Vern Mikkelsen, 85
This is an article from the Dec. 30, 2013 issue
WITH GEORGE MIKAN in the middle, the Minneapolis Lakers couldn't play the 6'7" Mikkelsen at center, making him, in his words, "a power forward before they had a name for it." Discovered while picking rutabagas by a scout whose car had broken down in Askov, Minn., Mikkelsen led Hamline in St. Paul to the 1949 NAIA championship before his Hall of Fame NBA career, in which he won four titles.
Todd Christensen, 57
KNOWN AS the Renaissance Man, the loquacious Christensen—who once had a letter to the editor published in SI in which he quoted French author Jules Renard—was a natural to thrive in the broadcast booth. But before he did, he had an impressive 10-year career as a tight end, catching at least 80 passes in four straight seasons while helping the Raiders win two Super Bowls.
Miller Barber, 82
THOUGH HE struggled to beat the likes of Nicklaus and Palmer on the PGA Tour, Barber got revenge in his golden years. The Mysterious Mr. X—so called because he never told anyone where he went at night—ruled the Senior tour in its early days, winning 24 events (13 more than he won before turning 50). And he did it with a looping swing that one foe likened to "an octopus falling out of a tree."
Stan Musial, 92
EVERY HERO needs an origin story that strains belief, so Musial has his: In 1935 he was a 15-year-old batboy for a semipro zinc-works team in Donora, outside Pittsburgh. One of the players got hurt, and in a pinch the manager called on Musial, who dominated his older competition. The tale comes with a twist, though. Young Stan was called on to pitch, not to hit. The Donora High ace fanned 13 in six innings.
Two years later he was thriving in the Cardinals' system. (The Pirates never showed interest.) But Musial's manager at Class D Daytona Beach occasionally played him in the outfield, and when he busted up his left shoulder diving for a ball, his time on the hill was over. Pitching's loss was hitting's gain.
Stan the Man's lunging swing had plenty of moving parts, but for 22 years, all in St. Louis, it worked wonders. And if anyone could hit better than .335 in 11 seasons and belt 475 homers without being flashy, it was Musial. "If he has an iota of fire and imagination, he succeeds in keeping it veiled behind his deadpan Slavic features," TIME magazine wrote in 1949. Where Dizzy Dean and the Cards of the '30s gave baseball the Gashouse Gang, Musial—who was married to his high school sweetheart for 72 years—led a band of Cardinals known, according to TIME, for "[killing] their off-the-field time in 1) sleeping, 2) moviegoing, 3) playing pinochle, 4) shopping."
Through it all, there were few proven methods for retiring the Man. The advice of Dodgers lefty Preacher Roe: "Throw him four wide ones and pick him off first."
Deacon Jones, 74
DAVID JONES didn't just master the quarterback sack, he coined the term. "Like, you know, you sack a city—you devastate it," he explained. That wasn't all Jones named; he gave himself his own handle as a Los Angeles Rams rookie in 1961, when he put down Deacon as his first name on a questionnaire: "It has a religious connotation, and it would be remembered in the violent pro football world."
Jones would have been remembered no matter what he was called. A 14th-round pick out of Mississippi Vocational College (now Mississippi Valley State), the 6'5", 272-pound Jones became the most formidable defensive end of his day, spearheading a front line known as the Fearsome Foursome. (No, the nickname wasn't his.) Jones had the strength to overpower a lineman—often using a head slap, which was later outlawed—and the speed to chase down even the most mobile QBs. "He was the fastest guy on their team," said Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. "I would imagine Deacon in his prime ran a 4.6 40, maybe a 4.5." (Jones unofficially had 26 sacks in '67.)
His moves weren't limited to the football field. Jones was the front man of a band called Nightshift, which eventually became War. He cut a single called "Lovin' a Pro" and appeared on stage with the band in Hollywood clubs. He also acted, notably on an episode of The Brady Bunch in which he encouraged Peter to stick with the glee club despite his football teammates' mockery—because the NFL's baddest lineman sang too, and no one in his right mind would make fun of him.
Ron Fraser, 79
WHILE MIAMI football intimidated its way to the top during the 1980s, Fraser turned Hurricanes baseball into a power while promising "good, clean, G-rated family entertainment." With promotions such as 1040 night (free admission with a tax return), big crowds watched Fraser send 12 teams to the College World Series in 30 years, with NCAA titles in '82 and '85.
