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Not to Be Forgotten

Dec. 28, 2009
Dec. 28, 2009

Table of Contents
Dec. 28, 2009

LEADING OFF
THE DECADE IN SPORTS: 2000--2009
THE YEAR IN SPORTS 2009
Departments

Not to Be Forgotten

From a right-leaning quarterback to a bass-playing power forward to a clotheshorse coach, the sports figures who died made marks that will last for ages—even those who passed away far before their primes

Arturo Gatti, 37

This is an article from the Dec. 28, 2009 issue

If not the best boxer of recent vintage (he was 40--9), the relentless Gatti was among the most exciting. Four times he was involved in Ring magazine's Fight of the Year, including in 2003, when he took a unanimous decision from welterweight Mickey Ward despite breaking his right hand in the fourth round. Gatti, who held titles in two classes, was found dead in a hotel room in Brazil in what authorities ruled a suicide.

Doc Blanchard, 84

Called "that berserk water buffalo" by a New York Times writer, Blanchard was Mr. Inside to Glenn Davis's Mr. Outside in Army's famed backfield of the mid-1940s. He bulled for 1,908 career yards and was the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy, in 1945. His military commitment kept him from playing professionally, but the honors kept coming: He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his 113 combat missions in Vietnam.

Robert Enke, 32

Enke, who was likely to be Germany's starting goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup, took his own life, six years after he began treatment for depression. His two-year-old daughter, Lara, died in 2006, and he and his wife, Teresa, adopted a baby last May. According to Teresa, Enke lived in fear that his new daughter would be taken from them if his depression became public. In November he threw himself in front of a train 200 yards from Lara's grave.

Mark Fidrych, 54

In July 1976 the Michigan legislature introduced a resolution calling for the Tigers to give their rookie pitcher making $16,500 a raise. Unlike the recent debate over the wisdom of lawmakers spending time on the BCS, there was no outrage, because the pitcher was Mark Fidrych, and in the summer of '76 everyone loved the Bird. With a sinking fastball and a nasty slider, the lanky 21-year-old with the Harpo Marx hair tormented American League hitters, talked to baseballs and groomed the mound like a manic gardener. Nowhere was he more beloved than in Detroit, where his refusal to take himself too seriously—"All I'm lookin' for mainly is to play pool and the pinball machines and, maybe, dance," he said—meshed with the city's blue-collar tastes. The Bird won 19 games and the league's ERA title as a rookie, but his fall was almost as swift as his ascent: Knee and shoulder injuries limited him to just 10 more victories. He retired to his farm in Northborough, Mass., where he was killed in April when his clothes became entangled in the moving parts of a truck he was repairing.

Chris Henry, 26

Suspended for half of the 2007 season and cut by the Bengals for repeated off-field incidents, the talented 6'4" receiver was given another chance when Cincinnati re-signed him in August 2008. Henry battled injuries, catching 19 passes in '08 and 12 in '09 before a broken forearm ended his season in November. He died on Dec. 17 when he fell from the back of a moving pickup truck during a dispute with his fiancée.

Andrea Mead Lawrence, 76

Before the 1952 Winter Olympics, Mead was featured on the cover of Time, which noted that the 19-year-old "drinks a beer with her meals, and ... smokes a cigarette when she feels like it." The training regimen worked: Lawrence swept both slalom events in Oslo, an unprecedented feat for an American. She later spent four decades as a leading conservationist in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

Marvin Webster, 56

The 7'1" Webster was renowned as a shot blocker, picking up the nickname the Human Eraser after swatting away 8.0 per game as a junior at Morgan State. The son of a Baptist preacher—he seldom traveled without a Bible and never swore—Webster had his best NBA season in 1977--78, when he led the Seattle SuperSonics to the Finals, averaging 16.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.64 blocks in the playoffs.

Ted Kennedy, 83

Maple Leafs executive Frank Selke acquired the 17-year-old Kennedy in 1943, when owner Conn Smythe was off serving in World War II. Smythe was livid that Selke gave up one of his favorite prospects for the center, creating a rift that led to Selke's departure. Not an exceptionally fast or graceful skater, Teeder had a knack for scoring clutch goals (against the defending champion Canadiens in 1947, he became the youngest player to net a Stanley Cup winner) and is widely regarded as the greatest face-off man in NHL history. He won five Cups with Toronto—two as captain, a post to which he was elected at the tender age of 22—and took the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player in 1955, his final full season. As for Smythe, he eventually came around, calling Kennedy "the greatest competitor in hockey."

