Notable Sports Deaths of 2008

By Tony McClean
Updated: January 1, 2009

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — 2008 is now a memory for all of us. During the last 12 months, we’ve lost many folks in the sports industry that were influential both on and off the field.

As we begin 2009, we take a brief look back at some of the people and pioneers that left us.

Jan. 2 – Kindell Stephens, 64, longtime Sports Information Officer at Tennessee State University, coined many of the colorful nicknames associated with Tiger greats such as Joe “747” Adams and “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam.

Jan. 17 – Ernie Holmes, 59, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was part of a famous front four that included «Mean» Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White.

Feb. 21 – Emmanuel Sanon, 56, Haitian football legend. Known as “Manno”, Sanon scored a go-ahead goal against Italy in his country’s lone World Cup appearance in 1974. Sanon also scored against Argentina before Haiti was eliminated with three losses.

April 28 – Will Robinson, 96, the first black basketball coach at a Division I university. He broke a racial barrier in the 1970s when he coached Illinois State. He joined the Detroit Pistons as a scout in 1976 and discovered Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman. Robinson scouted for the Pistons for 28 years and scouted part time for the NFL’s Detroit Lions for 22 years.

May 28 – Chad Wiley, 22, a three-year letterman for the North Carolina A&T Aggies football team and a two-year starter on the offensive line.

June 6 – Dwight White, 58, the defensive end known as “Mad Dog” who helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s.

June 26 – Charles “Chuck” Prophet, 67, former Mississippi Valley State Athletic Director and Sports Information Director. Also served as as publicity director for SWAC from 1975 to 1984.

July 16 – Sherman “Jocko” Maxwell, 100, pioneer black sportscaster who chronicled the triumphs of Negro league baseball players before the color barrier fell.

Aug. 20 – Gene Upshaw, 63, a towering lineman on the football field who went on to win untold millions of dollars for NFL players as their union leader. Upshaw had a Hall of Fame career as a guard for the Oakland Raiders _ a team that won two of the three Super Bowls it reached during his 15 years. His work as executive director of the NFL Players Association over a quarter-century changed the business side of the league.

Aug. 25 – Jabir Herbert Muhammad, 79, a longtime manager of boxer Muhammad Ali. Muhammad managed Ali’s boxing career from 1966 until 1981 and managed his post-fighting career for another 10 years.

Aug. 25 – Kevin Duckworth, 44, former Portland Trail Blazers center. Duckworth averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over 11 seasons in the NBA, helping Portland reach the NBA finals in 1990 and 1992.

Sept. 7 – Don Haskins, 78, the Hall of Fame coach credited with helping break color barriers in college sports in 1966 when he used five black starters to win a national basketball title for Texas Western. Haskins retired in 1999 after 38 seasons at the school. He had a 719-353 record and won seven Western Athletic Conference titles. He took the school, which would eventually change its name to Texas El-Paso, to 14 NCAA tournaments and to the NIT seven times.

Sept. 29 – Milt Davis, 79, an All-Pro defensive back who helped the Baltimore Colts win two NFL championships in the 1950s. Davis led the NFL in interceptions in 1957 and 1959.

Nov. 6 – G. Larry James, 61, won gold and silver medals in athletics in the 1968 Olympics. Nicknamed “The Mighty Burner,” James teamed with Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman and Lee Evans on the U.S. 4×400 relay team, which won gold in Mexico City. He also won an individual silver medal in the 400 meters.

Nov. 20 – Bob Jeter, 71, former Green Bay Packers cornerback played on the teams that won the NFL championship in 1965 and the first two Super Bowls.

Dec. 19 – Dock Ellis, 63, former major league pitcher infamously claimed he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh under the influence of LSD and later fiercely spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction.

Dec. 22 – Coy Bacon, 66, a fierce pass rusher during a 14-year NFL career with Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Washington.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This year’s look back at 2008 is dedicated to the memory of my biggest fan and inspiration, my mother Janie McClean. She left us on May 23, 2008 at the age of 80 and is still sorely missed by our family and all those whose lives were touched by her spirit.