Bum Phillips, 90
BORN Oail Andrew Phillips in Orange, Texas, he got a nickname out of necessity: "Cain't nobody spell it or pronounce it or anything." Called Bum because his little sister's attempts at saying brother came out bumble, he served in the Marines during World War II, between football-playing stints at Lamar and Stephen F. Austin. (He also rode and dogged bulls at the rodeo.) Phillips got his first NFL head coaching job in 1975 with the lowly Oilers in Houston, where he brought a keg to practice once a week and did most of his work in boots and a cowboy hat (which he removed indoors because his mother deemed it rude). In six seasons the Oilers twice reached the AFC title game; Phillips also coached the Saints for five years.
Jason Leffler, 37
A COMPETITOR in NASCAR's three major series—as well as an open-wheel driver who raced in the 2000 Indianapolis 500—Leffler died during a dirt-track race in Swedesboro, N.J., just four days after his final start in the Sprint Cup Series. Leffler, who raced with a LEFTURN sticker over his window, had his best season in '07, when he finished third in the Nationwide Series.
Tommy Morrison, 44
IN 1989, a year after a narrow loss in the Olympic Trials to eventual heavyweight gold medalist Ray Mercer, Morrison was 19--0 when Sylvester Stallone cast him as the Italian Stallion's protégé in Rocky V. Morrison won a belt on film, then took the WBO title in '93, beating George Foreman. A positive HIV test in '96—Morrison claimed it was false—all but ended his career.
Mike McCormack, 83
MCCORMACK WAS a key defensive player on the Browns' 1954 NFL title team, replacing Bill Willis at middle guard and earning second-team All-Pro honors. Not bad for an offensive lineman. The next year McCormack returned to right tackle, a position he held until '62. Cleveland coach Paul Brown called the Hall of Famer the "finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football."
Harlon Hill, 80
WHEN HILL starred as an end at Division II Florence State Teachers College (now North Alabama), the favorite play was, in the words of one of the team's QBs, "Harlon, go long." It was a fine NFL strategy too. The Bears' 15th-round pick, Hill was Rookie of the Year in 1954 and MVP in '55. The trophy awarded to the top player in Division II bears his name.
Phil Woosnam, 80
AS THE fledgling North American Soccer League was crumbling in 1968, Woosnam, a Welsh striker who played and coached the Atlanta Chiefs, was named commissioner. He led a massive expansion and attracted stars like Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer. In '82 the owners voted Woosnam out of office. Two years later the NASL folded.
Ken Norton, 70
IN MARCH 1973, Muhammad Ali had his jaw broken by a fighter SI called Ken Somebody and Ken Whoeverheis, before finally getting the surname right: Norton. Just how he did it was a mystery—Norton didn't connect a noticeable blow, but the No. 6 heavyweight won by decision to become just the second man to beat Ali.
Though he didn't start fighting until 21, when he was in the Marines, Norton had, as Dr. Ferdie Pacheco called it, "one of the most perfect bodies I've ever seen of any athlete in any sport." Less outwardly apparent was his streak of resiliency: By 14 he had been hit while riding a bicycle by both a train and a tractor trailer. At Northeast Missouri State (now Truman University), before he enlisted, he was hit by a car, which broke his collarbone; drove his own vehicle into a bridge, where it dangled 50 feet above a lake; and took eight sleeping pills on a bet.
In '78 the WBC stripped Leon Spinks of the title and gave it to Norton, who, in his first defense, went toe-to-toe with Larry Holmes, losing an epic 15-round decision. Norton never regained the belt, making him the only heavyweight champion not to win a title bout. But he had certainly made a name for himself.
Andy Pafko, 92
FOREVER KNOWN as the Brooklyn Dodgers' leftfielder who forlornly watched Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World sail over his head, Pafko was also a five-time All-Star and the top RBI man on the Cubs' last World Series team, in 1945. Pafko won a ring with the Braves in '57, and was the first player to appear in the Series for three different teams.
Art Donovan, 88
AFTER A story that ended with Donovan and several Baltimore Colts teammates urinating on a car, David Letterman told him, "You're a regular No√´l Coward"—a line that went way over his guest's crew cut head. That was Donovan's appeal as a raconteur: He was funny, a bit crude and totally artless. The former Marine—asked by teammate Raymond Berry about his service, Donovan replied, "I got shot in the ass on Iwo Jima"—also played defensive tackle without subtlety. Donovan was big and he hit hard, and he did it well enough from 1950 to '61 to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. Interviewed by NFL Films in the '80s, he was so amusing that Johnny Carson took notice, launching Donovan's second career on the talk-show circuit.
Chuck Muncie, 60
THE AIR CORYELL offense of the Chargers took off in large part because of Muncie's elegant ground game. His 19 touchdowns in '81 tied the NFL record, but three years later he tested positive for cocaine and never played again. After serving time on drug distribution charges, Muncie established a foundation to help kids avoid his mistakes.