Jack Kemp, 73

Too small to stick in the NFL, the quarterback from Division III Occidental College caught on with the AFL's Chargers in 1960. Kemp's gunslinging ways—he was a scrambler who could throw the ball 90 yards—were a perfect fit for the wide-open, progressive league. His politics were more straitlaced: He was a fan of William F. Buckley and a columnist for the right-leaning San Diego Union. He gave up that gig in '62, when the Bills picked him up on waivers; in Buffalo he won two titles and the '65 MVP award. He also cofounded the AFL players' association and was elected its president five times, so it came as no surprise that just months after he retired in '70, he was elected to Congress. Kemp, who ran for president in '88 and was the GOP vice-presidential nominee in '96, was an ardent supporter of Ronald Reagan's supply-side economics, but on social issues, especially race, the man who called himself a "bleeding-heart conservative" was far more liberal, in part because of his football career. "I can't help but care about the rights of the people I used to shower with," he was fond of saying.

Chuck Daly, 78

It seemed like an NBA mismatch: the take-no-prisoners Pistons of the 1980s and their coach, whose love of crooners was surpassed only by his love of clothes. But even Daly's sartorial passions (a friend of Daly's once estimated that he had at least 100 blue suits) couldn't surpass his fervor on the sidelines (in 1985 he got into a sideline shoving match with Bulls coach Stan Albeck). That ability to cultivate both his soft and hard sides served him well; he was beloved by his players in Detroit—they affectionately called him Daddy Rich—but at the same time, as one assistant put it, "the players have to know who's boss, and on this team Chuck Daly is the boss." In '83 he took over a Pistons club that had just three winning records in the previous quarter century. In his nine seasons in Detroit he never had fewer than 46 victories, and in 1989 he led the team to the first of two consecutive titles, expertly managing the oversized personalities and egos. His touch was just as deft with the original Dream Team in 1992, which he led on a gold medal romp in Barcelona.

Tommy Henrich, 96

Growing up in the football hotbed of Massillon, Ohio, Henrich played softball because baseball diamonds were hard to find. He still drew the attention of scouts and made his way into the Yankees' lineup in 1937, playing next to Joe DiMaggio in the outfield. A five-time All-Star and .282 career batter, Henrich was at his best in the clutch—hence his nickname, Old Reliable. In '49 he hit the first walk-off homer in World Series history.

George McAfee, 90

Called "the most dangerous man with the football in the game" by Red Grange, McAfee had a knack for scoring from anywhere, anytime. In 1941, the best year of his Hall of Fame career, the Bears back led the NFL with 12 touchdowns—five rushing, three receiving and four on returns (a kickoff, a punt, an interception and a blocked kick). McAfee also popularized the use of low-cut shoes, which gave him more mobility.

Al Cervi, 92

The 5'11" Cervi was the model for the guard as a gritty, hustling coach on the floor. After five years in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Cervi joined the Rochester Royals as a 28-year-old in 1945; within three years he was the player-coach of the Syracuse Nationals. He led the National Basketball League in scoring in '47, but it was for his feats on the bench—a 366--264 record and the '55 NBA title—that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Norm Van Lier, 61

The 6'1" Bulls guard was as fiesty as they come: He once chased Sidney Wicks, to whom he gave away eight inches and 75 pounds, around Chicago Stadium with a chair after a hard foul. A skilled playmaker—Van Lier averaged a league-high 10.1 assists in 1970—he made his mark at the other end of the court: In his 10-year career Stormin' Norman was a first- or second-team All-Defensive selection eight times.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88

A competitive athlete—she swam at Stanford and played quarterback in the Kennedys' famed touch football games—Shriver founded the Special Olympics. At the inaugural event, in 1968, she led 1,000 competitors in the Special Olympics oath: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." Today, three million athletes worldwide train for the Special Olympics.

