Notable Football Deaths in 2015
by Randy Snow
Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Saturday, December 26, 2015 (Updated December 31, 2015)
With the passing of another year, it is time to remember those we lost in 2015. While some of these people may be familiar to you, others you may never have heard of before. Regardless, their football lives were full of great achievements that deserve to be remembered.
Here are the people that were profiled in the News section of www.theworldoffootball.com in the past 12 months;
January 3, 2015 - Allie Sherman, who was a head coach in the NFL and the CFL, dies at the age of 91. Sherman played college football at Brooklyn College and went on to be the backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1943-1947. In 1943, the Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged to become the Phil-Pitt Steagles when there was a player shortage due to World War II. He was the head coach of the New York Giants from 1961-1968 and took the team to the NFL title game in 61, 62 and 63, losing all three times. Prior to becoming the head coach of the Giants, Sherman was the team's backfield coach from 1949-1953. He then became the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League from 1954-1956. He returned to the Giants as a scout in 1957. In 1959, he took over as the team's offensive coordinator after Vince Lombardi left the position to become the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
January 3, 2015 – Bill Jessup, who played in the NFL and the CFL, dies at the age of 85. Jessup played college football at Long Beach Community College and at USC. He was drafted in the 11th Round of the 1951 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and was a wide receiver and sometimes punter for the team from 1951-1958. He also played for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League in 1959 and the Denver Broncos of the American Football League in 1960.
January 4, 2015 - Stuart Scott, a former SportsCenter anchor at ESPN, dies after a long battle with cancer at the age of 49. Scott graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1987 and worked at several local television stations before joining ESPN in 1993 when the network launched it's second network, ESPN2. With his signature catch phrases "Boo-Yah" and "as cool as the other side of the pillow," he became well known and was teamed with Rich Eisen to be the late night SportsCenter team in 1996.
January 7, 2015 - Jethro Pugh, a former defensive lineman in the NFL, dies at the age of 70. Pugh played college football at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1965 NFL Draft. He played for the Cowboys for 14 seasons, from 1965-1978, and won two Super Bowls with the team, Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII.
January 18, 2015 - Tony Verna, the inventor of instant replay, dies at the age of 81. Verna was a 29-year-old television producer for CBS in 1963 when he came up with the technology that would allow plays to be reshown shortly after they occurred live on the field. He debuted the system on December 7, 1963 during the Army-Navy game. There were many technical problems with the system that day, so it was only used one time, to reshow a one-yard touchdown run by Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh in the fourth quarter.
February 1, 2015 - Ann Mara, wife of former New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, dies from complication of a head injury suffered from a January 18 slip and fall on ice at the age of 85. She and her 11 children owned 50 percent of the team. Ann and Wellington were married in 1954. Wellington Mara passed away 10 years ago at the age of 89. The Mara family were the sole owners of the team until 1991 when Bob Tisch bought 50 percent of the team. Tim Mara, Wellington’s father, bought the team in 1925 for $500.
February 3, 2015 – Jim Letcavits, who played in the Canadian Football League, dies at the age of 79. Letcavits played college football at the University of Kansas. He went on to play wide receiver and was also a punter for the CFL Edmonton Eskimos from 1958-1962 and the Montreal Alouettes in 1963. He then returned his hometown of Massillon, Ohio where he was a high school teacher, assistant football coach and head track coach for 30 years.
February 6, 2015 – Al Hoisch, who was a college football star and served in World War II, dies at the age of 91. Hoisch played college football at Stanford in 1941 and 1942 before he joined the Army Air Corps and became a pilot. During WWII he flew missions over Germany, India, Burma and China. He received four Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals and a medal from the Chinese government. Upon his return from the war he enrolled at UCLA and played football there in 1946 and 1947. He had a school record 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 1947 Rose Bowl game vs. Illinois. Hoisch was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2000.
February 9, 2015 – Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, dies at the age of 98. Sabol started the company in 1964 and ran it until 1985 when his son, Steve Sabol, took over. Steve died of brain cancer in 2012, While Ed was running the company, it won 52 Emmy Awards and many more when Steve was at the helm. NFL Films innovations included putting microphones on players and coaches, various camera techniques and using music with their footage. Ed Sabol was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. (See related article on September 18, 2012)
February 17, 2015 - John Barrow, who played defensive tackle in the Canadian Football League, dies at the age of 79. Barrow played college football at the University of Florida and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fifth round of the 1957 NFL Draft. He chose, however, to play in Canada and signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He played in Hamilton from 1957-1970, winning four Grey Cup titles. Barrow was named CFL Lineman of the Century in 1967. He then went on to become the general Manager of the Toronto Argonauts from 1971-1975. Barrow was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1976.