Virgil Trucks, 95
HE WAS called Fire because it worked as a pun, but Trucks lived up to the moniker, bringing plenty of heat from the hill. The righty won 177 games and helped the Tigers to the 1945 World Series just weeks after returning from the Navy, but his most memorable feats came in '52, when he went 5--19. Two of his wins were no-hitters; a third came on a one-hitter.
Walt Bellamy, 74
AS A rookie in 1961--62, Bellamy was the NBA's second-leading scorer, averaging 31.6 points. The leader? Wilt Chamberlain, at 50.4. Such was life for Bells, a Hall of Famer who played in an era dominated by the Stilt and Bill Russell. Still, over 14 years with five franchises the 6'11" Bellamy exceeded 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds—one of only 13 players to do so.
Esther Williams, 91
BEFORE SHE was the Million Dollar Mermaid, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Williams won the 1939 AAU championship in the 100-meter freestyle and was a favorite to make the '40 Games, which were canceled. Her water ballet was a forerunner of synchronized swimming; when the sport made its Olympic debut in '84, she served as a TV analyst.
Ken Venturi, 82
AS IF outplaying the best golfers in the world on a brutal course wasn't difficult enough, men who aspired to the U.S. Open title before 1965 had to play the final 36 holes on Saturday. In '64 that was an especially hazardous task; the temperature at Congressional in Washington was 100°. Which explains why the leader, Venturi, played the final 18 looking as if he could collapse at any moment, accompanied by a doctor carrying salt tablets and a marshal who had chocolate bars and a thermos of iced tea.
The oppressive conditions made Venturi's four-stroke victory more dramatic, which was no mean feat. A two-time Masters runner-up, he lost his swing in 1960, and his decline was accelerated by a back injury. Over a three-year stretch he was, in the words of SI, a "loser's loser" who in one tournament hit a ball out-of-bounds by 200 yards. After winning less than $4,000 in '63, he thought about chucking it all at 32 and buying into a San Francisco restaurant called the Owl 'n' Turtle. "I'd rather have gone 15 rounds with Marciano than play a round of tournament golf," Venturi said, "but I kept going."
Not just that: He regained his form, won the Open and was named SI's Sportsman of the Year. After carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists cut short his return, Venturi—who got into golf as a kid because he had a serious stammer and could play the game alone—moved into the broadcasting booth, where his economical style made him a mainstay of CBS's coverage for 35 years.
Frank Tripucka, 85
AFTER SEVEN SEASONS in Canada, Tripucka was ready to retire in 1960 when a former coach who was taking over Denver's team in the fledgling AFL got him to reconsider. The QB of 9-0-1 Notre Dame in '48, Tripucka twice led the AFL in passing in his three full seasons. The Broncos retired his number 18, but Tripucka gave Peyton Manning his blessing to wear it.
Bill Sharman, 87
THE LIST of those considered heroes by both the Celtics and the Lakers is short, and no one is higher on it than Sharman. A frisky guard who had a brief career as a third baseman--outfielder (the Brooklyn Dodgers called him up in 1951, but he never played), Sharman was an All-Star eight times in 10 seasons with Boston, where backcourtmate Bob Cousy called him "the best athlete I've ever played with, or against." Known as Bull's-Eye Bill for his foul shooting, he bounced around as a coach in college and the pros before Los Angeles hired him in '71. The Lakers started 39--3, including a record 33 wins in a row. Sharman then led them past his old team in the Finals, where Boston had beaten L.A. six times in the previous 10 years.
Dick Trickle, 71
BY THE TIME he was named NASCAR's Rookie of the Year, in 1989, Trickle was a 48-year-old grandfather of two. The Wisconsin native, who still raced in cowboy boots after reaching the sport's top tier, didn't win any of his 303 starts in NASCAR's elite series, but before he got there he took the checkered flag on short tracks more than 1,200 times.
Allan Stanley, 87
A PLODDING SKATER—he was nicknamed Snowshoes—Stanley was a forceful defenseman and a master of positioning, controlling the flow of the game and forcing attackers away from the goal. After struggling with the Rangers, he helped the Maple Leafs capture four Stanley Cups—the last at 40—and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
George Scott, 69
THOUGH HIS outspokenness at times chafed teammates, Scott was undeniably entertaining: Reggie Jackson taped his phone conversations with Boomer to enjoy them later. Scott was a key figure on the Red Sox' 1967 Impossible Dream, hitting 19 taters—a term he popularized for home runs—and batting .303. In 14 seasons he won eight Gold Gloves at first base.
