The past 12 months have once again reminded us of the power, beauty and influence sport can have on a single life, or the life of millions.
The same can be said of athletes who play the sports we love, as they, probably more than anyone, are the ones who draw us in, keep us hooked, and play with our emotions in ways few others can.
Those athletes seem invincible in their prime, unstoppable human forces that are able to overcome any problem and get over any obstacle in their way. Of course, there is one hurdle none of us can jump over and that's life. It shocked and saddened us as we said goodbye to some of sports greatest during the past year.
A new year is around the corner, and while it is a time to get excited for a fresh calendar year, it is also a time to reflect on the past 365 days (or so) - not just what has happened in our own personal lives, but in all walks of life. As sports fans (especially in 2014), the constant 24-hour news cycle makes us forget fairly quickly about major news events and stories. How many of you forgot that there was a full blown revolution in Ukraine, or that Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared? Even in sports: we had the World Cup and Olympics consume us for a couple of weeks, but even those mega events were quickly forgotten by most.
While 2014 had plenty of great moments, there were also plenty of down moments, where we spent time remembering an athlete who was taken too young, or a legend taking his final breath. As crushing as these moments can be, we've also seen them break down barriers and unite communities, cities, and entire populations.
No one death is "more important" than another - that is not what this article is intending to do, but human nature will have us remembering and paying attention in different ways, depending on the individual. Some of these were forgotten quickly, while others will never be forgotten.
15 Brad Halsey
14 Dr. Frank Jobe
13 Oscar Taveras
12 Bob Suter
11 Don Zimmer
10 Ed Sprinkle
The name Ed Sprinkle doesn't come off as an overly scary or menacing name, but ask anyone who had to line up against Sprinkle during the 40's and 50's would tell you otherwise. Sprinkle was the original "meanest man in football," known as a dirty and ruthless player. Sprinkle wasn't one to hide his love for physicality, either:
“I never really played dirty football in my life,” Sprinkle said (in a Los Angeles Times article), “But I’d knock the hell out of a guy if I got the chance.”
9 Rob Bironas
8 Pat Quinn
7 Jack Ramsay
6 Tony Gwynn
5 Alfredo Di Stefano
4 Chuck Noll
Steelers lore often speaks of the Iron Curtain, Franco Harris, and Terry Bradshaw - but perhaps the most important name of the Steelers glory days was head coach Chuck Noll, who brought it all together. Noll passed away at 82 years old in June, reportedly due to natural causes. Noll took over the laughing stock of the NFL in 1969 and transformed them into a dynasty that won four Super Bowls under his watch.
Art Rooney Jr., the son of the team's founder, said the following of Noll to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
3 Jean Béliveau
2 Alice Coachman
1 Louis Zamperini
Louis Zamperini was known as the "Torrance Tornado" but his nickname could have easily been some variation of "American Hero." Zamperini passed away at 97 years old in his LA home. To say Zamperini had an eventful life would be an understatement - he went from Olympic track star to army lieutenant to war prisoner between 1936 and 1943. Zamperini was an athlete until the ripe age of 91, when he finally had to give up skiing - his story is so remarkable that Universal Pictures made his story into a motion picture entitled "Unbroken."
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