andy Robustelli, Rosey Grier and Jim Katcavage on one of the great defensive lines. Modzelewski also appeared in two championship games with the Cleveland Browns. He coached in the NFL for 22 years, including the 1978 season as the Giants’ defensive coordinator.

Oct. 21 — Charles Wang, 74, technology company founder who formerly owned the New York Islanders hockey team has died. Wang had attended only one Islanders game before agreeing to buy the team in 2000. He was the majority owner until 2016 and since then had been a minority co-owner.

Oct. 21 — Richard Violette Jr., 65, thoroughbred trainer who advocated tirelessly on behalf of racetrack backstretch workers and improved care for retired racehorses. Violette had trained Diversify to victories in the Grade 2 Suburban and Grade 1 Whitney handicaps last summer, as well as last year’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He had 870 career victories and purse earnings of $44,521,759.

Oct. 22 — Lauren McCluskey, 21, University of Utah track athlete was shot and killed. McCluskey, a senior who majored in communication and specialized in the high jump, was shot outside a dormitory.

Oct. 23 — Hank Greenwald, 83, longtime San Francisco Giants broadcaster. Greenwald spent 16 seasons as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster. He called Giants games on radio from 1979-86 before leaving for a two-year stint with the New York Yankees. Greenwald also called games for University of San Francisco basketball, Syracuse football, Triple-A baseball in Hawaii and the Golden State Warriors.

Oct. 23 — Rod Rust, 90, coach of Hall of Fame defensive lineman “Mean” Joe Greene at North Texas and later served as defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots’ 1985 Super Bowl team. Rust spent more than four decades as a football coach, mostly as a defensive coordinator in the NFL with Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants and Atlanta.

Oct. 23 — Todd Reid, 34, 2002 Wimbledon junior singles champion. Reid turned pro in 2002 after winning the junior Wimbledon title and was the No. 3 player in Australia behind Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis for the next several years.

Oct. 25 — Lindon Crow, 85, former NFL defensive back. Crow led the NFL in interceptions with 11 in 1956 and had 41 picks in his pro career. He played defensive back for the Chicago Cardinals from 1955-57, New York Giants from 1958-60, and Los Angeles Rams from 1961-64. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in 1956, ’57 and ’59.

Oct. 26 — John Ziegler Jr. has, 84, former NHL President. Ziegler oversaw the league’s merger with the World Hockey Association and was eventually ousted following the NHL’s first labor disruption during his 15-year tenure.

Oct. 27 — W. Cothran “Cot” Campbell, 91, South Carolina horseman and advocate for the American racing thoroughbred industry. Campbell made his mark in 1969 when he introduced syndicated ownership, which features numerous owners sharing a percentage of the costs and the risk. It allowed new people to enter the expensive sport. He founded Aiken-based Dogwood Stable. Among the champions were 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall and 1996 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Storm Song. Dogwood had eight Kentucky Derby entrants from 1990 to 2013.

Oct. 27 — Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, Thai billionaire and owner of English Premier League club Leicester City. Srivaddhanaprabha died when his helicopter crashed in a parking lot next to King Power stadium in Leicester, England.

Oct. 30 — Bill Fischer, 88, former major league pitcher who spent more than seven decades as a player and coach in professional baseball. Fischer signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1948 and wound up playing for nine organizations and making 281 major league appearances. He retired from playing in 1968 and moved into coaching with stops in Cincinnati, Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Kansas City, where he spent the past eight seasons as a senior adviser.

Oct. 30 — Frank Litsky, 92, former sports columnist for The New York Times. Litsky covered multiple sports, including Track and Field, and served as the president of the New York Track Writer’s Association from 1969 until his retirement in 2009. His award-winning career spanned 61 years, including 50 at The Times. Litsky covered 44 sports professionally.

Oct. 31 — Jack Patera, 85, first head coach in the history of the Seattle Seahawks. Patera was Seattle’s head coach for parts of seven seasons, beginning with the team’s inaugural season in 1976. Patera was named the NFL coach of the year in 1978 and finished his career as a head coach with a 35-59 record. Before joining the Seahawks, Patera was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.

Oct. 31 — Willie McCovey, 80, sweet-swinging Hall of Famer nicknamed “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 height and those long arms. A former first baseman and left fielder, McCovey was a career .270 hitter with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBIs in 22 major league seasons, 19 of them with the Giants. He also played for the Athletics and Padres.

