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Steelers Mourn Grand Canyon Death of Former Center Ray Mansfield

November 5, 1996

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) _ Past and present Pittsburgh Steelers are mourning the death of former center Ray Mansfield, who collapsed and died during a weekend hiking trip on a remote canyon trail.

The body of the 55-year-old was flown out of the canyon by helicopter Monday, and the Coconino County Medical Examiner planned to conduct an autopsy, Park Service spokeswoman Mallory Smith said.

With a family history of cardiac illness and no signs of external trauma, the Park Service preliminarily said Mansfield died of natural causes.

Nicknamed ``Ranger″ for his love of the outdoors, Mansfield was on the first day of a four-day hike trip along the canyon’s south rim when he died Saturday.

``He was an adventurer,″ said former Steelers lineman John Banaszak, who once joined Mansfield in a climb up Colorado’s Mount Princeton. ``That was his element. That was his form of competition ... recreation and relaxation.″

Mansfield, who played on two Super Bowl teams, was hiking with his son Jim and a friend, and had lagged behind. When Mansfield didn’t arrive at their campsite by Sunday morning, the other men went back to find him.

``It’s not unreasonable that they waited (to go back to look for Mansfield), due to the rugged trail and darkness,″ Smith said, noting the men were on a back-country trip and hiking off the main trails.

By the time the two reached Mansfield, he had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.

They began hiking the seven miles back Sunday and reached the rim Monday morning. Park rangers then removed the body in the afternoon. Mansfield is the sixth hiker to die in the canyon since July.

Mansfield, who ran an insurance business in suburban Pittsburgh, still holds the Steelers’ record for consecutive games played _ 182 from 1964-76. He was with Pittsburgh teams that beat Minnesota in the 1975 Super Bowl and Dallas the following year.

He played on the Washington team that beat Minnesota 17-7 in the 1961 Rose Bowl and was drafted in 1963 by the Philadelphia Eagles. The following season, he joined the Steelers.

``Ray was a special person,″ former Steelers coach Chuck Noll said. ``He was a guy that everybody rallied around. He always had a certain amount of levity, but he was a tremendous football player.

``I really remember when we moved into Three Rivers in 1970, and Ray was one of the guys who remembered how it was before when we had to practice at South Park and we didn’t really have a home. He was sitting in his locker before the first exhibition game and he had a smile from ear to ear. He was just so glad the Steelers finally had a home.″

Team president Dan Rooney said Mansfield was ``a fine guy and very close to us,″ and recalled him standing up to Oakland Raiders fans following a 24-7 win in the AFC championship following the 1974 season.

``He added a lot of humor and spirit to our teams,″ Rooney said. ``I remember the first time we won at Oakland in the AFC championship. It was one of those pitched battles like we always had with them.

``He was the first player on the field, and you know those fans out there were giving him a hard time. I remember he put his hand up in one of those victory things, and that really got them going, but it got very infectious on our team.″

Banaszak called Mansfield a role model both on and off the field. He said he remembered his friend best as a raconteur of tales from the team’s ``good years.″

``I can see him with a big cigar telling those stories, and it brings a smile to my face right now,″ Banaszak said. He said Mansfield also was known for breaking curfew during training camps and leading players who sneaked out for nighttime partying.

Mansfield was a main figure in a best-selling book Roy Blount Jr. wrote about the 1973 Steelers, ``About Three Bricks Shy Of A Load.″

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