BILL WILLIS | 86
ONE YEAR before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, Willis was one of four black players to sign pro football contracts. A standout two-way lineman and track star at Ohio State, he followed his coach, Paul Brown, to Cleveland. Brown said Willis "had the quickest defensive charge" he'd ever seen, and the Browns' p.r. office issued a release saying that photographers had to shoot at 1/600th of a second to capture him on film.
PETER DAVI | 45
THE 6'3", 240-pound big-wave pioneer was described by one fellow surfer as a "gentle giant." A notoriously territorial bunch, surfers welcomed Davi everywhere he dropped in, from California (where he helped popularize Ghost Trees, a break off the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey) to Hawaii (where he was given the honorific Outer Reef Chief). He was killed when he lost his board at Ghost Trees, where waves can reach 70 feet.
BILL FRANCE JR. | 74
HIS FATHER founded NASCAR, but Bill Jr. got it noticed outside the Southeast. He took over from Big Bill in 1972; seven years later he persuaded CBS to air the Daytona 500 live for $1 million. The wild race was a ratings success and set the stage for the stock car circuit's emergence. His last TV contract, signed in '99, was worth $2.4 billion, and when he stepped down five years later, races were being run in Chicago and Las Vegas.
BUTCH VAN BREDA KOLFF | 84
ONE OF basketball's most peripatetic coaches, he was also one of its finest. Among his 13 stops were Princeton (which he led to the 1965 Final Four) and Los Angeles (he took the Lakers to the Finals in '68 and '69). Van Breda Kolff also coached in a women's pro league and, when he was 61, at a Mississippi high school. "I've had some good jobs that I've left, or they fired me," he said. "Whether it turned out right later, who cares?"
JOSH HANCOCK | 29
HE LEFT Auburn after only one year and was let go by three pro franchises, but Hancock finally found a home in St. Louis in 2006. He pitched his way onto the team in spring training, then made 62 relief appearances as the Cardinals went on to win the World Series. Hancock was killed in April when the car he was driving struck a tow truck that had stopped on an interstate. His blood alcohol count was almost twice the legal limit.