James Hunter: 1954-2010

By Tom Kowalski
Updated: August 3, 2010

Chicago Bears' Walter Payton (34) is chased by Detroit Lions' James Hunter (28) in the Thanksgiving Day game in the Pontiac Silverdome, Nov. 24, 1977.

Chicago Bears' Walter Payton (34) is chased by Detroit Lions' James Hunter (28) in the Thanksgiving Day game in the Pontiac Silverdome, Nov. 24, 1977.

ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions family was stunned and saddened Monday with the news that former cornerback James “Hound Dog” Hunter died of an apparent heart attack.

Hunter was 56. I didn’t know Hunter really well, but he left an impression on me early as both a player and a person.

Joining the beat in 1981, I only covered him for two years before a neck injury shortened his career. I remember marveling at how a man so big — 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds — could be so fast, quick and smooth.

For the last two decades the Lions have been looking for a cornerback just like him — and they’re still looking. In 1976, Hunter was a runner-up to Mike Haynes for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

It was always a joy to talk to Hunter because he was a man of great humor and a warm smile. For years, he would come back and attend Lions practices to keep up with his old team (even all those years later, it was my contention that he was still the best cornerback on the field).

Interestingly, the only time I saw him the last couple of years was at the airport when we always seemed to end up on the same flight to the Super Bowl.

Hunter, who traveled to the game as part of his work for Anheuser-Busch, always was engaging, smart and funny. He was one of the guys you always looked forward to seeing.

“He was a great athlete and a great guy,” said Lem Barney, who played alongside Hunter. “I thought I had a lot of energy until I met James. He was always upbeat, always had an encouraging word. He will be sorely missed.” “James Hunter shall always be remembered as a consummate pro — on and off the field,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “He made a significant impact on the field, in the community, as a businessman, as a business partner with the Lions in recent years and as a husband and father.”

“On behalf of the William Clay Ford family and the entire Lions’ organization, I extend deepest sympathies to James’ wife Emmalene, son Javin and their family.” Funeral arrangements for Hunter are incomplete.