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Not to Be Forgotten
MARK BECHTEL
December 28, 2009
From a right-leaning quarterback to a bass-playing power forward to a clotheshorse coach, the sports figures who died made marks that will last for ages—even those who passed away far before their primes
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December 28, 2009

Not To Be Forgotten

From a right-leaning quarterback to a bass-playing power forward to a clotheshorse coach, the sports figures who died made marks that will last for ages—even those who passed away far before their primes

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Alexis Arguello, 57

The Explosive Thin Man was one of boxing's great punchers. Although Arguello lost his two most high-profile fights—junior welterweight title bouts to Aaron Pryor—he did win belts in three classes. In the 1980s he fought briefly against the Sandinista government in his native Nicaragua, but in retirement he joined the party and became mayor of Managua. He died in July of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Billy Wilson, 81

A 22nd-round pick in 1950 out of San Jose State, the lanky 49ers receiver caught the eye of Y.A. Tittle in an early practice when he leaped over a fence to catch a ball the quarterback had intended to throw away. From that day forward Wilson was Tittle's favorite target. Though San Francisco employed a run-first system, Wilson—who was also a feared blocker—led the NFL in receiving three times and played in six Pro Bowls.

Wayman Tisdale, 44

Described by SI in 1984 as "college basketball's friendliest superstar," Tisdale had two passions: hoops and music. When he was nine, his father, a Baptist preacher, returned home to Tulsa with a gift—a Mickey Mouse guitar. Tisdale played it so well that he became an integral part of his dad's services. (In recruiting Tisdale, Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs vowed to move Sunday practices to the evening so that Tisdale could continue to perform in church.) Although he was barely 6'8", Tisdale was prolific in the low post, thanks to a lethal lefthanded turnaround J. He needed just 17 games to break the Sooners' record for 30-point games in a season, and he was the only player ever named first-team All-America as a freshman, sophomore and junior. Tisdale left school early for the NBA—he was the No. 2 pick in 1985—and had a 12-year career in which he averaged 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. He also released eight jazz albums, including 2008's Rebound, which was inspired by his fight against bone cancer.

Jack Kramer, 88

With a ferocious serve-and-volley game Kramer dominated tennis in the postwar years. In 1946 and '47 he won a combined six singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships (a precursor to the Open), and in each year he led the Americans to victory in the Davis Cup. But following the '47 U.S. Championships, the 26-year-old son of a railroad brakeman turned pro because, he said, "I needed the money." After a bad back forced him to retire in 1954, Kramer focused on promoting pro events. He played a leading role in the advent of the Open era in 1968 and was the first executive director of the ATP. His signature Wilson rackets, which were introduced in 1948, remain the best-selling line ever. Said journalist Bud Collins, "From a competitor to an administrator to a broadcaster, Jack Kramer was the most important figure in the history of the game."

Brad Van Pelt, 57

After earning seven varsity letters in football, baseball and basketball at Michigan State, the 1972 Maxwell Award winner—he was the first defensive back to be honored as the nation's best player—lasted into the second round of the '73 NFL draft because most teams assumed that he would pursue a pitching career. Van Pelt signed with the Giants, moved to linebacker and in 14 seasons made five Pro Bowls.

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