NFL 2012: Remembering Members of the NFL Family Who Died This Year

Rocco ConstantinoContributor IDecember 12, 2012

NFL 2012: Remembering Members of the NFL Family Who Died This Year

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    As time marches on, we are constantly reminded of just how fragile life can be.

    With the calendar ready to flip he last page and 2013 around the corner, it's time to take a look back at the members of the NFL family that passed away in 2012.

    As with any year, a number of players who shaped the history of the NFL have left us this year.

    From Hall of Famers in their 90s to current players involved in shockingly tragic events, it's never easy to say goodbye to players who were always a familiar part of the sports world.

    High-profile people like Junior Seau, Art Modell and Steve Sabol were among those who died in 2012, but the list doesn't end there.

    Here's a tribute to the people in the NFL world we said goodbye to in 2012.

Junior Seau

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    Normally May is a quiet time for the NFL.

    The draft has passed, training camp is still a few months off and the Super Bowl is a distant memory.  

    However, that quiet was shattered on May 2 with perhaps the most shocking and saddening news the NFL world had to endure this year.

    Future Hall of Famer Junior Seau was found dead in his San Diego home at the age of 43.  

    Seau was found by his girlfriend with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

    Seau's resume as a professional was just about as extensive as any defensive player who has played the game.  

    He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time First Team All-Pro.  He was also a member of the NFL All-Decade Team, the AFC Player of the Year in 1994 and the UPI Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.

    But Seau's contributions went well beyond his play on the field.

    The larger-than-life Samoan was a true icon and he spent an extraordinary amount of time pursuing charitable causes to help children.

    His Junior Seau Foundation was in operation for 20 years up to the point of his death.

    Seau was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 2011 and his number was retired by the team at his public memorial.  He became the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers Super Bowl team to pass away.

Art Modell

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    Love him or hate him, the NFL simply would not have been the same without Art Modell.

    Modell bought the Cleveland Browns in 1961 for $4 million and remained one of the most celebrated owners in the NFL until 1995.  

    Modell was one of the driving forces between the expansion of the NFL, lucrative television deals and the merger with the AFL.

    Among the innovations Modell spearheaded were national television coverage, numerous expansion franchises, revenue sharing, preseason games and Monday Night Football.

    In addition to his football ideas, Modell was celebrated as a humanitarian and was revered in the city of Cleveland.

    That's why it hurt even more when he decided to move his franchise to Baltimore.

    The Browns were founded in 1946 and over their five-decade run in Cleveland, they built one of the most ardent followings of any hometown crowd in the league.

    However, over the course of their final two seasons in Cleveland, Modell lost $21 million and decided to move the franchise to Baltimore.  

    The move was met with everything from public outcry to court cases to death threats against Modell, but nothing stood in the way of the move.

    Modell remained the owner of the Baltimore Ravens until 2003 when financial hardships forced him to sell the franchise to minority owner Steve Bisciotti.

    Modell remained a villain in Cleveland right up until his death on September 6.  

    In fact, his family was so concerned that a brief memorial to him at the first Browns game after his death would spark an ugly protest that the Modell family requested the memorial be canceled.

    However, Modell was honored and memorialized in other places around the NFL.  

    Modell died of natural causes at the age of 87.

Steve Van Buren

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    When Steve Van Buren made his NFL debut on September 26, 1944, Babe Ruth was still alive and in good health.

    The Hall of Fame running back's roots stretch back so far that at the time of his death, only six NFL franchises that were active when he made his debut are still active franchises today.

    Van Buren was the first real superstar in franchise history and led the NFL in rushing in just his second year.

    While he was already established as a star early in his career, Van Buren's performance in 1948 began to shape him as a true all-time great.

    He led the NFL in rushing in 1948 and then spurred the Eagles to victory in one of the legendary games in NFL history.

    On December 26, the Eagles faced the Chicago Cardinals in a blinding snowstorm in the NFL Championship Game.  

