2011 saw the deaths of many beloved athletes and sports figures. We hated to see them go, these giants of the gridiron, diamond, rink, ring and more.
In football, one of the most recent NFL deaths was that of Lew Bush. The San Diego Charger was the seventh from the team's 1994 Super Bowl effort to die, leaving fans wondering if the team is fighting off a curse. Prior to Bush, we lost many other NFL and college greats – Bubba Smith, who played for the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers before moving on to a successful movie career in the Police Academy series; Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears and New York Giants; Ron Springs of the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jim Mandich, tight end and announcer for the Miami Dolphins; Andy Robustelli of the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams; Lee Roy Selmon, Hall of Fame defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and Drew Hill of the Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons.
Major League Baseball lost a number of greats as well. Harmon Killebrew was a Minnesota Twin known for a brilliant home-run career. Duke Snider helped the Brooklyn Dodgers to their one and only World Series win. Paul Splittorff was the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history. And Bob Forsch was the only pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history to throw two no-hitters.
The hockey world reeled this year from shocking losses. It started with the out-of-the-blue death of 28-year-old Derek Boogaard, a New York Rangers fan favorite. Not long after, Wade Belak of the Nashville Predators died at just 35, and Jaroslav Jirik, of the St. Louis Blues, the first NHL player from behind the Iron Curtain, died at 71. Further tragedy struck in September when a plane carrying Russia's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed, killing almost the entire team. On the plane was Brad McCrimmon, a coach for the team and a former member of the Calgary Flames who helped the team to their one Stanley Cup in 1989.
Motorsports fans mourned the losses of two greats: Dan Wheldon, an IndyCar driver who won the coveted Indianapolis 500 twice, and women's racing pioneer Betty Skelton Erde, who once held the title of fastest woman on earth. Boxing legend Joe Frazier died in November, leaving behind his legacy of beating "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali, in The Fight of the Century. Margo Dydek was a former WNBA star, and at 7'2" she was once the tallest active professional female basketball player in the world. Seve Ballestros was a Spanish golf great who was a five-time major champion. And Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, known simply as Socrates, was a giant of Brazilian soccer.
And it's not just players who we mourn this year. Larry Finch coached the Memphis Tigers basketball team to the NCAA tournament six times. Al Davis owned the Oakland Raiders and helped make the NFL the most successful sports league in American history. Chuck Tanner managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history. And Larry Munson was the beloved voice of the Georgia Bulldogs for almost 43 years.
Written by Linnea Crowther