March 21, 2015 - Chuck Bednarik, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, dies at the age of 89. Bednarik played college football at Pennsylvania and was selected as the first overall pick in the 1949 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He played in Philly from 1949-1962 and won NFL titles in 1949 and 1960. After high school and before going to college, Bednarik served in the Army Air Corps and flew 30 bombing missions over Europe in World War II. He was a gunner on the B-24 Liberator. On the gridiron he played center and linebacker. He was one of the last players in the NFL to play both offense and defense. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 and the College Football Hall of Fame in in 1969. The Eagles retired his number 60 in 1987. His nickname was Concrete Charlie, because in the off-season, he was a salesman for a concrete company. The Chuck Bednarik Award is awarded annually to the best defensive player in college football.
March 25, 2015 – Jimmy “Red” Phillips, dies at the age of 79. Phillips played college football at Auburn and helped lead the team to the 1957 college football national championship. He played wide receiver and defensive lineman. He was selected in the first round of the 1958 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Phillips played 10 seasons in the NFL, first for the Rams from 1958-1964 and then for the Minnesota Vikings from 1965-1967.
April 1, 2015 – Eddie LeBaron, a.k.a. The Little General, who was a star quarterback in college and in the NFL, dies at the age of 85. LeBaron played college football at the University of the Pacific and was selected in the 10th round of the 1950 NFL Draft by the U. S. Marine Corps and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service. LeBaron played in Washington from 1952-1953 and from 1955-1959. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1952. He then played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1963. He went on to become the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons from 1977-1982 and was named NFL Executive of the Year in 1980. LeBaron was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
April 11, 2015 - Jimmy Gunn, who played in college and in the NFL, dies of heart failure at the age of 66. Gunn played college football at USC where he was an All-American defensive end. He was part of the team’s “Wild Bunch” defensive line in 1969. Gun was selected in the 13th round of the 1970 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He played seven season in the NFL for the Bears (1970-1975), New York Giants (1975) and Tampa Bay Buccaneer (1976).
April 20, 2015 – Doug Buffone, who played linebacker in the NFL, dies of natural causes at the age of 70. Buffone played college football at Louisville. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1966 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and played his entire 14-year career with the team from 1966-1979. He was the team’s defensive captain for eight seasons from 1972-1979. He played alongside some of the greats in Bears history; Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. After he retired as a player, Buffone founded an independent newspaper called “Bear Report” which covered the team. He also hosted a daily Chicago radio show called “The Bull and the Bear” with former NBA Chicago Bulls basketball player Norm Van Lier.
May 13, 2015 – Fran Fisher, the radio voice of Penn State football for many years, dies at the age of 91. Fisher attended the college in the 1940s but never graduated due to serving in World War II. He joined the Penn State Football Radio Network in 1966 and was the radio play-by-play man from 1970-1982 and again from 1994-1999. He also produced and hosted public television specials on the team as well as hosting the Nittany Lion Hot Line radio call-in show on the Penn State Sports Network.
May 15, 2015 – Garo Yepremian, a left-footed kicker in the NFL for 14 seasons, dies from a brain tumor at the age of 70. Yepremian did not play college football. He was a soccer player from Cyprus who came to America at the age of 22 in 1966. He played for the Detroit Lions (1966-1967), Miami Dolphins (1970-1978), New Orleans Saints (1979) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1980-1981). He was part the 1972 Dolphins team that went undefeated and won the Super Bowl. Yepremian is most famous for attempting to throw a pass in that Super Bowl after a kick was blocked. The pass was batted up in the air, intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Dolphins still won the game to complete the perfect season.
May 15, 2015 – Eddie Foster, an offensive tackle who played in the WFL and the CFL, dies at the age of 63. Foster played college football and was a three year starter at Oklahoma from 1971-1973. He was captain of the 1973 Sooners team that went undefeated and won the Big 8 title. Foster was then selected in the 12th round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He ended up playing in the World Football League for the Jacksonville Sharks in 1974 and the Birmingham Vulcans in 1975. He also played in the Canadian Football League in 1975 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Foster was elected into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
May 29, 2015 - Henry Carr, an Olympic sprinter and NFL player, dies of cancer at the age of 73. Carr played one season of college football at Arizona State but then concentrated on track and field. He won two gold medals in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, one in the 200-meter dash with an Olympic record time of 20.3 seconds and another as a member of the 4x400-meter relay team. Carr was then selected in the fourth round of the 1965 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He played just three seasons in the NFL for the Giants and was a safety and cornerback. Carr was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1997.