    Neither team could get anything going offensively, and the teams were still scoreless going into the fourth quarter.

     Van Buren changed that when he was able to bust through for a five-yard touchdown run that stood as the only score in the 7-0 Eagles win and the first championship in Eagles history.

    Van Buren led the team to a championship the following year too when he ran for 196 yards in a 14-0 win over the Rams.

    When he retired in 1951, he was the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 5,860 yards.

    Van Buren was a seven-time All-Pro, a four-time NFL rushing champion and a 1965 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.  His number 15 has been retired by the Eagles and he was a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the 1940s All-Decade Team.

    When Van Buren died at the age of 91 on August 23, he was the fourth-oldest living NFL Hall of Famer.

Steve Sabol

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    There are a number of people who share a large part of the credit for making the NFL what it is today and Steve Sabol played as big a role as any of them.

    Sabol's NFL Films brought the NFL right into the living rooms of families across the country for generations, giving fans a closer look at games than they had ever seen before.

    NFL Films rose to prominence just as the merger was approaching and their coverage of the NFL during that period provides historical documentation that will live on for future generations.

    Sabol and NFL Films stayed relevant by changing dramatically with the times, but by keeping the same principles it was created under.

    Whether they were putting a live mic on coaches like Hank Stram or Vince Lombardi or taking fans behind the scenes in Hard Knocks, they always captured the intrigue of the game's characters.

    Sabol's voice and talents will be absent from future NFL Films productions, but his legacy will live on in the thousands of productions he was able to document over nearly five decades of recording NFL history.

Alex Karras

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    Alex Karras was one of the first NFL players to parlay his football success into multiple high-profile ventures outside the sport.  

    After a stellar college football career at Iowa, Karras was the No. 10 pick int he 1958 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.  He went on to become a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle during a career marked by phenomenal play and controversy.

    Karras was a member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1960s and was one of the most dominant defensive tackles during his era.  

    Despite his strong play, Karras often battled with head coaches George Wilson and Harry Gilmer.  He also was suspended by commissioner Pete Rozelle for the entire 1963 season after admitting to betting on games.

    He returned in 1964 though and would go on to one more Pro Bowl appearance in 1965.

    In addition to his success on the field, Karras was always active in the public eye.

    He had an on-again-off-again pro wrestling career and also had acting roles in numerous movies and television shows.

    Among his most popular roles were that of Mongo in Blazing Saddles and as George Papadapolis in Webster.

    Karras also served as an announcer on Monday Night Football from 1974-1976.

    Karras died in October after battling multiple serious illnesses, including dementia, kidney failure, cancer and heart disease.  Ultimately, he died of kidney failure at his home.

Ben Davidson

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    During an era of colorful players, Ben Davidson stood out on the team that had the biggest collection of eccentric personalities.

    After playing the first three years of his career in the NFL, Davidson crossed over and joined the Oakland Raiders of the burgeoning AFL.

    It was there that Davidson's performance and personality blossomed. 

    Davidson, who stood 6'8" and featured a handlebar mustache, was an imposing figure on the great John Madden teams of the early 1970s.

    He was named an AFL All Star from 1966-1968. 

    Davidson's legacy remains in today's game as a trademark play of his forced an NFL rules change.  In a game against the Chiefs, Davidson took a cheap shot at Len Dawson after a play that would have sealed a close win for the Chiefs.

    However, Otis Taylor retaliated and the result of the skirmish was offsetting personal foul penalties.

    The entire play was negated and the Raiders eventually won the game with eight seconds left.

    After the season, the league established the "dead ball" penalty for personal fouls after the play.

    Davidson used his larger-than-life personality to pursue an acting career as well.

    He appeared in Miller Lite television ads and in M*A*S*H* and Conan the Barbarian as well.

    Davidson died on July 2 at the age of 72 from prostate cancer.

