EVEL KNIEVEL | 69
OCCASIONALLY ATHLETES are lauded for making the difficult look routine. That never happened with Knievel; footage of the motorcycle-riding daredevil breaking bone upon bone served as a reminder that the stunts he was attempting were indeed extraordinary. Of course the fact that Knievel crashed a lot was part of his allure. He always got back on his bike to defy death—or at least injury—again. Born Robert Craig Knievel in Butte, Mont., he burst onto the scene on New Year's Eve in 1967, when he tried to jump the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and wound up in a coma for 29 days. He became a Wide World of Sports staple, the subject of a 1977 biopic (Viva Knievel) and a marketer's dream: His face appeared on everything from lunch boxes to pinball machines. After a lifetime of taking chances, the hard-drinking, hard-brawling Knievel was fighting hepatitis and diabetes when he died. "I created the character called Evel Knievel," he said, "and he sort of got away from me."
SEAN TAYLOR | 24
THOUGH HE struggled during his first two NFL seasons—he was fined repeatedly for late hits and accused of brandishing a gun during a fight—the Redskins' Pro Bowl safety appeared to put his life in order after the birth of his daughter in 2006. But in an apparent botched robbery at his Miami home, Taylor was killed. During the Skins' next game, at home against the Bills, they sent 10 defenders onto the field for their first play.
December 31, 2007
JIM SHOULDERS | 79
HE WASN'T afraid to get thrown from a bull or a bronco—LIFE dubbed him Mister Broken Bones—and he didn't have much use for doctors who tried to talk him out of riding. Told by one he should undergo nasal reconstruction surgery, Shoulders said, "Hell, Doc, I don't hold on with my nose." He stayed on top of enough bucking beasts to win a record 16 riding world titles and was a charter member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
TERRY HOEPPNER | 59
AFTER ACHIEVING a 13--1 record and a Top 15 ranking in 2002 at Miami (Ohio)—where he coached Ben Roethlisberger (SI, Nov. 5, 2007)—Hoeppner was hired by Indiana in '04. The following year he learned that he had a brain tumor; he coached the '06 team to a 5--7 finish but then went on medical leave. Hoeppner died in June, and the Hoosiers dedicated their 2007 season to him. They went 7--5 and earned an Insight Bowl berth.
RYAN SHAY | 28
ASTRONG CONTENDER for the Olympic marathon team in 2008, Shay collapsed and died during the trials in New York City. In '01 he won Notre Dame's first individual NCAA track title, in the 10,000 meters. Two years later he was the U.S. marathon champ, but he struggled with injuries and failed to qualify for the Athens Games. Of his son's enlarged heart, Joe Shay said, "The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him."
BILL WILLIS | 86
ONE YEAR before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, Willis was one of four black players to sign pro football contracts. A standout two-way lineman and track star at Ohio State, he followed his coach, Paul Brown, to Cleveland. Brown said Willis "had the quickest defensive charge" he'd ever seen, and the Browns' p.r. office issued a release saying that photographers had to shoot at 1/600th of a second to capture him on film.
PETER DAVI | 45
THE 6'3", 240-pound big-wave pioneer was described by one fellow surfer as a "gentle giant." A notoriously territorial bunch, surfers welcomed Davi everywhere he dropped in, from California (where he helped popularize Ghost Trees, a break off the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey) to Hawaii (where he was given the honorific Outer Reef Chief). He was killed when he lost his board at Ghost Trees, where waves can reach 70 feet.
BILL FRANCE JR. | 74
HIS FATHER founded NASCAR, but Bill Jr. got it noticed outside the Southeast. He took over from Big Bill in 1972; seven years later he persuaded CBS to air the Daytona 500 live for $1 million. The wild race was a ratings success and set the stage for the stock car circuit's emergence. His last TV contract, signed in '99, was worth $2.4 billion, and when he stepped down five years later, races were being run in Chicago and Las Vegas.
BUTCH VAN BREDA KOLFF | 84
ONE OF basketball's most peripatetic coaches, he was also one of its finest. Among his 13 stops were Princeton (which he led to the 1965 Final Four) and Los Angeles (he took the Lakers to the Finals in '68 and '69). Van Breda Kolff also coached in a women's pro league and, when he was 61, at a Mississippi high school. "I've had some good jobs that I've left, or they fired me," he said. "Whether it turned out right later, who cares?"
JOSH HANCOCK | 29
HE LEFT Auburn after only one year and was let go by three pro franchises, but Hancock finally found a home in St. Louis in 2006. He pitched his way onto the team in spring training, then made 62 relief appearances as the Cardinals went on to win the World Series. Hancock was killed in April when the car he was driving struck a tow truck that had stopped on an interstate. His blood alcohol count was almost twice the legal limit.
BARBARO | 4
FEW SPORTS figures—equine or otherwise—have engendered as much goodwill as Barbaro, who broke down in the 2006 Preakness two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths. Derby champs routinely inspire Triple Crown buzz, but Barbaro, with his speed and stamina, looked like the real deal. After his accident in the Preakness, fans—some of them hard-core horseplayers, some casual observers affected by the plight of a beautiful animal struggling to survive—rallied around the bay colt. As Barbaro struggled with complications from surgery on his broken right hind leg, they held vigils and left cards, carrots, apples and at least one container of holy water at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary hospital. But he didn't respond to treatment, and when it became apparent that he was in pain, he was euthanized nine months after his win at Churchill Downs.