Joe Paterno died this year.
So did Junior Seau.
The death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke after hitting her head on the ledge of the half-pipe was also sad and stunning.
Hector Camacho (age 50) and Johnny Tapia (age 45) also made the obituary list in 2012. I’m just shocked that those names from the boxing world made it that long.
Those are some of the A-listers who are most frequently mentioned on 2012 retrospectives among the notable sports figures who passed this year.
But there are others who were lost this year that you may or may not be aware of, who also made their marks on the sports world in their unique ways, whether it been as a player, a coach, or in the media.
Here is a tribute to some non A-listers from the sports world who passed this year. If there are any other names you’d like mentioned, please feel free to share in the comments section below!!!
Jack Twyman (basketball, age 78)
I first knew of the name due to a TV-movie which aired as I was growing up that focused on Twyman’s friendship with Cincinnati Royals teammate Maurice Stokes, one of the first African-American stars in the early days of the National Basketball Association.
Stokes was knocked out during the final game of the 1958 regular season. He returned to play the remainder of that game, and the first game of the Royals first-round playoff series – but then was stricken on the team’s flight home, which left him handicapped until his death in 1970.
Jack Twyman then took it upon himself to become Stokes’ legal guardian and also helped with paying Stokes’ massive medical bills in the aftermath.
As a player, Twyman was great in his own right, a six-time All-Star. Post-career Twyman was also a color commentator on NBA telecasts which aired on ABC. His voice could be heard before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals when Willis Reed courageously walked onto the court for pre-game warmups.
Orlando Woolridge (basketball, age 52)
Starred at Notre Dame in the early 1980s at a time when Digger Phelps’ basketball program was still almost every bit as big as football.
As a professional, Woolridge had a 13-year NBA career, and he was best remembered as being one of the Chicago Bulls few other options during Michael Jordan’s early days with the club.
LeRoy Neiman (painter, age 91)
Individuals of a certain age no doubt remember Neiman’s iconic sports paintings during the 1970s. He became known for painting subjects such as the Olympics or Super Bowl as the events were occurring.
Neiman remained an accomplished painter until the end, even after having one of his legs amputated in 2010.
Rick Majerus (basketball coach, age 64)
Actually coach Majerus is one of the A-listers this year, at least in my book – and Ari Kaufman did a fine obit on the icon when he passed on December 1 after battling many years of heart problems.
Coach Majerus had a colorful career and was known for being sometimes abrasive and brutally tough on his players. It was said that less than 50% percent of the players he recruited during his 15-year run at the University of Utah lasted the entire four years.
But those who stayed he loved and treated like family. If I had a personal list of the five people I would most want to meet, Coach Majerus would had definitely been on that list.
Off the court, Majerus was known for his incredible support helping his mother, who lived until 2011. It was in part because of his obligations towards his Mom that Rick balked at accepting a late-career head-coaching position at the University of Southern California.
Majerus finished up his coaching career at St. Louis University, leading the Billikens back into the NCAA Tournament just this past year. Former SLU coach Charlie Spoonhour (1992-99) also passed away in 2012.
Champ Summers (age 66)/Pascual Perez (age 55)
Summers was a long-time utility player for several organizations who got a late start in baseball as he was a Vietnam vet, while Perez was an eccentric pitcher perhaps best known for not being able to find Atlanta Fulton County Stadium before a scheduled start during his rookie season (hint: It was in the middle of town!!!)
The two names are linked in one of MLB’s wildest brawls ever in 1984, which began after Perez hit the first batter of the game and escalated as four different Padres pitchers attempted to retaliate during the game (the incredible thing was that Perez actually got 4 ABs).
All hell broke loose and the benches cleared during the eighth inning, and again in the ninth after another Atlanta pitcher threw at a Padres players. On the scale of 1-10 for baseball brawls this was about a 20.
At one point Braves slugger Bob Horner, on the DL with an arm/wrist injury, made his way from the press box to the dugout and put a uniform on, and was on the top step of the dugout with his Cowboy Bob Orton-like cast on while Perez sought refuge during the brawl.
Seeing this, Summers made a bee-line towards the Atlanta dugout only to be intercepted not only by Horner, but also by two fans (one who appeared to be a lady in a tank-top going about 5’0”) who hopped down and were subsequently arrested.
Summers died this year from liver cancer while Perez was killed in the Dominican Republic during a robbery attempt.
Jim Durham (NBA announcer/age 65)
Jim Durham was seemingly around forever. Scanning the radio during my youth, I often found him calling Chicago Bulls broadcasts during the glory days of Bob Love and Tom Boerwinkle. That would had made him only in his late-20’s then.