June 4, 2015 – Wayne Harris, who was a linebacker in the Canadian Football League for 11 seasons, dies at the age of 77. Harris played college football at the University of Arkansas. He played his entire career with the Calgary Stampeders from 1961-1972 and played in three Grey Cup championship games, winning one. He was the MVP of the 1971 Grey Cup game after defeating the Toronto Argonauts. Harris was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1976 and in 1985 he was in the inaugural class of players added to the Stampeders Wall of Fame. In 2012, Harris was featured on a Canadian postage stamp representing the Stampeders to mark the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup game.
June 23, 2015 - Tommy Hudspeth, who coached in college, the CFL, the WFL and the NFL, dies from complications of cancer at the age of 83. Hudspeth played college football at the University of Tulsa from 1949-1952 where he was a defensive back. He was later an assistant coach there from 1957-1960. From 1961-1963, he was an assistant coach with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He then took the job as the head coach at BYU from 1964-1971, leading the team to its first ever conference title in 1965. From 1972-1973, he was the head coach at UTEP. In 1974, Hudspeth was an assistant coach with the Chicago Fire of the World Football League. He was also the head coach of the NFL Detroit Lions from 1976-1977. He was the general manager of the CFL Toronto Argonauts from 1979-1981 and also the team's head coach in 1981. More recently, he worked in the athletic department at Tulsa from 2006-2015.
July 2, 2015 - Charlie Sanders, who was a tight end in the NFL for 10 seasons, dies of cancer at the age of 68. Sanders played college football at the University of Minnesota. He was selected in the third round of the 1968 NFL Drafted by the Detroit Lions and played for the team from 1968-1977. After a knee injury forced him to retire, Sanders remained with the team for the rest of his life, serving as a receivers coach, player scout and a broadcaster. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
July 8, 2015 - Kenny "The Snake" Stabler, who played in the NFL for 15 seasons, dies from complications of colon cancer at the age of 69. Stabler played college football at Alabama and led the team to an undefeated season in 1966. He also was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl that season after a 34-7 win over Nebraska. Stabler was selected in the second round of the 1968 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and played for the team from 1970-1979. He was named the league's MVP in 1974 and a few years later led the Raiders to a 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Stabler finished his playing career with the Houston Oilers from 1980-1982 and the New Orleans Saints from 1983-1985.
July 17, 2015 - Bill Arnsparger, who coached in college and in the NFL, dies at the age of 88. Arnesparger was a Marine during World War II. He then graduated from the University of Miami (Ohio) in 1950 and became an assistant football coach at the school. He went on to be the defensive line coach at Ohio State from 1951-1953, Kentucky from 1954-1961 and Tulane from 1962-1963. Arnsparger then went to the NFL where he was the defensive line coach for the Baltimore Colts from 1964-1969 and the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins from 1970-1973. The 1972 Dolphins went undefeated and won the Super Bowl that year. He then became the head coach of the New York Giants from 1974-1976. Arnsparger then returned to the Dolphins from 1976-1983 as the team's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He returned to the college ranks and was the head coach at LSU from 1984-1986. From 1987-1992 he was the athletic director at the University of Florida. His final coaching job was in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, where he served as the team's defensive coordinator from 1992-1994. The Chargers lost in Super Bowl XXIX to the San Francisco 49ers 49-26 during his final season.
July 17, 2015 – Van Miller, the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the Buffalo Bills, dies at the age of 87. Miller began calling Bills games in 1960, when the team debuted as an original member of the American Football League. He called games through 1970 then returned to their broadcast booth from 1978-2003.
July 18, 2015 - Frank Mordica, a former All-American running back at Vanderbilt, dies of a heart attack at the age of 57. Mordica played for the Commodores from 1976-1979. He led the team in rushing in three consecutive seasons; 1977, 1978 and 1979. Mordica was selected in the ninth round of the 1980 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, but a knee injury prior to his rookie season ended his playing career. He joined the Navy a year later and retired in 2011 after 30 years of military service.
August 3, 2015 – Mel Farr, who played running back in the NFL for seven seasons, dies at the age of 70. Farr played college football at UCLA and was selected in the first round of the 1967 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. He was the Offensive Rookie of the year in 1967 and his teammate, Lem Barney, was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Farr and Barney sang backup vocals on Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit song, “What’s Going On?” and were awarded a gold record for it. Farr went on to become the first African-America to own a Ford dealership in Detroit and did television commercials for them as Mel Farr Superstar wearing a red cape. At one point, he owned 11 dealerships in the Detroit area.
