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.
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15 Brad Halsey
Brad Halsey was a Major League pitchers for the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Oakland A's during the mid 2000's. Halsey tragically passed at the age of 33 earlier this year after reportedly falling off a cliff near his home in Texas. Halsey was part of the blockbuster Randy Johnson trade that sent the Big Unit from Arizona to New York in 2005. He was an eighth round pick of the Bronx Bombers in 2002, but only pitched 286 big league innings during his career.
14 Dr. Frank Jobe
Dr. Frank Jobe was not just any doctor - to pitchers, anyways. Jobe was the pioneer who performed the first "Tommy John" surgery (on former Dodgers hurler Tommy John) back in 1974. Jobe passed away in March at the age of 88 due to an illness. He's considered a bit of a savior amongst pitchers around the baseball world who have had to have their elbow's repaired by the now commonplace procedure. John, the first to go under the knife for the surgery, went on to pitch for 14 more years after his procedure.
13 Oscar Taveras
Oscar Taveras was one of the youngest athletes to pass away this year (and is the youngest on this list). Taveras, who was just 22, was involved in a fatal crash while driving in the Dominican Republic (from where he hails). The St. Louis Cardinals up-and-coming star outfielder was considered one of the league's best prospects - we'll never know how talented he could have been. His girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, also passed in the accident - she was only 18 years of age.
12 Bob Suter
Up until his passing, Bob Suter might have been better remembered on the street as Minnesota Wild superstar defenseman Ryan Suter's dad. But once upon a time, it was Suter who was the star on the ice. Suter was a key cog in the 1980 United States men's hockey team that wrote the "Miracle on Ice" story with a massive upset of the Soviet Union, along with a completely unexpected gold medal victory. Suter passed at age 57 from an apparent heart attack.
11 Don Zimmer
Don Zimmer has been called a "baseball lifer" by many in the game, and truer words good not describe the man. Zimmer passed at the age of 83 years old. Zimmer was quite ill, having to deal with fibrosis on his lungs while going through dialysis treatments. Zimmer will no doubt stand out in recent memory after his run-in with Pedro Martinez during a classic Yankees vs. Red Sox brawl. Martinez threw Zimmer to the ground, but Zimmer bounced back up - this is a man who survived two beanings in the 1960's, a shove from a pitcher wasn't going to keep him down.
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.”
He passed away at the age of 90 in August.
9 Rob Bironas
Rob Bironas was known throughout his NFL career (its entirety spent with the Tennessee Titans) as one of the best kickers in the game (he's currently the eighth most accurate kicker of all-time), thanks to his booming leg and pinpoint accuracy. Bironas' story came to a tragic and unsettling end after he was found dead following crashing his car in Nashville. Bironas was found to have a blood alcohol level of .218 at the time of the crash and also had some diazepam in his system. He was 36 years old.
8 Pat Quinn
Pat Quinn was the quintessential hockey man and Quinn was one of the most respected people in the sport. Quinn passed away at the age of 71 and he was reportedly battling an illness for quite some time. Quinn has long since left the NHL behind (his last coaching gig was in 2010), and was a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants. Quinn is best remembered for his time running the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as his time as a player (especially for his big hit on Bobby Orr).
7 Jack Ramsay
After a lengthy battle with cancer, Jack Ramsay passed away at the age of 89 in April. Ramsay was an NBA Hall of Famer and followed up his time on the sidelines with many years of broadcasting, earning a rep as one of the best behind the microphone. Ramsay will always be remembered for the success he had in basketball, but his ability to battle through the horrid symptoms of the wretched disease through his 80's was a testament to his willpower and strength as a man.
6 Tony Gwynn
The baseball world was deeply saddened to learn the news of Tony Gwynn's death during the summer. Gwynn was only 54 and had been battling salivary gland cancer for several years. Known fondly as "Mr. Padre," Gwynn was one of the games all-time greats at the plate. He finished his career with 3,141 hits and a remarkable .338 batting average. Gwynn was liked for his hitting, but he was loved by San Diego fans for his personality and passion for baseball.
5 Alfredo Di Stefano
When thinking of Real Madrid soccer, the first name that currently comes to mind is Cristiano Ronaldo - but for a moment this summer, Alfredo Di Stefano returned to the forefront after passing from a heart attack at 88 years old. Di Stefano is a hallowed Real Madrid legend, known for his time spent with Madrid during the team's five year run of European Cups in the late 1950's. Di Stefano was Madrid's Ronaldo before Ronaldo was even born - during his time with Real he scored 305 goals in 392 appearances with the club.
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:
""Chuck Noll is the best thing to happen to the Rooneys since they got on the boat in Ireland."
3 Jean Béliveau
The greatest captain in the history of the Montreal Canadiens passed away earlier this month after battling several health issues for the last decade of his esteemed life. Béliveau was given a state funeral in Montreal last week, a fitting tribute for a man who touched the life of every person who ever crossed his path, hockey fan or not. Béliveau sits second all-time on the Habs scoring list and has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup 17 times, but you'll hear people remember fondly his qualities more as a man than as a player.
2 Alice Coachman
Alice Coachman is a name that might not ring a bell with many, but if the point of this exercise is to rank the most "notable" deaths of the past year, then Coachman should be a household name. The Albany native became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1948 London Games (she participated in the high jump). Coachman passed away in July at the age of 90 from cardiac arrest, but leaves a remarkable legacy behind for young track and field participants to look up to.
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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