The apex of Durham’s Chicago careers was calling Michael Jordan’s iconic play0ff buzzer-beater against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989.
In later years Durham did many national assignments for NBA Radio and ESPN radio. Durham’s last broadcast was the Miami Heat/Boston Celtics season opener back in October. He passed away unexpectedly days later.
Joe Avezzano (NFL Speical Teams coach/age 68)
Many will remember Joe Avezzano from the Dallas Cowboys’ title runs of the 1990s. He was one of those crazed special teams’ coaches prowling the sidelines. Avezzano actually had a 13-year run on the Dallas staff, an especially long time in one place for an assistant coach.
In later years Avezzano coached Dallas’ Arena Football franchise and was actually coaching a football team in Italy when he passed this year.
Jill Kinmont Boothe (skier/age 75)
Her appearance on the Sports Illustrated cover in 1955 was one of the early catalysts for what would become widely known as the SI Cover Jinx.
At just age 18, Kinmont was considered a hopeful for the U.S. Olympic team before suffering a spinal cord injury during a giant slalom event on a horrifically icy course. Injuries to other competitors in that event that day included a broken skull, a broken leg, and a broken arm. Kinmont’s fall also took out a bystander stationed on the side of the course.
Kinmont wound up surviving for 55+ years as a quadriplegic. She eventually earned her college degree and had a long career as a teacher and also was a well-known painter.
Her life was chronicled in two 1970’s movies – ‘The Other Side of the Mountain’ and ‘The Other Side of the Mountain, Part 2’.
Now, she’s on The Other Side.
If you watched college football telecasts during the 1980s you definitely remember Cook’s work as a studio analyst during on ABC and ESPN.
Beano was in the Sports Information Department at the University of Pittsburgh for many years before moving on more national assignments.
Cook still was holding a profile on various media platforms regarding college football even while battling diabetes in recent years.
David Courtney (age 56), Carl Beane (age 59)
Many pro organizations and college programs are known for their PA announcers. They serve as the de facto narrators of the teams.
David Courtney had a long career in the Los Angeles area working for the Clippers, Angels, and Kings. Courtney’s work with the NHL franchise dated back to the 1970s, and the final game he worked wound up being the Kings Stanley Cup clinching win in June.
Courtney passed a day after tweeting that he was at a local hospital awaiting an angio-gram. Those in the LA media who knew him were especially fond of him.
Carl Beane was known as the ‘Voice of Fenway Park’ and was behind the mic for the team’s two World Series Championships in 2004 and 2007. Beane was stricken by a heart attack while driving home during the baseball season. The Red Sox played their ensuing home game without a PA announcer as a tribute.
Chris Economaki (commentator, age 91)
If you have watched auto racing at all over the last 50 years or so, you know who Chris Economaki was.
Economaki wound up holding onto his first job for 70 years. At age 13 he peddled programs of National Speed Sport News at an event. The next year he penned his first column for the publication and eventually became editor, continuing to write columns into his later years.
Not long after, Economaki actually tried his hand racing in an actual midget car event. After that experience he decided he was much better off behind the typewriter.
Noting his work, ABC got him into the TV world for the first time when he worked the 1961 Daytona 500 (which, like most racing events, would air a week later on Wide World of Sports).
He was so respected in the business that drivers said that if Economaki somehow didn’t know about you in the garage, then you were pretty much irrelevant in the profession.
Dwayne Schintzius (basketball, age 43)
The University of Florida had not had a great history as a college hoops program until Schintzius arrived in the late 1980s and led the Gators to their first Sweet 16 appearance, although his time in Gainesville was marked with a lot of controversy.
Schintzius played for several teams in the NBA during a decade-long career, and had battled a rare form of leukemia since 2009.
Jeff Blatnick (wrestling/MMA, age 55)
One of the touchstone moments of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles was when Jeff Blatnick won the gold in Greco-Roman wrestling just two years after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In later years Blatnick was heavily involved as a commentator along with other roles, for UFC. It is said that much of Blatnick’s work helped regulate the guidelines and code of conduct for mixed-martial arts in all states.
Chief Jay Strongbow (pro wrestling, age 83)
It was an incredibly light year for obits in the pro wrestling world. There are other years where pro wrestling legends seemingly would drop on a weekly basis.
Joe Scarpa had a wrestling career which dated back to the late 1940’s, and I remember watching him in what was then known as the WWWF in the early 1980’s (when it was still just a regional outfit). That would had put Strongbow in his early 50’s, which shows the longevity of some of wrestling’s gladiators in the sports entertainment world.