August 9, 2015 – Frank Gifford, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, dies at the age of 84. Gifford played college football at USC and was selected in the first round of the 1952 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He played his entire career with the Giants from 1952-1960 and 1962-1964. He did not play in 1961 due to an injury. Gifford was the league MVP in 1956 and helped lead the team to an NFL title the season. He was a halfback who also played receiver and defensive back. After his playing career, Gifford went into broadcasting and was a longtime member of the ABC Monday Night Football broadcasting team from 1971-1997 along with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. Gifford was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. His Giants jersey number 16 was retired by the team in 2000.
August 24, 2015 – Charlie Coffey, a former college football head coach, dies at the age of 81. Coffey played college football at Tennessee where he played offensive guard and defensive tackle. He graduated in 1956 and went into coaching. Coffey served as an assistant coach at Tennessee from 1963-1965. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Arkansas, George Washington and Southeastern Louisiana State. He was the head coach at Virginia Tech from 1971-1973. Coffey was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
September 29, 2015 – Al Benecick, a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, dies at the age of 78. Benecick played college football at Syracuse and was selected in the sixth round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He did not play for the Eagles but instead signed with the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders where he played offensive guard and tackle from 1959-1968. He finished his playing career with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1969. Benecick won a Grey Cup with the Roughriders in 1966. He was inducted into the Roughriders’ Plaza of honor in 1991 and into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
October 4, 2015 - Jim "Long Gone" Thomas, who was a running back in the Canadian Football League, dies the age of 76. Thomas played college football at Mississippi Industrial. He then played for the Edmonton Eskimos from 1963-1971 and scored the three longest touchdown runs in team history; 97 yards in 1964 against the Ottawa Rough Riders, 100 yards in 1966 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 104 yards in 1965 against the British Columbia Lions.
October 8, 2015 - Lindy Infante, who was a head coach in the NFL, dies at the age of 75. Infante played college football at Florida. He was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1988-1991 and was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1989. He was also the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 1996-1997. Infante finished his coaching career with the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League from 1984-1985. Along the way, he also spent time as an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals (1982) and the Cleveland Browns (1986-1987).
November 18, 2015 - Richard Flutie (76) and Joan Flutie (73), the parents of CFL, NFL and USFL star quarterback Doug Flutie, die less than an hour apart, both from heart attacks. The couple had been married for 56 years.
November 5, 2015 - Edgar Lechner, who played on two college football national championship teams, dies at the age of 95. Lechner played offensive and defensive tackle for the University of Minnesota and won back-to-back national championships in 1940 and 1941. In 1942, he played one season in the NFL for the New York Giants. He returned to his alma mater in 1943 to continue his studies to become a dentist. Big Ten Conference rules at the time allowed him to play college football again in 1943. Lechner did in fact become a dentist and over the years he worked on many players of the Minnesota Vikings.
December 4, 2015 – Willie Burden, who was a running back in the Canadian Football League, dies at the age of 64. He had been in the hospital for the past 10 months while awaiting a heart transplant. Burden played college football at North Carolina State and, in 1973, became the school’s first running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions but signed with the CFL Calgary Stampeders instead and played for the team from 1974-1981. He still holds the team record for most rushing yards in a single season with 1,896 yards in 1975. Burden’s number 10 was retired by the Stampeders in 1982 and he was inducted onto the Stampeders’ Wall of Honour in 1992. He was also inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
December 5, 2015 - Mack Herron, who was one of the smallest players to ever play in the NFL at five feet, five and a half inches tall, dies at the age of 67. He had been battling drug addiction his entire life. Herron played college football at Kansas State and was selected in the sixth round of the 1970 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. However, he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and played for the team from 1971-1972. He led the CFL in all-purpose yards both seasons. He then signed with the New England Patriots in 1973. Herron was mainly a kick return specialist and in 1974 he led the NFL in all-purpose yards while playing for New England. He finished his playing career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1975.
December 30, 2015 – Doug Atkins, who played defensive end in the NFL for 17 seasons, dies at the age of 85. Atkins played college football at Tennessee and was selected in the first round of the 1953 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played for the Browns from 1953-1954 and won an NFL title in 1954. Atkins then played for the Chicago Bears from 1955-1966 and won a second NFL title in 1963. He ended his playing career playing for the New Orleans Saints from 1967-1969. Atkins was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.