Ray Easterling

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    Ray Easterling was a key cog in one of the great defensive units to ever play in the NFL and then later became a leader in another group that would influence the league 30 years later.

    Easterling was as safety for the Falcons "Gritz Blitz" unit that established an NFL record by allowing just 129 points over the course of an entire season.

    He was a hard-hitting safety who played full-tilt from whistle to whistle.  

    Easterling's style of play made him so effective, but also sent his post-NFL life into a downward spiral.

    Due to multiple head injuries, Easterling developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  As a result, he suffered from dementia, insomnia and depression.

    Easterling was part of the first group of former NFL players who filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL for their treatment of head injuries over the years.

    His leadership in the group helped spawn multiple players to come forward and helped to influence better awareness in concussion safety in modern sports for today's athletes.

    On April 19, the 62-year-old Easterling committed suicide.  His suicide came just over a year after the suicide of former Bears standout Dave Duerson.  Duerson suffered from many of the same afflictions as Easterling.

Alex Webster

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    When Alex Webster was inducted into the New York Giants Ring of Honor in December of 2011, he gave an ominous quote at the ceremony.

    In an ESPN article by Ian Begley, Webster said, "It's been a long time, good thing I got got here while I'm still alive."

    Sadly, nearly three months to the day of that quote, Webster died.

    Webster played for the Giants from 1955-1964 and then coached the team from 1969-1973. 

    He had such a productive career as the team's running back, that he still ranks in the top-five in Giants history in rushing yards and rushing attempts.

    His two-touchdown performance in the 1956 NFL Championship Game helped the Giants top the Bears.

    As the team's coach, Webster had just a 29-40 record, but was named the NFL Coach of the Year in 1970.

    Webster died in early March at the age of 80.

Freddie Solomon

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    Freddie Solomon had a tremendously successful 11-year NFL career, but he is best known for his role in one of the legendary drives in NFL history.

    Playing for the 49ers in 1982, Solomon played a key role in helping to set up on of the legendary plays in NFL history.

    The 49ers were losing to the Cowboys 27-21 in the waning minutes of the NFC Championship Game when they embarked on an epic drive.

    Behind a 14-yard reverse and a 12-yard reception by Solomon, the 49ers marched down to the 13-yard line with about one minute left in the game and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

    Needing a touchdown, Joe Montana initially looked to Solomon for the clutch score. However, in tight coverage, Solomon slipped and fell, causing Montana to go to his next choice.

    His next choice was Dwight Clark streaking across the back of the end zone, and with Too Tall Jones bearing down on him, Montana had no choice but to heave the ball high into the back of the end zone.

    Clark came down with what will forever be known as "The Catch."

    Solomon was never a primary receiver, but was always a dangerous weapon in both the passing and return games on some phenomenal 49ers teams.

    The two-time Super Bowl champion lost a nine-month battle with liver and colon cancer in February at the age of 59. 

Mike Current

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    During his playing days, Mike Current was a reliable right tackle for nearly a decade for the Denver Broncos.  

    He started 105 of 108 games from 1967-1975 for the Broncos and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1969.

    Current also played for the Dolphins and started every game at right tackle for the Buccaneers in their inaugural season in 1976. 

    In his later life though, Current's life spiraled out of control.

    He battled severe financial problems and filed for bankruptcy in 2010.  Not long after, Current faced multiple charges of sexual abuse.

    Facing more than 30 years in prison with no chance at parole, Current committed suicide on January 17, the day before he was set to enter his plea.  He was 66.

Ray Costict

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    Former New England Patriots linebacker Ray Costict may not have reached the heights of his NCAA career while in the NFL, but he did carve out a nice spot on the team during his brief three-year career.

    As a linebacker at Mississippi State, Costict was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 while also receiving Second Team All-America honors.

    Costict was drafted by the Patriots in the 11th round of the 1977 NFL draft and went on to become a special teams ace during his short career.

