It’s been a rough year for sports fans, and I’m not talking about where your favorite teams may be in the standings.
I can never remember a year for losing such a large number of iconic sports personalities like we have in 2021. And the calendar still has more than three months remaining. Add the ongoing pandemic and various economic crises to the mix and it’s been another crappy year.
I paged through a long list of 2021 deaths tied to the world of sports and it was heartbreaking, to say the least. I’m sharing just 10 of the biggest names we’ve lost since January — believe me, there are plenty more, but the upcoming list of passings should illustrate my point.Each year for more than a decade I have put together a column cataloguing the most well-known personalities we have lost during the preceding 12 months, and I can never remember a list as impactful as the one that will follow these opening comments.And remember, we still have more than three months before 2022 arrives. Here is the tip of the iceberg regarding the heroes we already have lost this year:
Hank Aaron: The Hammer’s death saddened the sports world back in January. The one-time career home run king was a highly respected figure both on and off the field and regarded simply as a “very nice guy” to all who had ever encountered him. Aaron was 86 when he died.
Elgin Baylor: The NBA hall of famer was 86 when he passed in March and is still regarded as one of the top 10 basketball talents to ever grace a court. He reached the NBA Finals eight times in 14 years with the Lakers and later became an NBA coach and front-office executive. I had three favorite NBA players during my formative years: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. How good was Baylor? He was LeBron James before LeBron James.
Tommy Lasorda: The former Dodgers manager had been ill for several years before dying at age 93 in January. Whether you were a Lasorda and/or Dodgers fan is inconsequential. You should respect the love this man for the national pastime. Lasorda spent his whole life involved with the sport. He won two World Series as Dodgers manager and, fittingly, was named to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1997.
Bobby Bowden: Rarely has one man, let alone a coach, been as admired — and loved — as Bowden was during his 357-victory run at Florida State. He is the second winningest major college coach in NCAA history. Bowden was known as much for his community involvement as he was his Seminole football teams. He was 91 when he died in August.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler: Pound for pound, one of the greatest fighters — ever. He defended his middleweight title 12 times en route to a 62-3-2 record. He died at age 66 in March.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant: A very colorful and likable MLB personality in the 1960s, Grant was the first Black American League pitcher to win 20 games. I had the good fortune to interview him back when I worked in Ohio and he served as an analyst for Cleveland Indians games.. He was tremendous man with a tremendous spirit. He also fronted a singing group called Mudcat and the Kittens. “Mud” was 85 when he died in June.
Floyd Little: If only Little had played in the multimedia age we currently enjoy. Far too few people actually had the opportunity to see him perform. An All-American running back at Syracuse and later an all-pro with the Denver Broncos, Little was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He was 78 when he died in January.
Leon Spinks: Although he was depicted as a buffoon-like boxing character much of his career, Spinks won an Olympic gold medal and later shocked the world with a 1978 victory over Muhammad Ali to earn the world heavyweight title. He was 67 when he died in February.
Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff: Orndorff was one of the integral figures in pro wrestling’s rise to mainstream status in the 1980s. He was one of the four main headliners of the inaugural Wrestlemania. He was 71 when he died in July, following a long battle with dementia.
Don Sutton: He won 324 games as an MLB pitcher with the Dodgers, Astros, Brewers, A’s and Angels, but he actually may have been best known for his astute work as an analyst for the Atlanta Braves’ television broadcasts. He was 75 at the time of his January passing.
Overrated: The State Farm TV commercials featuring Kevin Miles and Chris Paul. I enjoy both personalities, but the commercials as a whole leave me with that Peggy Lee feeling — is that all there is?
Underrated: The Dr. Pepper “Fansville” commercials, featuring (among others), former college and NFL player Brian Bosworth. The “Fansville” spots have become a football tradition in the fall, and even though by the end of the season I will have seen them all probably 100 times each they remain hilarious. I always get the feeling the actors/actresses involved with these commercials are having as much fun doing them as I do watching them.
Overrated: Electric razors. They never have, and never will provide a clean, 100 percent shave.
Underrated: Razor blades. This is the only way to get that “yeah, that’s the way the old chin looks” feeling.
Shaun Cassidy: He turns 62 on Sept. 27. It’s been 44 years since he provided us with the No. 1 hit song, “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
Olivia Newton-John: Incredibly, the singer/actress she will be 72 on Sept. 26. Even though “Grease” was a terrible 1978 movie, I have probably watched it 50 times, simply to watch Ms. Newton-John.
Cheryl Tiegs: Any male who went to high school in the early 1970s was in love with Tiegs after she was the cover girl for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition in 1970, 1975 and 1983. Tiegs will be 73 on Sept. 25.
And in the gone, but not forgotten category of September birth dates:
Johnny Chapman: Better known as Johnny Appleseed, he would be 247 years old on Sept. 26 if he were still alive.
Ray Charles: The singer died at age 73 in 2004. The 1986 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was born on Sept. 23, 1930.
Henry Gibson: The former “Laugh-In” star, born on Sept. 21, 1935, died at age in 2009. His real name was James Bateman.
Steve Fact O’ The Day
I could eat bacon every meal of the day.
Steve Eighinger writes daily for Muddy River News. Does the bacon thing surprise anyone?