Don James, 80
THE LONGTIME Washington coach had an open-door policy, but, as one player said, "you don't feel much like you should walk through it." James's meticulous, authoritarian ways worked: His Huskies earned four Rose Bowls and a share of the 1991 national title. Before UDub, he coached at Kent State, where he gave Nick Saban his first job.
L.C. Greenwood, 67
PITTSBURGH'S STEEL CURTAIN wasn't known for its style, but what little flair the defense had generally came from Greenwood, who played in gold hightops, collected Native American jewelry and drove a canary yellow Mercedes with his nickname on the front plate, HOLLYWOOD BAGS. When he joined the team as a 10th-round pick out of Arkansas AM&N (now Arkansas--Pine Bluff), he was tagged Bags because of the way his uniform hung on his lanky frame. ("Hollywood" was added when he was rumored to be headed to Los Angeles in a trade.) Greenwood stood 6'6" and though he was listed at 245 pounds played at about 225. He relied on speed and technique instead of pure force. "That way I don't get hit upside the head on every play," he said. Greenwood unofficially led the Steelers in sacks six times and started in four Super Bowl victories. In a win over the Vikings in Super Bowl IX (right), he batted down three Fran Tarkenton passes.
Off the field Greenwood was thoughtful and laid-back. He confessed to a TIME writer in 1975 that the springs in his couch were broken because he spent so much time on it watching television. While Greenwood was dedicated to his profession, he was occasionally disillusioned with life as a football player. One off-season Greenwood, who originally went to college to be a pharmacist, did some teaching. "The kids said, 'Hey man, you're a football player, not a teacher,' " he said. "I'm a figure, an object.... When people ask me why I play, I have a rehearsed statement: It ain't nothing but something to do." Maybe so, but few did it better.
Zelmo Beaty, 73
SMALL FOR a center—he was listed at 6'9"—Beaty, in the words of one writer, "moves about the court like a snobbish butler, but works like a laborer under the boards." He never made it look easier than in 1972, when he set an ABA record by scoring 63 points for the Utah Stars. In 12 pro seasons Beaty made five All-Star teams, averaging a double double for his career.
Jerry Buss, 80
DESCRIBED BY PEOPLE magazine in 1980 as "a flamboyant man-about-town after dark," Buss was the ideal owner for the Showtime Lakers, buying them (along with the Kings and the Forum) at the ideal time: five weeks before Los Angeles drafted Magic Johnson with the first pick in the '79 draft. Though he had a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, Buss made his money in real estate, working 80-hour weeks but still hitting the discos nightly. "I'm fascinated by beautiful women, and I love to undress them," he said. "They're like a work of art. If that's chauvinistic, so be it." In later years he turned control of the Lakers over to his daughter Jeanie, but he was still a regular in the owner's box in 2010, when they won Buss a 10th ring.
Pat Summerall, 82
CALLED THE "master of the understatement" by Vin Scully, Summerall smoothly moved from player to play-by-play man. Upon retiring as an NFL kicker in 1961, he began working football games, along with golf and tennis; he called 16 Super Bowls, 26 Masters and 21 U.S. Opens, and for 21 years was an unflappable foil to onomatopoeic NFL colorman John Madden.
Bob Turley, 82
AN IMPOSING righty, Turley earned the handle Bullet Bob with a fastball that kept hitters on their toes: He led the AL in strikeouts once and walks three times. With the Yankees in 1958, he won the Cy Young and was named World Series MVP after starting and winning Game 5, saving Game 6 and throwing 62/3 innings of two-hit relief for the W in Game 7.
Jack Pardee, 76
AFTER A mediocre stint as Redskins coach, Pardee put up absurd numbers with the USFL's Houston Gamblers and the University of Houston using the run-and-shoot, which changed the way offenses operate. That's an odd legacy for a rugged linebacker from rural Texas who was one of Bear Bryant's Junction Boys before playing 15 years with the Rams and Skins.
Chuck Fairbanks, 79
WITH GOADING from assistant coach Barry Switzer, Fairbanks installed the wishbone offense at Oklahoma early in 1970. The attack took off, and so did Fairbanks. In '73 he bolted for the Patriots; the Sooners won national titles under Switzer in 1974 and '75. Fairbanks set a trend on the defensive side in the NFL, popularizing the 3--4.
Emile Griffith, 75
GRIFFITH WAS introduced to boxing by his boss at a haberdashery. He won six belts in two weight classes, but those triumphs were obscured by his 1962 fight with Kid Paret, who allegedly directed gay slurs at Griffith during the weigh-in. He pounded Paret, who died 10 days later. Griffith was never the same. "I was perfectly happy working for Howie Albert in his hat shop," he said in '74.