    After a three-year layoff, Costict played one year for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL in 1983.

    The high-energy Costict died on January 3 at the age of 56. 

Jovan Belcher

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    On the morning of December 1, the sports world woke to one of the most shocking events of this past season.  

    Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, drove to the Chiefs practice facility and then killed himself.

    As the day went on, more details of the killings began to surface.

    It was later learned that Belcher killed Perkins while his own mother was in the house and then killed himself in front of Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

    Belcher made the Chiefs in 2009 as an undrafted free agent after being a Second Team All-American at the University of Maine.

    The linebacker became a regular starter in 2010 and had started 10 of the 11 games in 2012 before the tragedy.

Jerry Brown

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    Just one week after the tragedy surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs this season, the Dallas Cowboys had to deal with their own tragedy.

    Practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown died while he was a passenger in a car driven by teammate Josh Brent.

    Brent, who was Brown's college teammate at the University of Illinois, was found to be driving under the influence at the time of the crash.

    Up to the time of his death, Brown was trying to find his way in professional football.

    He was undrafted out of Illinois and saw action in the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League in 2011.

    In 2012, Brown was able to secure tryouts with the Texans, Eagles and Jets before signing with the Colts.  He appeared in their loss against the Jets before being cut on October 20.

    Four days after being released by the Colts, Brown was picked up by the Cowboys and was a valuable scout team player during his time there.

Merv Pregulman

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    When Merv Pregulman died on November 12 at the age of 90, the shrinking list of players from the World War II era got even smaller.

    Pregulman was an All-American lineman at the University of Michigan from 1941-1943 before the Green Bay Packers selected him with the No. 7 pick in the 1944 NFL draft.

    After Pregulman served two years in World War II, he returned home and played one season for the Packers.

    He was then traded to the Lions where he stayed for two years and then finished his NFL career with a one-year stint for the New York Bulldogs.

    Pregulman played a total of 45 games during his four-year career.

    He was the last surviving first-round draft pick from the 1944 NFL draft that included Hall of Famers Otto Graham and Steve Van Buren.

    Pregulman is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Stacy Robinson

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    Stacy Robinson was a little receiver from a small college who had five nondescript seasons in his NFL career, but had an important impact on one of the biggest stages in sports.

    Drafted out of North Dakota State in 1985, the 5'11" receiver caught 29 passes for 494 yards in 1986 including a five-catch, 116-yard performance in a big win over the 49ers in 1986.

    Robinson is best known though for being the Giants' leading receiver in Super Bowl XXI when he caught three passes for 62 yards in their 39-20 win over the Denver Broncos.  

    Robinson, who was also a member of the Giants Super Bowl XXV team, worked with the NFL Players Association after his retirement in 1990.

    He died of complications from multiple myeloma in May at the age of 50.

Milt Campbell

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    Milt Campbell played just one season in the NFL, so it's understandable if you don't remember him as a pro football player.

    However, his accomplishments off the gridiron make his loss a significant one in the world of sports.

    During the 1957 season, Campbell played for the Cleveland Browns in the same backfield as Jim Brown.  He had just seven rushes for 23 yards and one catch for 25 yards.  He did some work as a part-time kick returner as well.

    One year earlier Campbell gained international fame when he won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.  

    One of the most incredible athletes of the 20th century, Campbell's list of athletic achievements is quite impressive.

    In addition to his gold medal in Melbourne, Campbell won the silver in the decathlon in 1952 when he was just 18, set an indoor record in the indoor 60-yard high hurdles and set a world record in the outdoor 120-yard high hurdles. 

    He is also the only person to be inducted into both the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and National Swimming Hall of Fame.

    Campbell was also named the greatest athlete in New Jersey history by the Star Ledger, the state's largest newspaper.

    After his brief stint playing alongside Brown, he moved on to the Canadian Football League where he played for seven years.

    Campbell died of complications from cancer and diabetes at the age of 78 on November 2.