George Kell, 86

A 10-time All-Star whom Brooks Robinson called "my hero," Kell led AL third basemen in fielding seven times, including in 1950, when he made just nine errors in 510 total chances. The soft-spoken Arkansan was also adept at the plate: In '49 he thwarted Ted Williams's bid for the Triple Crown by going 2 for 3 on the final day to win the batting title, .3429 to .3427. Kell struck out 13 times that year, which remains the fewest K's by a batting champ.

Kay Yow, 66

After receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer in 1987, Yow coached the North Carolina State women's basketball team until shortly before her death in January. "She had a way of always exhibiting grace and dignity and courage," said assistant Stephanie Glance. But to remember Yow only for her fight is to overlook her proficiency on the bench: She went 737--344 with the Wolfpack and led the U.S. to Olympic gold in '88.

Glenn Davis, 74

The 1958 Sullivan Award winner, Davis ran sprints and middle distances and also competed in the long jump and high jump, winning 26 Big Ten titles at Ohio State. He took one gold medal in the 1956 Olympics (400-meter hurdles) and two more (400 hurdles, 4√ó400 relay) in 1960, when he and decathlete Rafer Johnson, who trained extensively with Davis, became the first black and white roommates on a U.S. team.

Myles Brand, 67

A former philosophy professor, Brand hewed to his principles. As Indiana University's president, he fired basketball coach Bob Knight for violating a zero-tolerance behavior policy; later, as president of the NCAA, he created the Academic Progress Rate for athletes. Said former Tulsa president Robert Lawless, Brand "propelled student-athletes to get an education where they otherwise might not have. That is his legacy."

Steve McNair, 36

Being an effective scrambling quarterback requires not only athleticism but also a willingness to take the occasional shot from a linebacker. McNair had an abundance of both. Throughout his four years at Alcorn State (where he amassed an NCAA-record 16,283 yards of total offense) and his 13-year NFL career (during which he played in three Pro Bowls and led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV), McNair readily sacrificed his body and played hurt. More than just a runner, McNair threw for 3,000 yards six times in his eight full seasons as a starter, and his career passer rating of 82.8 is the 29th best of all time. He retired in 2008, and last July he was shot and killed by a girlfriend in what police have called a murder-suicide. Said former teammate Frank Wycheck, "I always felt that Steve McNair was indestructible."

Ingemar Johansson, 76

If the big Swede had a flaw, it was that he enjoyed a good time a little more than a boxer should. His training for his 1959 heavyweight title bout against Floyd Patterson in the Catskills consisted of golf in the morning and a trip to New York City for dinner, with some sparring sandwiched in between. No matter: Johansson's mighty right, which he called "toonder and lightning," floored Patterson in the third round. ("It is faster than the eye," Johansson said of his right hand. "Without my telling it to, the right goes, and when it hits, there is this good feeling all down my arm and down through my body.") Patterson got up, only to be sent back to the canvas at Yankee Stadium by six more rights in the round before the fight was finally stopped. One writer called Johansson's victory "a setback for austerity." Named SI's 1959 Sportsman of the Year, he lost two rematches to Patterson. In typical fashion, though, Johansson befriended his greatest adversary, and for years the two made transatlantic trips to visit each other.

Randy Smith, 60

Hailed by Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay as the best athlete he ever coached, Smith—a soccer All-America at Buffalo State—blossomed from a raw jumper into a feared scorer. A seventh-round pick of the hometown Buffalo Braves in 1971, the 6'3" guard played in 906 straight games from '72 until '83, which stood as an NBA record for 14 years. Smith averaged 20 points four times and was the MVP of the 1978 All-Star Game.

Dante Lavelli, 85

Though Lavelli played only three games for Paul Brown at Ohio State before enlisting to fight in World War II in 1942, when Brown needed players for the pro team he was starting, he tracked down the sure-handed end from Cleveland. In 11 years as a Brown, Gluefingers played in 10 league title games, catching 386 passes in his Hall of Fame career. Said Brown, "Nobody can take the ball away from him once he gets his hands on it."

