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Tom Jones looks back on the sports greats who died in 2008

Jim McKay

Jim McKay did just that from 1961 to 1998 as host of ABC's Wide World of Sports, in addition to being the face of the Olympics. His finest hour came during one of the world's darkest hours when terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team during the 1972 Munich Games. McKay was 86 when he died in January.

Charlie Jones

Charlie Jones was that smooth voice who was one of the original voices of the old American Football League and later the NFL on NBC. He was 77 when he died of a heart attack in June.

Bobby Murcer

Bobby Murcer was a great player before a broadcaster. He was a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, Giants and Cubs. But he spent the two decades after his retirement calling games for the Yankees. After battling a brain tumor for two years, he died at 62 in July.

Gib Shanley

Gib Shanley was to Cleveland what Myron Cope was to Pittsburgh. Shanley called Browns and Ohio State football games on radio. He called the Browns from 1961 to 1984 then became Cleveland's most recognizable sports anchor. He died of pneumonia at age 76 in April.

Myron Cope

Myron Cope was one of Pittsburgh's most famous people. With his nasally voice and thick Pittsburgh accent, he called Steelers games on radio for 35 years, but his biggest contribution might have been inventing the Terrible Towel. He died of respiratory failure at age 79 in February.

Skip Caray

Skip Caray was the voice of the Atlanta Braves for more than 30 years. Skip, son of Harry Caray, was never better than the old days when the Braves were awful, but you stayed to listen to Skip cracking jokes and wondering what the movie would be after the game. He collapsed and died at age 68 in his yard in August.

Each year, the sports world loses some of the personalities, characters and legends who make sports great. In 2008, the sports world lost a number of special broadcasters — men who felt like a part of our family as they came into our living rooms and called some of the most memorable games of our lives.

Sammy Baugh, 94 Hall of Fame quarterback for the Washington Redskins and a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team.
Buzzie Bavasi, 93 General manager of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1951 to 1968, a span in which the Dodgers won eight pennants and four World Series. He later became the first president and GM of the San Diego Padres and served as GM of the Angels.
Shelley Beattie, 40 Female bodybuilder who won countless competitions but is best known to many as "Siren" on the TV show American Gladiators. A longtime bipolar disorder sufferer, she took her life in February.
Tommy Bolt, 92 Known as Thunder Tommy Bolt, he won 15 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1958 U.S. Open. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002.
Christopher Bowman, 40 A two-time American and world medalist in figure skating. He died in January from an accidental drug overdose.
Alexei Cherepanov, 19 A first-round NHL pick in 2007 was considered a can't-miss prospect. He died after collapsing during a Russian league game in October. The cause of death is still in dispute.
Kevin Duckworth, 44 A two-time NBA All-Star who played with five teams but had his best days with the Portland Trail Blazers. The 7-foot center finished with more than 8,000 points and nearly 4,000 rebounds.
Bobby Fischer, 64 One of the greatest chess players ever who had legendary matches with Russian star Boris Spassky. Fischer's life turned bizarre as he went into seclusion for 20 years and made anti-American and anti-Semitic remarks.
Geremi Gonzalez, 33 Right-handed pitcher won six games for the Rays in 2003. Killed when struck by lightning in Venezuela.
Don Haskins, 78 One of college basketball's greatest coaches. He won 719 games from 1961 to 1999 at Texas-El Paso (formerly known as Texas Western). But his crowning moment came in 1966 when he became the first coach to start five African-American players in the NCAA championship, and his team defeated Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky team 72-65.
Wally Hilgenberg, 66 Spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Lions but became better known for playing linebacker in four Super Bowls with the Vikings in the 1970s.
Sir Edmund Hillary, 88 The most celebrated mountain climber of all time after he and sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
Ernie Holmes, 59 and Dwight White, 58 Two defensive linemen from the famed Steel Curtain Steelers defense of the 1970s. Holmes, known for shaving an arrow in his head, died in a car accident in January. Less than five months later, White died after complications of a back surgery. Both were two-time Pro Bowl players.
Scott Kalitta, 46 Drag racer who had 17 career Top Fuel wins and one Funny Car win. He and his family had made their home in Palmetto. He was killed in a race when his car, traveling at 300 mph, burst into flames during a qualifying run.
Killer Kowalski, 81 One of the pioneers and most famous names in the history of professional wrestling. Born Edward Walter Spulnik in Ontario, the 6-foot-7, 275-pound giant became one of wrestling's great villains but outside the ring was known for his polite and gentle ways.
Pit Martin, 64 All-Star hockey player who spent 17 seasons in the NHL. Was part of the legendary six-player trade in 1967 in which he went to Chicago and the Bruins acquired Phil Esposito.
Pete Newell, 93 One of the most influential basketball coaches of all time who won the NCAA title at Cal in 1959 and coached the 1960 U.S. national team, which featured Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West, to the gold medal in the Olympics.
John Rauch, 80 He was a Gators assistant and later the head coach of the Raiders during Super Bowl II and the Bills during O.J. Simpson's rookie season. He was the Bucs' offensive coordinator during the inaugural 1976 season, but after conflicts with coach John McKay, he resigned after five games. He wrote for the old St. Petersburg Evening Independent and served as director of football operations of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. He spent his final years living in Oldsmar.
Will Robinson, 96 Became the first African-American coach of a Division I basketball team when he was hired at Illinois State in 1970. Later became a scout for the Detroit Pistons and was credited with persuading the team to acquire relative unknowns Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman.
Gene Upshaw, 63 He spent the final 25 years of his life as the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, but before that, he was one of the finest offensive lineman in NFL history. In 15 seasons with the Raiders, he was an 11-time All-Pro and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Mickey Vernon, 90 A seven-time All-Star who spent most of his career with the Washington Senators in the 1940s and was, reportedly, the favorite player of President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1961, after the Senators came back into the majors with an expansion team, Vernon was the club's first manager.

We can't list all the sports figures who died in 2008, but we offer a rundown of some of the memorable figures we lost during the past year.

Tom Jones looks back on the sports greats who died in 2008 12/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 10:44am]
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