Jimmy Carr

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    Newer NFL fans may not know Jimmy Carr by name, but if you know NFL defensive schemes, you see his imprint every game.

    After a nine-year career for the Chicago Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, Carr became a defensive assistant with the Minnesota Vikings in 1966.

    From that point forward, Carr was one of the pioneers of implementing nickel packages and overloading the defense with defensive backs.  Carr also believed in zone blitzes and confusing defenses in a similar fashion to what Rex Ryan has done through his career.

    During his 24-year coaching career, Carr influenced dozens of coaches, including Bill Belichick, Jerry Glanville and Fritz Shurmur.  

    One of the great colorful characters of the game, in 1970 Carr became the first assistant coach to be wired for sound in a game by NFL Films. 

    Carr was a key member of the Eagles 1960 NFL Championship team that beat Vince Lombardi's Packers 17-13.

Art Malone

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    On July 27, former Eagles and Falcons running back Art Malone died at the age of 64. 

    Malone was a seven-year veteran who played from 1970-1976 after being a second-round draft pick of the Falcons in the 1970 NFL draft.

    His best season came in 1973 when he rushed for 798 yards and led the team with 585 receiving yards.  He ended the season seventh in the NFL in all-purpose yards. 

R.C. Owens

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    The next time your favorite NFL receiver scores a touchdown on a jump ball in the end zone, send a nod of thanks to R.C. Owens.

    At 6'3" and with long arms and tremendous leaping ability, Owens possessed size and athleticism that was rare to the position in the late 1950s and early 60s.

    He became a favorite end zone target of the legendary Y.A. Title, who would throw jump balls high in the air in Owens' direction.  Owens then used his extreme physical advantage to simply out-jump defensive backs for the easy touchdown.

    They called the pass the "alley oop," a phrase that would find a permanent spot in the American sports lexicon.

    Owens jumping ability was so prolific that he once blocked a field goal by jumping above the crossbar and knocking the ball down before it crossed.

    Owens played five years for the 49ers and had 20 touchdown receptions in that time.  His best season came in 1961 when he had 1,032 yards on just 55 receptions.

    The 14th-round pick in the 1956 NFL draft returned the the 49ers in 1979 in a front office capacity and remained there for two decades.  

    For over four decades, he was one of the most popular figures in the 49ers family.

    Owens died of kidney failure at the age of 77 on June 17.

Blair Kiel

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    Blair Kiel may never have established himself as an NFL starting quarterback, but he does hold a significant place in one of the most storied college football programs in the country.

    Before his six-year NFL career as a journeyman quarterback, Kiel was a record-setting signal caller at Notre Dame.

    By the time he was done at Notre Dame, he was the sixth all-time leading passer at the storied institution.

    Kiel was drafted by the Buccaneers in the 11th round of the 1984 draft, but never played a game behind center in Tampa Bay.

    He played six games for the Colts between 1986 and 1987, gaining his first NFL start in Week 5 of the NFL season.

    Kiel spent the final three seasons with the Green Bay Packers and was the team's starting quarterback in Week 6 of the 1991 season.

    His only start in Green Bay would be the final game of his NFL career.  It was a 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.  Kiel's final touchdown pass, a 13-yard pass to Sterling Sharpe, came in that game as well.

    Kiel died of natural causes on April 8; he was only 50 years old.

Joe Avezzano

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    The name Joe Avezzano might not jump off the page for causal NFL fans, but anybody who watched the great Dallas Cowboys teams of the 1990s knows exactly who he is.

    The high-energy, silver-haired special teams coach of the Cowboys died of a heart attack at the age of 68 while serving as the head coach for the Milan Seamen of the Italian Football League.

    Avezzano was hired in 1990 by Jimmy Johnson and stuck around until 2003 when Bill Parcells took over the team and didn't ask him back.

    During his time as the special teams coach, the three-time Super Bowl champion became the first person to be named the NFL's Special Teams Coach of the Year three times.  

