Sports deaths in 2010

Two of the most colourful characters in hockey during the 1980s and '90s died this year, as did a host of legends across the universe of sport. As part of our year-end retrospective, we look back at some of the greats who died in 2010.
After years of individual accolades as an NHL coach, Pat Burns drank from the Stanley Cup in 2003 with New Jersey. ((Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press))

Wendel Clark, interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada on Nov. 18,  was asked how Toronto was able to knock off Detroit in a memorable 1993 playoff series.

One of the keys, the longtime Maple Leafs forward said, was that he followed the advice of coach Pat Burns and didn't spend precious time in the penalty box for engaging in yet another scrap with Bob Probert.

The mullets all three men wore at one time remind you that it was indeed another era.

But it was only 17 years ago, and now two of them are gone.

On to another field

The following is a list of some other sporting notables who passed away in 2010:

Baseball: Jim Bibby, Mike Cuellar, Willie Davis, Bob Feller, Ralph Houk, Clyde King, Nellie King, Jose Lima, Danny McDevitt, Gil McDougald, Cal McLish, Jeriome Robertson, Robin Roberts, Ron Santo, Bobby Thomson, Tom Underwood.

Basketball: Manute Bol, Quintin Dailey, Jorge Gonzalez, Maurice Lucas, Dick McGuire, Mel Turpin, Lorenzen Wright.

Football: NFLers Gaines Adams, Johnny Bailey, Tom Brookshier, Steve DeLong, Harry Galbreath, Norman Hand, Daryl Hunt, Gary (Big Hands) Johnson, Stan Jones, Ron Kramer, Rob Lytle, Kenny McKinley, Don Meredith, Merlin Olsen, Nick Rogers, Jarvis Williams. CFL's Ron Atchison, Jake Dunlap, Oscar Kruger, Leon Manley, Frank Pike, Peter Ribbins, Frank Rigney, Dave Skrien.

Hockey: Craig Charron, Matt Cook (sledge hockey), Willie Huber, Lou Jankowski, Len Lunde, Wayne Stevenson, Gaye Stewart. 

Soccer: Malcolm Allison, Enzo Bearzot, Stjepan Bobek, Herbert Erhard, Julio Correia da Silva, Bobby Smith, Franciso Varallo.

Other sports: Erica Blasberg (golf), Fran Crippen (swimming), Laurent Fignon (cycling), Nodar Kumaritashvili (luge), Yeardley Love (lacrosse), Jim Hunter, Raymond Parks (auto racing), Lorraine Chargin, Arthur Mercante Sr., Edwin Valero (boxing).

The deaths of Burns and Probert were deeply felt in hockey-mad Canada.

Burns survived multiple bouts with cancer and a Twain-like death by Twitter. It is unlikely there'll ever be another man to win NHL coach of the year with three different teams, and hoist the ultimate team reward with a fourth.

Here's another feat: In the two biggest markets in Canada, where fans can be the most fickle, he was mostly beloved. Burns and Dick Irvin Sr. are the only men to coach both the Maple Leafs and Canadiens.

Probert was arguably the most intimidating NHL player since Dave Schultz, but The Hammer had about three times as many teammates willing to back him up with their fists than Probert did. Probert also found the net a lot more.

Probert, like Theo Fleury, was able to poke fun at himself and compete for a new audience in CBC's Battle of Blades. Also like Fleury, he also began writing a book about the bad boy behaviour in his past that threatened to derail his career and tested the faith of loved ones.

Two of Canada's biggest sports personalities were hit hard by unforeseen tragedy within the family.

Joannie Rochette's poise and strength after receiving the devastating news that her mother, Therese, had died has been more elegantly documented by colleague Malcolm Kelly. And it is why she was our female athlete of the year.

Brian Burke said in 2008 that one of the side benefits to taking the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager position was finally being in the same time zone again as the children from his first marriage. How cruel then that just 16 months later his son Brendan Burke would be killed in a car accident, and just weeks after the son emulated his father's take-charge and outspoken manner by broaching the ultimate taboo subject in men's team sports, homosexuality.

Outside our borders, there were a number of legends who died in 2010.

Sparky Anderson

The preternaturally grey-haired skipper won three World Series in the span of just over a decade — two with Cincinnati and the final championship with Detroit. Anderson's win total of 2,194 was the third highest when he retired after the 1995 season.