Lou Albano, 76

No one married rock and roll to pro wrestling like Captain Lou, who was as fond of piercing his face as he was of training grapplers. Before being immortalized in song by NRBQ (a band he managed), Albano appeared in Cyndi Lauper's videos; soon the pair were part of a ring plotline that culminated in their managing opposing fighters in a 1984 bout on MTV. It remains the second-highest-rated wrestling broadcast on cable.

Betty Jameson, 89

In Jameson's later years the license plate on her Oldsmobile read be stil. It was a piece of advice Tommy Armour had given her decades earlier, and she took it to heart: Jameson developed one of the purest swings in golf—women's or men's. Dubbed the sport's glamour girl by the press, she won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1939 and '40, then turned pro five years later. In 1950 Jameson and a dozen other women formed the LPGA.

Alexis Arguello, 57

The Explosive Thin Man was one of boxing's great punchers. Although Arguello lost his two most high-profile fights—junior welterweight title bouts to Aaron Pryor—he did win belts in three classes. In the 1980s he fought briefly against the Sandinista government in his native Nicaragua, but in retirement he joined the party and became mayor of Managua. He died in July of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Billy Wilson, 81

A 22nd-round pick in 1950 out of San Jose State, the lanky 49ers receiver caught the eye of Y.A. Tittle in an early practice when he leaped over a fence to catch a ball the quarterback had intended to throw away. From that day forward Wilson was Tittle's favorite target. Though San Francisco employed a run-first system, Wilson—who was also a feared blocker—led the NFL in receiving three times and played in six Pro Bowls.

Wayman Tisdale, 44

Described by SI in 1984 as "college basketball's friendliest superstar," Tisdale had two passions: hoops and music. When he was nine, his father, a Baptist preacher, returned home to Tulsa with a gift—a Mickey Mouse guitar. Tisdale played it so well that he became an integral part of his dad's services. (In recruiting Tisdale, Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs vowed to move Sunday practices to the evening so that Tisdale could continue to perform in church.) Although he was barely 6'8", Tisdale was prolific in the low post, thanks to a lethal lefthanded turnaround J. He needed just 17 games to break the Sooners' record for 30-point games in a season, and he was the only player ever named first-team All-America as a freshman, sophomore and junior. Tisdale left school early for the NBA—he was the No. 2 pick in 1985—and had a 12-year career in which he averaged 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. He also released eight jazz albums, including 2008's Rebound, which was inspired by his fight against bone cancer.

Jack Kramer, 88

With a ferocious serve-and-volley game Kramer dominated tennis in the postwar years. In 1946 and '47 he won a combined six singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships (a precursor to the Open), and in each year he led the Americans to victory in the Davis Cup. But following the '47 U.S. Championships, the 26-year-old son of a railroad brakeman turned pro because, he said, "I needed the money." After a bad back forced him to retire in 1954, Kramer focused on promoting pro events. He played a leading role in the advent of the Open era in 1968 and was the first executive director of the ATP. His signature Wilson rackets, which were introduced in 1948, remain the best-selling line ever. Said journalist Bud Collins, "From a competitor to an administrator to a broadcaster, Jack Kramer was the most important figure in the history of the game."

Brad Van Pelt, 57

After earning seven varsity letters in football, baseball and basketball at Michigan State, the 1972 Maxwell Award winner—he was the first defensive back to be honored as the nation's best player—lasted into the second round of the '73 NFL draft because most teams assumed that he would pursue a pitching career. Van Pelt signed with the Giants, moved to linebacker and in 14 seasons made five Pro Bowls.

Dom DiMaggio, 92

Looking more like the chemical engineer he once wanted to be than the centerfielder he became, the Little Professor spent his accomplished 11-year career in the shadows cast by two of the greatest hitters ever: his older brother Joe and Ted Williams, who played alongside Dom in the Red Sox' outfield. A converted shortstop (early in his career managers feared a bad infield hop might shatter his pop-bottle glasses), DiMaggio covered ground in center with ease, and his arm was one of the strongest in the game. While he was no match for Joe at the plate, Dom, a seven-time All-Star, hardly disgraced the family name: His 34-game hitting streak in 1949 remains a Boston record, and he batted .298 for his career. "He made things look easy," former teammate Bobby Doerr said. "He was like his brother that way."

