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The Ranger's Last Call
Roy Blount Jr.
November 18, 1996
Ray Mansfield, the storied Steelers center of the 1970s, died as he lived: enjoying the view
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November 18, 1996

The Ranger's Last Call

Ray Mansfield, the storied Steelers center of the 1970s, died as he lived: enjoying the view

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His father died laughing, as I thought Ray might one night in my apartment in Pittsburgh in 1973. I spent that season hanging out with the Steelers to write a book. Pete Gent was in town, publicizing North Dallas Forty. Mansfield didn't love Cowboys, but he did love authors and books, and he was having a fine time discussing differences between art and life with Gent, Russell and me, even though he was in great pain. A few days before, he had cut-blocked John Matuszak, causing that enormous Oakland Raider to fall on Ray's neck. Suddenly one of Gent's reflections—something about getting from points A to point B by way of point D—hit the Ranger's funny bone so hard that his top rib separated from his spine completely. He rolled on the couch, alternately laughing and crying. That injury plagued him until he died, but he always spoke of that evening fondly.

Even more than merriment, he enjoyed the Grand Canyon, which he said looked like a cathedral, and where he backpacked often. The last time was with his son, Jimmy, 24, and a pal of Jimmy's. Ray loved camping. In eulogizing him, Russell told the story about Butkus, the one about Ray kicking the desk and one about a night Andy and Ray spent outdoors on the ground. Andy was freezing, "and Ray, who was never cold, said, Andy, you can cuddle.' Let me tell you, that was one warm body."

His blood pressure was way too high. He was still pretty close to his playing weight of 260-something, and he still relished big cigars (he was buried holding one), lots of beer, lots of salt on his food and lots of physical exertion. His older brother and sister had died of congestive heart failure. So did Ray.

He had told Jimmy, "I'm going to die in the Canyon." Along toward evening on their first day of hiking, he told the young men to go on ahead and set up camp. His ankle was bothering him, and he said he'd be along. But he didn't show up. They couldn't look for him in the dark.

Next morning they found him sitting with his back against a big rock, a water bottle in one hand and a disposable camera in the other. He hadn't taken a farewell snapshot; the foil wrapper was still on. But he wore a serene expression, and he was facing a vista that must have been even more breathtaking at sunset. I can't think of anything to add to that. Nobody could tell an old Ranger story as well as the Ranger himself.

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