Here's how senior writer and former baseball beat reporter Rob Sinclair remembered Anderson:

Sparky willingly talked about anything and everything and, with his Dakotan twang and chewing the Queen's English like a wad of Red Man, he was endlessly entertaining. He could make sittin' on the porch and watchin' the good ol' countryside grow sound exciting. His stories were that good. 

George Blanda

Blanda played under just a few notable football men: Bear Bryant, George Halas, Sammy Baugh, Al Davis, John Madden. The normally shrewd Halas cast him off in 1958, labelling him "too old." Halas lasted another 18 years, with the AFL giving his career a lifeline. He played 26 pro seasons as quarterback and kicker and was the league's points leader for decades. Blanda became a folk here in 1970 when at 43, he helped the Oakland Raiders to a late-season run that led to the AFC title game.

The life of Don Coryell  contains the lesson that missteps don't have to derail a career. It’s doubtful anyone who saw Coryell’s middling University of British Columbia football teams in the early 1950s would guess he would revolutionize NFL football two decades later in St. Louis and San Diego with the original West Coast Offence (Bill Walsh’s offence was a different variant, brought over from Cincinnati, and mislabeled by a writer. The name stuck, however).

UCLA student-athletes and scholars at the commencent ceremony for the College of Letters and Science in June carried 99 blue-and-gold flags, one for each year of the life of legendary basketball coach John Wooden. ((Reed Saxon/Associated Press))

John Wooden  

Wooden had a losing record in his very first season coaching basketball, at the high school level. He never did again in 39 subsequent seasons, with his UCLA tenure marked by an .880 winning percentage, seven national titles and an 88-game winning streak.

But it was pretty clear whenever the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Michael Warren spoke about 'Coach', that he was also a molder of men. Their recollections more often than not would be centred around life lessons imparted rather than basketball plays learned, and his 'Pyramid of Success' was studied by business leaders.

Complicated legacies

Of course, not at all sports figures are cuddly or deserve the maudlin treatment.

Juan Antonio Samaranch

What do you say about a lovable fascist sympathizer turned International Olympic Committee potentate?

Here's what happened in his 21 years at the helm: television rights fees and corporate sponsorships boomed, there was increased diversity both within the Games and the IOC organization itself, the old, useless definition of "amateur" gave way to a better but still imperfect code for participation, the Games were straggered every two years, there was vote buying, doping, political boycotts in his first decade ... and the list goes on.

Obviously some of these issues were part of a tide greater than any one man can stem, but on others Samaranch was deemed obtuse and wanting.

He was a maddening figure with a complicated legacy, but he helped bring the Olympics into the modern age. It's easy to forget that as far as the 1980 and 1984 Games were concerned, a grand total of six cities took their interest to hosting those four events to the final stage of voting.

George Steinbrenner gesturing as he leaves the office of baseball commissioner Fay Vincent after a 1990 meeting in New York. Vincent ruled that Steinbrenner must resign as general partner of the New York Yankees. ((David Cantor/Associated Press))

George Steinbrenner  

Football was his favourite sport and he once owned a semi-pro basketball team. But the shipping magnate would become a titanic figure for over a quarter-century in baseball as owner of the Yankees. Suspended by two different commissioners, "The Boss" spent freely on players and domineered an organization he helped build into a powerful business brand with a spate of firings over his first 22 years as its steward. 

Joe Torre and Gene Michael took the verbal abuse better than the rest and helped restore the team's lustre in the 1990s — by most accounts, Steinbrenner — left to his own devices — would have traded away prospects Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera for grizzled veterans. The Yankees hadn’t won the World Series in nearly 11 years when Steinbrenner took over in 1973. No other team has won more than three championships since, while Steinbrenner got to witness New York's seventh in the last World Series he lived through.

It's hard to say how brooding Jack Tatum really was and how much he cultivated his image as a mean S.O.B. The Oakland Raiders safety never visited Darryl Stingley, the player paralyzed by one of his hits in a pre-season game, although accounts vary as to why it didn't happen. He never apologized for his vicious headhunting — if NFL Films continued to highlight those type of plays, he reasoned, why should he be sorry?

It was interesting that he died just weeks before the league finally took tentative steps towards recognizing that way too many of its biggest assets, its stars, were getting hurt needlessly. And perhaps a sign that time marches on.

With files from The Associated Press