Red Kerr, 76

"Us players come and go," Michael Jordan said, "but the one constant thing about the Chicago Bulls is Johnny (Red) Kerr." The Chicago native was with the Bulls from the beginning, serving as their first coach (he led them to a playoff berth in their inaugural season and was named 1967 NBA Coach of the Year) then, for three decades, as their color man. The 6'9" Kerr was a three-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career.

Lou Creekmur, 82

"My philosophy was that it was always better to give than to receive," Creekmur once said, and he wasn't talking about charity. The Lions' tackle was one of the NFL's hardest hitters in the 1950s, making eight Pro Bowls. Creekmur didn't miss a game in his first nine seasons, playing in 165 straight—often while working a day job at a shipping company to make ends meet. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

Nick Adenhart, 22

A projected top 10 pick in 2004, he hurt his right elbow in his final high school start and fell to the 14th round. But Adenhart persevered, and entering the 2009 season Baseball America named him the Angels' top prospect. On April 8 he made his fourth—and best—major league start, tossing six scoreless innings against the A's. After the game an allegedly drunk driver struck the car he was in, killing Adenhart and two friends.

Vernon Forrest, 38

The rarest of creatures—the boxer without a nickname, shtick or entourage—Forrest was unheralded until 2002, when he twice beat middleweight champ Shane Mosley, then considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Forrest remained humble and true to his roots, running a business that cared for mentally disabled men in his hometown of Atlanta. He was killed in a robbery in July.

Toni Sailer, 73

A Kitzbühel plumber by trade, Sailer pulled off a historic sweep of the three Alpine skiing events at the 1956 Olympics. The 21-year-old Black Blitz from Kitz won his first gold, in the giant slalom, by a staggering 6.2 seconds. Three years later he stopped skiing competitively to focus on acting and singing. His brief career on the slopes made a lasting impression: He was voted Switzerland's top athlete of the 20th century.

Now on SI.com

In a video tribute, SI writers Tim Layden, Jack McCallum and Tom Verducci provide their perspectives on those who died in 2009. Watch the clips, produced by Jesse and Nate Gordon, at SI.com/video

More Farewells

Bill Davidson, 86 The owner of the Pistons (for 35 years), the Shock and the Lightning, all his teams won titles in 2003--04.

Jasper Howard, 20 The UConn cornerback was fatally stabbed hours after making a career-high 11 tackles in a win over Louisville.

Paul Hogue, 69 The 6'9" center was the Most Outstanding Player of the '62 Final Four, when he led Cincinnati to its second straight title.

Dick Jacobs, 83 In his 13 years as Indians owner, the team won five division championships and two pennants and had 455 straight sellouts.

Harry Kalas, 73 The smooth baritone was the voice of the Phillies for 39 years and also did voiceovers for NFL Films.

Danny Ozark, 85 Though he never won the NL pennant, he managed the Phillies to three straight division titles in the 1970s.

Carl Pohlad, 93 The banker owned the Twins since 1984—three years before they won the first of their two World Series in Minnesota.

Abe Pollin, 85 A leading D.C. philanthropist, the construction magnate owned the Wizards for 45 years and the Capitals for 25.

Richard Quick, 66 The coach of the U.S. swim team at three Olympics, Quick won 13 national titles at Texas, Stanford and Auburn.

Lou Saban, 87 The peripatetic coach made 27 stops in a 52-year career, including two stints in Buffalo, where he won a pair of AFL titles.

Peter Zezel, 44 Gifted enough to play a few NASL games, the (very tough) matinee idol scored 219 goals in a 15-year NHL career.

From the SI Family

Roy DeCarava, 89 Best known for his 1955 book The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaboration with Langston Hughes about Harlem, DeCarava took photos for SI for 14 years.

Bernie Fuchs, 76 Using a style rooted in realism but tinged with impressionism, Fuchs did illustrations for everything from golf to the Negro leagues for SI.

Budd Schulberg, 95 Schulberg's script for On the Waterfront won an Oscar in 1954—the same year he was part of the founding staff of SI, where he covered boxing for years.

Bud Shrake, 77 An early New Journalism practitioner, Shrake—who co-wrote Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, the best-selling sports book ever—was with SI for 15 years.

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