Jack Butler, 85
UNDRAFTED AS an offensive end out of St. Bonaventure, Butler likely made the Steelers in 1951 because the Bonnies' AD was the brother of Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney. He quickly became a mainstay at cornerback until a knee injury ended his Hall of Fame career in '59. Butler retired with 52 interceptions, then the second most ever.
Earl Weaver, 82
WHEN RAY Miller served as an Orioles pitching coach under Weaver, he wrote notes in a rule book that he hoped would help him if he ever became a manager. Unfortunately, one day in Cleveland, Weaver got into an argument with an umpire over the ump's interpretation of the balk rule. Enraged, Weaver ran back to the Baltimore dugout and grabbed the first rule book he found: Miller's. He opened it to the relevant bylaw, gestured wildly and, when the man in blue was unmoved, tore Miller's baseball bible to shreds.
In a nutshell that was Weaver. On the one hand, he was a brilliant tactician as well as a pioneer: He was prescient not only in using advanced statistics but also in deploying platoons and disdaining the bunt to play for the big inning. On the other hand, Weaver was a screaming lunatic. His gruffness—he once saw slumping outfielder Al Bumbry heading to chapel and told him, "Take your bat"—didn't keep his players from producing. Weaver, who was tossed from 98 games in 17 seasons, led the O's to four pennants and a victory in the 1970 World Series.
Ray Williams, 58
THOUGH HE never quite lived up to the hype as the 10th pick in the 1977 draft—and as Micheal Ray Richardson's backcourt mate on the Knicks—Williams averaged 15.5 points for six teams in 10 seasons. He fell on hard times after his career, briefly living out of a car, but he got back on his feet with help from Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, his Celtics teammates in '84--85.
Steve Davis, 60
A LICENSED Baptist minister while at Oklahoma, Davis showed opposing defenses no mercy while orchestrating the wishbone. "Anybody who tries to cut with him," said his coach, Barry Switzer, "will break both knees and ankles." In his three seasons at quarterback the Sooners were 32-1-1 and won the 1974 and '75 national titles.
Ace Parker, 101
THE ONLY member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to hit a homer in his first major league at bat, Clarence Parker left the Philadelphia A's in 1938 to focus on football, winning the NFL MVP award in '40 as a quarterback and halfback for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After his seven-year playing career, he was the baseball coach at Duke while serving as a football assistant.
Bud Adams, 90
REBUFFED IN his attempts to bring an NFL team to Houston, Adams and another wealthy Texan, Lamar Hunt, formed the AFL in 1959, with Adams's Oilers winning the first two titles. When the team floundered, he moved it to Tennessee in '97. Though he never won a Super Bowl, his 409 wins were the most of any active owner at the time of his death.
Wally Bell, 48
A MAJOR LEAGUE umpire for 21 years, Bell worked three All-Star Games and 12 playoff series, including the 2013 NLDS.
Dick Kazmaier, 82
THE PRINCETON halfback, the last Ivy Leaguer to win the Heisman (in 1951), passed up the NFL to go to business school and later launched a sports marketing and consulting firm.
Johnny Logan, 87
A FOUR-TIME All-Star shortstop, he was a key contributor on the Milwaukee Braves' pennant-winning teams of 1957 and '58.
Caleb Moore, 25
THE SNOWMOBILER died a week after an accident in the Winter X Games, in which he had previously won four medals.
Frank Pulli, 78
A MAN in blue at four World Series in his 28-year career, Pulli was the first umpire to use instant replay in a game, in 1999.
George Sauer, 69
THE AFL'S leading receiver in 1967, he caught eight passes from Joe Namath in Super Bowl III, helping the Jets upset the Colts.
Walt Sweeney, 71
THE CHARGERS and Redskins guard made nine All-Star Games and Pro Bowls, and was named to the AFL's alltime second team.
Michael Weiner, 51
THE HEAD of MLBPA, he negotiated three deals that guarantee labor peace until 2016 and strengthened drug policies.
From the SI Family
Bill Eppridge, 75
BEST KNOWN for photos of Robert F. Kennedy, he left LIFE to join SI in 1972, shooting a variety of sports.
Ozzie Sweet, 94
CALLED THE "Babe Ruth of photographers," Sweet shot everyone from Bob Feller to Albert Einstein.
Paul Witteman, 70
WITTEMAN, WHO coordinated TIME's coverage at four Olympics, was an assistant managing editor at SI.