    His units consistently ranked near the top of the NFL in punt and kickoff returns and coverage and had a penchant for big plays.

    In his 12 years as a coach, the Cowboys blocked 23 kicks and had 18 returns for touchdowns.

Ron Erhardt

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    Ron Erhardt, one of the game's top offensive coordinators during the 1980s was ground and pound personified.

    Erhardt, who was the coordinator on both of the Giants Super Bowl wins in the 1980s, had a penchant for devising offensive schemes that allowed running backs to thrive and his teams to dominate time of possession.

    Erhardt got his biggest break in the NFL when he was named the head coach of the Patriots in 1978.  But after the team sputtered to a 2-14 record in 1981, Erhardt's career as a head coach was over.

    However, one of Erhardt's assistants on his staff in New England hired his old boss as his coordinator once he got his shot as a head coach.  

    That person was Bill Parcells.

    As the Giants offensive coordinator, Erhardt installed a run-heavy offense that maximized ball-control and minimized turnovers.  

    Erhardt's system was the perfect mix with the team's dominant defense and boosted the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XXII and XXV.

    He was one of the first coordinators to rely on multiple tight-end sets and specialized in communication among his offense.

    He was able to get the most out of running backs Joe Morris and O.J. Anderson in New York and then Barry Foster when he moved over to Pittsburgh.  

    Erhardt left the Giants in 1992 and spent four years as the Steelers' offensive coordinator and then one years in the same capacity with the Jets.

    In his 19 seasons as an NFL coach, Erhardt's teams ranked in the top five in the NFL in rushing 11 times.

    Erhardt died in March at the age of 81.

Roland Lakes

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    Roland Lakes, an imposing defensive lineman for the 49ers during the pre-merger era, died on March 7 at the age of 72.

    Lakes was a second-round draft pick out of Wichita State and in 1961 became the youngest defensive lineman to start a game for the 49ers at the age of 21 years and 11 months.  He held that distinction for nearly 50 years until Anthony Davis started a game at 20 years old and 10 months in 2010.

    Lakes spent ten years with the 49ers, holding down a spot on the line from 1961-1970. He then spent his final season on the Giants before retiring after the 1971 season.

    His final game for the 49ers was a loss in the 1970 NFC Championship Game.

Grant Feasel

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    Grant Feasel, a solid journeyman center who played for three teams over an eight-year NFL career died on July 15 at the age of 52.

    Feasel was one of the final players ever drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, the team's final draft before moving to Indianapolis the next season.

    The sixth-round draft pick played one and a half seasons for the Colts, before being traded to the Vikings in 1984.  After sitting out the 1985 and 1986 season, he returned and played six seasons for the Seahawks.

Rich Saul

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    Rich Saul didn't seem destined for NFL greatness after a fine career at Michigan State.

    He was an eighth-round pick in the 1970 NFL Draft and played as a reserve for his first few NFL seasons.  However, he became the full-time center for the Los Angeles Rams in 1975 and flourished from there.

    Saul was a cornerstone lineman on the very good Rams teams of the late-1970s and was a Pro Bowler every year from 1976 until he retired in 1981.

    Saul died on April 15 at the age of 64 after a nine-year battle with leukemia.   

Dick Felt

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    After a standout career at BYU, Dick Felt went on to become one of the first standout players for the New York Titans.  

    During the Titans' final two seasons before becoming the Jets, Felt was an AFL All Star after fine seasons as a defensive back.

    The highlight of Felt's Titans career was a game-winning touchdown he scored against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving of 1961.

    Felt then moved on to the Boston Patriots where he played for five more seasons before retiring in 1966.

    Felt died on November 17 at the age of 79.

Tom Keating

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    After a stellar career as a defensive lineman at the University of Michigan, Tom Keating had an important choice to make.  He was drafted by the Vikings of the NFL and the Bills of the upstart AFL.

