In Memoriam: NFL Heroes That Have Passed

Bryan DietzlerSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2010

3 Jan 1999: Reggie White #82 of the Green Bay Packers hugs quarterback Steve Young #8 and head coach Steve Mariucci of the San Francisco 49ers after the NFC Wildcard Game at 3Com Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers defeated the Packers 30-27. This was Reggie White''s last game, he retired.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Memorial Day has come and it’s time for many of us to remember those to have fallen serving our country or those who we have loved and lost. 

Heroes can come from many different walks of life and sports has provided us with a lot of heroes. 

From those like Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Peyton Manning and Mario Lemieux who are still with us today to others like Reggie White, Steve McNair, Reggie Roby and Gaines Adams who are gone but hopefully not forgotten.

So as we remember those that we have lost, let’s sit back and take some time to remember those who are no longer with us and who left us much earlier than they should have.

Reggie White

Reggie White was one of the best defensive ends in NFL history having played 15 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers. 

White was the first big name player to move as a free agent (from the Eagles to the Packers) and with his help, Green Bay made it to the Super Bowl and exhibited one of the best pass defenses in NFL history. 

White retired in the year 2000 but just four years later, on December 26, 2004, White passed away from a cardiac problem.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame soon after his death.

Steve McNair

While the cause of Steve McNair’s death is controversial as well as painful, no one can forget the kind of football player that he was and what he did for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans during his career there. 

McNair will forever be remembered for his part in taking the Titans to the Super Bowl in 1999 where they faced quarterback Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams. 

The Titans almost got the better of the Rams in that one. 

After that he continued his career with the Titans before finishing up with the Baltimore Ravens.

Walter Payton

Walter Payton, a player who is immortalized by many football fans, like White and McNair, left us way too early as well. 

Payton had a legendary career on the football field and is best known for breaking the rushing record (once held by Jim Brown but now held by Emmitt Smith) as well as being one of the toughest players to ever play the game.  Payton played for the Bears from 1975 to 1987. 

He was diagnosed with liver cancer and succumbed from the disease on November 1, 1999.

Chris Henry

Say what you want about Chris Henry but Henry was on a path towards turning his life around when it was all cut short after an accident in December 2009. 

Henry had a tough go of it in the NFL and after some time spent away from the game (thanks to several suspensions) he was finally getting his career back on track when he was injured and lost of the rest of the 2009 season. 

Although the circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat controversial, he was a guy who was headed in the right direction before his life was cut tragically short.

Marquise Hill

There may not be a lot of people that remember the late Marquise Hill but there are many fans of the New England Patriots who may not forget him. 

Hill, drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft played only nine games with the Patriots but had a lot of talent and could have made an impact somewhere in the league. 

Hill passed away in May 2007 after falling off of a jet ski and drowning in his home state of Louisiana.

Pat Tillman

There is not a single NFL fan that won’t remember the harrowing story of the late Pat Tillman, formerly of the United States Army and the Arizona Cardinals. 

Tillman, who played safety for Arizona from 1998 to 2001, decided that it was much more important to serve his country than to play football so he enlisted in the Army and made it through Ranger School, one of the toughest programs that the Army has to offer. 

Tillman was killed in action on April 22, 2004 while serving in Afghanistan.  His selfless sacrifice remains one of the true testaments to what a true hero really is.

There are too many other players that have passed away way too early to mention here and the guys mentioned above are just a small sampling of some of the great players that the league, fans and families have lost. 

We should take a moment to remember these guys, their impact on the NFL and their impact on us as fans.


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