Nov. 1 — Paul Zimmerman, 86, longtime Sports Illustrated NFL writer known as “Dr. Z” for his analytical approach. Zimmerman covered the New York Jets for the New York Post for 13 years. He also worked for the Sacramento Bee, New York Journal-American and the New York World-Telegram & Sun before joining SI in 1979. His “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” was published in 1970, and revised in 1984 as “The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football.”

Nov. 2 — Kitty O’Neil, 72, deaf Hollywood stuntwoman, daredevil and protege of Hal Needham who doubled for Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman and set a land-speed record as the fastest woman driver ever. On Dec. 6, 1976, the native Texan shattered the land-speed record for female drivers, posting an average speed of 512.71 mph while piloting a hydrogen peroxide-fueled, three-wheeled machine over a 5/8th-mile straightaway in the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

Nov. 3 — Mari Hulman George, 83, chairman of the board emeritus of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hulman George was IMS chairman from 1988 through 2016. Her father, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., purchased the speedway in 1945 and saved it from demolition after World War II, and racing and the facility became a staple of the Hulman family. Hulman George gave the command to start engines for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 from the late 1990s until 2015.

Nov. 3 — Bill Brown, 80, Minnesota Vikings fullback who was a four-time Pro Bowl pick in 14 seasons in the NFL. Drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 1961 out of Illinois, Brown was traded to the Vikings after his rookie year. Nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his punishing running style, Brown is fourth in Vikings history with 5,757 rushing yards. His best season was 1974, with 1,569 total yards and 16 touchdowns in 14 games.

Nov. 4 — Gian Luca Barandun, 24, World Cup downhill skier from Switzerland died in a paragliding accident. Barandun started in eight World Cup downhill races. He placed 15th in Switzerland’s signature race, the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, in January. He also had 20th-place finishes in downhills in Val Gardena and Bormio, Italy, last December. His career-best World Cup result was ninth-place finish in an Alpine combined event in Bormio in December.

Nov. 7 — Walt Kowalczyk, 83, star halfback at Michigan State who finished third in the 1957 Heisman Trophy race. Nicknamed “The Sprinting Blacksmith,” Kowalczyk helped the Spartans to top-three finishes in the AP poll for the 1955 and 1957 seasons. He was named MVP of the 1956 Rose Bowl. Kowalczyk was drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. He spent three seasons in the NFL, two with Philadelphia and one with Dallas, and finished his career in the AFL with Oakland in 1961.

Nov. 7 — Bob Naegele Jr., 78, founding owner of the Minnesota Wild. Naegele was the lead investor in the expansion franchise that began play in 2000, eight seasons after the North Stars left Minnesota for Dallas. In 2008, Naegele sold the club to Craig Leipold. Later that year, he was a winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to the sport.

Nov. 8 — Wally Triplett, 92, the trailblazing running back who was one of the first African-Americans drafted by an NFL team. Triplett was the third African-American selected in the 1949 draft. Triplett was also the first African-American to start for Penn State, and in 1948, he and teammate Dennie Hoggard became the first African-Americans to play in the Cotton Bowl. Triplett played in 18 games for Detroit from 1949-50. After serving two years during the Korean War, he returned to play for the Cardinals.

Nov. 10 — Odanis “Cuba” Acuna, 42, exercise rider at Churchill Downs died in a training accident when his horse broke down with catastrophic injuries. The 42-year-old rider for trainer Kenny McPeek was breezing unraced 2-year-old New York Harbor when the horse fell about a sixteenth of a mile before the finish line.

Nov. 10 — Ron Johnson, 71, first black player to be a captain of the Michigan football team. Johnson was an All-American for the Wolverines in 1968 when he set a school record that still stands with 347 yards rushing against Wisconsin. Johnson was drafted by Cleveland in the first round in 1970 and was traded to the New York Giants the following season. He became the first Giants player to run for 1,000 yards in a season in 1970 and accomplished the feat against in 1972. He finished his career in 1975.

Nov. 10 — Jairo Capellan, 19, Cincinnati Reds minor league pitcher was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Capellan completed his first year in professional baseball, going 2-3 in 18 relief appearances.

Nov. 11 — Jed Copham, 46, owner of Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota. Copham had owned the raceway near Brainerd in central Minnesota since 2006.

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