SI Vault
December 29, 2008
The sports world said goodbye to two members of the Steel Curtain, a couple of Brooklyn Dodgers pitchers and a pair of legendary basketball coaches, as well as the singular Kiwi beekeeper who conquered Everest, a unique champion of chess and one of the most respected voices in broadcasting
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December 29, 2008


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53 | Playing in an era when closers were outsized characters with colorful monikers, the unassuming, surf-loving Californian with the plain name was often overlooked despite saving 216 games and making two All-Star teams in 13 seasons. A soft-throwing righty, Smith used a forkball and a "no-seam" heater that fluttered so much, opponents accused him of scuffing the ball. He's the Astros' leader in games pitched, with 563.


64 | From preadolescence the Brooklyn-raised Fischer seemed destined for greatness, becoming the youngest player (at 14) to win the U.S. Open chess championship and the youngest (at 15) to attain the rank of grandmaster. In 1972 he became the only American to win the world title, defeating Russia's Boris Spassky in a match in Reykjav�k, Iceland, that made the intellectual pastime front-page news for two months. But away from the game, Fischer's life was a mess. As early as the 1960s he showed signs of erratic behavior, joining a cultlike church and imagining that the Russians were out to kill him. After beating Spassky, he turned down countless endorsement opportunities, was stripped of his title for refusing to play Anatoly Karpov and dropped out of sight. He reemerged in 1992 for a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia, violating a U.S. order that banned business there. Fischer renounced his American citizenship and ended up back in Iceland, where he spent the last four years of his life.


73 | Though he weighed just 248 pounds, Hickerson was called "the greatest downfield blocker in the history of pro football" by Jim Brown, who benefited from the guard's agility during their years in Cleveland. The Browns had the NFL's leading rusher in seven of Hickerson's first 10 seasons. A Tennessee native, Hickerson was a close friend of Elvis Presley's; every week he would send the King a tape of the previous Sunday's Browns game.


40 | An electrifying skater who fed off the crowd, Bowman—or Bowman the Showman, as he was called—battled addictions to drugs and alcohol. The U.S. champion in 1989 and '92, he was a disappointing fourth at the '92 Olympics after finishing seventh in '88. Bowman, who appeared in TV commercials and shows as a child, had reportedly moved back to L.A. to revive his acting career when he died from an accidental drug overdose.


91 | A feared hitter during the mid-1940s, Holmes became a household name again in '78, when Pete Rose chased and ultimately surpassed his NL-record 37-game hitting streak. The Yankees originally signed Holmes; unable to find a place for him in the outfield, they traded him to the Braves. In Boston he hit .300 five times, including the year of his streak, '45, when Holmes batted .352 with 28 home runs—and just nine strikeouts.


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