As we turn the chapter to 2022, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the notable sports legends we lost in 2021.
From coaches to players, football to boxing, young to old, sports lost a diverse list of impactful figures.
Here is a list of 10, in the order of when they died.
(1/7/21, age 93)
The longtime Dodger manager coached the team from 1976-1996, highlighted by World Series wins in 1981 and 1988. Surely, no one can forget the skipper’s reaction when an injured Kirk Gibson pinch-hit and hit a walk-off home run off Hall of Fame A’s closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the ‘88 series. Lasorda was known for his exuberant personality and obscenity-filled tirades toward umpires, and sometimes players, which always entertained fans. Most importantly, he had the respect of his players, and his commitment to the Dodger organization will always be lauded by Los Angeles sports fans. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
(1/22/21, age 86)
Hammerin’ Hank, who many still consider to be baseball’s home run king, played the game the way it’s supposed to be played – with humility and determination. Aaron is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball player’s in history, spending 22 years in the MLB, 20 of them with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves from 1954-1974. He is most known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714, ending his career with 755 before it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. While Aaron never hit more than 44 homers in a season, it was his longevity and consistency that led to his career numbers. He hit 24 or more homers every year from 1955 to 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more in a season at least 15 times. Perhaps Aaron’s greatest attribute was standing up for racial justice amid the Civil Rights movement when he and his family received numerous racial threats, especially when approaching Ruth’s record.
(1/29/21, age 89)
The hard-nosed, gritty college basketball coach brought Temple basketball to the forefront, coaching the Owls from 1982-2006, winning 741 games, and taking his team to the NCAA Tournament 17 times, reaching the Elite Eight on five occasions. He also earned AP Coach of the Year nod in 1988. Chaney was a coach who represented the tough, no-nonsense culture of Philadelphia basketball. He was known for working his players to the max in practice, his pesky match-up zone defense and always scheduling tough opponents even though Temple was in a smaller conference. The coach is perhaps most known for threatening to kill then-University of Massachusetts head coach John Calipari after a game during a press conference in 1994, accusing him of manipulating the referees. If you haven’t seen it, a quick search on YouTube can show you. Chaney was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
(2/8/21, age 77)
Widely known as the greatest NFL coach to never appear in a Super Bowl, Schottenheimer still accomplished a lot during his 22-year head coaching career. He is eighth in career wins with 205, coaching the Browns, Chiefs, Washington Football Team and Chargers. His most successful and longest-tenured job was with Kansas City during the 1990s when he coached legendary quarterback Joe Montana, who was nearing the end of his storied career. Unfortunately, Schottenheimer’s success during the regular season didn’t translate to the postseason, winning only five of 18 playoff games. He is the only coach in history to have a losing playoff record but also have over 200 wins. Nonetheless, the coach had an incredibly successful career and will be remembered for his efficient offensive schemes.
(2/15/21, age 38)
This one hit much harder than the ones listed above because he was still very young. The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver played for 11 seasons from 2005-16, playing for the Chargers and Buccaneers. He was a true one-on-one deep threat for quarterback Philip Rivers during his years with San Diego, standing at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. Jackson was found dead by a housekeeper in a Florida hotel room. His family said he may have suffered from chronic alcoholism, which contributed to his death. Later in the year, Jackson’s family confirmed that researchers had discovered stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy in his brain, a disease caused by repeated head traumas from playing in the NFL.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler
(3/13/21, age 66)
Known as Marvelous Marvin, Hagler boxed from 1973-87, reigning as the undisputed middleweight champion from 80-87. He defended his title 12 times, all but one by knockout, and holds the highest knockout percentage at 78% for all middleweight champions. He was nicknamed “Marvelous” and later changed his legal name to that in 1982 after he became annoyed that announcers didn’t refer to him as that. He is known for having one of the most durable chins ever as he was only knocked down once in his career, a knockdown that is disputed to this day.
(3/22/21, age 86)
This one hits closer to home as the basketball hall of famer was a standout at Seattle University, leading the team to the national championship game in 1957, before losing to legendary coach Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team. Baylor averaged over 32 points per game that year, which led him to be drafted No. 1 in the 1958 NBA Draft by the Minneapolis Lakers. He played 14 years for the iconic franchise in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles, though he never won a professional championship. Baylor was known for his all-around game of shooting, rebounding and passing, resulting in 11 all-star appearances and an all-star game MVP nod in 1959.
(8/8/21, age 91)
Bowden was a giant in the world of college football, leaving his legacy as one of the most accomplished coaches of all time and bringing the Florida State football program to prominence with consistent excellence. He coached the Seminoles for over 30 years from 1976-2009, highlighted by national championships in 1993 and 1999. He also won the Atlantic Coast Conference 12 times, including eight in a row from 1992-200. The coach’s teams also finished as an AP Top 5 team for 14-consecutive seasons. Bowden is ranked fourth all-time in coaching wins with 377.
(12/9/21, age 33)
The standout four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is the youngest player on this list. Thomas was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, where he played the first eight years of his career. His first marquee moment was when he caught an 80-yard touchdown from Tim Tebow in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 Wild Card round. Then Peyton Manning joined the Broncos, which resulted in the best seasons of his career while playing in the high-scoring offense. He was part of the Broncos team that won the Super Bowl in 2015. To the shock of many, Thomas was found dead at his home in Georgia a few weeks before his 34th birthday. The cause of death was a seizure due to complications of injuries he suffered in a 2019 car accident.
(12/28/21, age 85)
The world lost a football coaching and broadcast legend in John Madden. The timing of his passing was ironic because it came only days after an All-Madden documentary was released on FOX. Nonetheless, Madden lived a fulfilled and joyous life through his passion for the game of football and the people who loved it. He first came to prominence as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, winning the Super Bowl over the Vikings in 1977. He then became a color commentator for NFL broadcasts from 1979-2009, which earned him 16 Sports Emmy Awards. Madden appeared on all four major TV networks (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) throughout the years, and fans gravitated to his lively commentary with words like “boom” and “whap” to describe the action. He was the first to use the telestrator onscreen. The video game Madden NFL was named after him and is now one of the most popular video games in the world.
Other notable sports figures who died in 2021 include former boxer Leon Spinks, former college football coaches Terry Donahue and Howard Schnellenberger, former NFL wide receiver David Patten, MLB Hall of Famer Don Sutton and NBA Hall of Famer Sam Jones.