    Keating chose to play in the AFL , where he went on to establish himself as one of the best defensive linemen in league history.

    Keating played five seasons in the AFL for the Bills and Raiders before the league merged with the NFL.  He went on to play six more seasons in the NFL.

    During his time with the Raiders, Keating was part of a ferocious defensive line and played for four seasons under head coach John Madden.

    Along with Ben Davidson, who also died in 2012, Keating helped the Raiders capture the AFL title in 1967 behind a 13-1 record.  he also appeared in Super Bowl II.

    Keating was selected as a second team defensive tackle on the AFL All-Time Team.

Cleveland Elam

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    It's a shame that sacks weren't an official stat in the 1970s, because Cleveland Elam's legacy might have had more staying power.

    Although it was unofficial, Elam had  32 sacks over the course of the 1976 and 1977 seasons.

    The feared member of the famed 49ers "Gold Rush" defense died at the age of 60 on July 12.

    Elam was a 6'4", 250 pound behemoth who became a Pro Bowl player in just his second season.  

    However, knee injuries cut short the career of what could have been one of the great pass rushers of the 1970s.

    Elam was out of the NFL just two seasons after having 17.5 sacks in 1977.  

Jesse Powell

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    Even on a perfect team with seven future Hall of Famers, you need unsung heroes.

    According to Paul Warfield, one of the Hall of Famers on the 1972 undefeated Dolphins team, Jesse Powell was the team's unsung hero.

    Powell died in June at the age of 65, less than three months after retiring from his post-NFL job as an insurance agent.

    Coming into the NFL as a ninth-round draft pick in 1969, Powell had a hard time cracking the starting lineup of a great defense that was led by Nick Buoniconti.  He was initially cut in 1970 preseason, but then asked back onto the team by Don Shula before the season started.

    He became a valuable role player on defense and was the Dolphins' top cover man on punt and kickoff coverage.

    Powell's career was cut short by a severe knee injury after three games in 1973.  He played 56 total games for the Dolphins and was a member on both of their back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams.

Jerry Tubbs

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    Jerry Tubbs was a football lifer who made his name as one of the great NCAA football players of all time.  He then moved on to a fine career in the NFL and parlayed that into a 22-year stint as an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry.

    Tubbs was so impressive as a player at Oklahoma University that he finished fourth in the 1956 Heisman Trophy voting while primarily playing center.

    He then was the No. 10 pick in the 1957 NFL draft and went on to play 10 years in the NFL for the Cardinals, 49ers and Cowboys.

    Tubbs played middle linebacker in the NFL and was an All-Pro in 1962 for the Cowboys.

    As a member of Landry's staff, Tubbs coached in five Super Bowls.

    He died on June 13 at the age of 77.

Ralph Wenzel

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    Ralph Wenzel was a solid offensive lineman in the NFL for seven seasons, but his true impact on the sport didn't come until decades after he retired.

    Wenzel died in June at the age of 69 from the effects of dementia brought on by numerous concussions while playing the sport.

    Wenzel began to develop signs of dementia in his early 50s and worsened dramatically to the point that he had to be institutionalized by the time he was 63.

    His wife, Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, has trumpeted Wenzel's case in the public eye and helped spur many other former NFL players of the time come forward with their health problems as well.

    At the very least, Wenzel's situation helped move the dialogue of the long-term effects of multiple concussions in sports into the public eye.

Jesse Whittenton

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    Jesse Whittenton, a starting cornerback on the 1961 and 1962 Green Bay Packers championship teams and a member of the team's Hall of Fame, died in May.  He was 78.

    After playing in college for the University of Texas-El Paso, Whittenton was a fifth-round pick by the Rams in the 1956 NFL draft.

    After playing two seasons in Los Angeles, he moved to the Packers where he played for the next seven seasons before retiring in 1964.

    Whittenton had 24 interceptions in his career and returned two of them for touchdowns.