When Kelly Slater abruptly retired from the pro tour after winning his sixth straight title in 1998, it left a void atop the surfing world, one that wasn't filled until Irons won his first title in 2002. The following year Slater returned, setting up a rivalry that was among the best surfing has ever seen. Slater played the part of the old pro, Irons the cocky youngster. For a while their distaste for each other was palpable: In a 2004 documentary Irons said of Slater, "My whole driving force right now is to take his little pretty picture and just crush it." Irons won the title in 2003—beating Slater in a showdown on the last heat of the season—and again in '04 before Slater took two in a row. As Slater reasserted himself, Irons struggled with burnout. He left the tour in 2009 and returned this year, dedicating a September win to his pregnant wife, Lyndie. In November he died in a Dallas hotel room. (The cause of death has not been determined. Irons was suffering from dengue fever, and police found Xanax, Ambien and methadone in his room.) When he won his 10th tour championship four days after Irons's death, Slater, who had grown fond of Irons, fought back tears as he said, "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be in this position today."
George Steinbrenner, 80
Not long after George Steinbrenner took control of the Yankees, SI described his leadership style as Prussian. "I'm not here to run a country club," Steinbrenner said. "I'm here to run a winning organization." Mind you, this was in 1977, before he had fired Billy Martin even once. Over the next three decades Steinbrenner axed managers seemingly on a whim. He had a history as a coach himself, in the late 1950s. He was a graduate assistant under Woody Hayes at Ohio State and later an assistant at Northwestern and Purdue. But Steinbrenner gave up football and entered the family shipping business, which provided him the money to head up the consortium that bought the Yankees in 1973 for $8.8 million. Before long he was the franchise's leader; the world championships (seven) and controversies (substantially more than seven) followed. "In the shipping business the decisions you make are known to you and your shareholders," Steinbrenner said in '77. "With the Yankees, every move you make is judged by 10 million New Yorkers." They were the only people whose opinions Steinbrenner valued as he threw huge contracts at free agents. The rest of baseball might deem him the embodiment of evil, but to Yankees fans, he was the world's greatest Boss.
Larry Siegfried, 71
Cut by the St. Louis Hawks in 1962, Siegfried—who was the No. 3 pick in the '61 draft—spent a year as a high school teacher before his former Ohio State teammate John Havlicek persuaded Red Auerbach to let Siegfried try out for the Celtics. He became a regular in the backcourt on Boston teams that won five NBA titles in six years. A crafty playmaker and tenacious defender, Siegfried twice led the league in free throw shooting.
Phil Cavarretta, 94
With apologies to Ernie Banks, Cavarretta was the original Mr. Cub. Born and raised on Chicago's North Side and signed by the Cubbies at 17, the first baseman was a fan favorite for his hustling style. Cavarretta was named the NL MVP in 1945, when he led the Cubs to the World Series, which they lost to the Tigers in seven games. A three-time All-Star in his 22 seasons, Cavarretta never returned to the Series—the Cubs still haven't, either.
Merlin Olsen, 69
Talk about being cast against type. For years Olsen was the anchor of the Fearsome Foursome, the Los Angeles Rams' stellar defensive line. (Columnist Jim Murray once joked that Olsen went swimming in Loch Ness "and the monster got out.") But after Olsen retired—he made 14 Pro Bowls at tackle in his 15 seasons, all with the Rams—he was given a role as a gentle lumberman on the wholesome program Little House on the Prairie. Following that, he starred as a frontier priest in Father Murphy. In truth Olsen was closer to his TV persona than his gridiron one. He was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at Utah State and a devout Mormon. He also won the Outland Trophy for the Aggies, and the Rams made him the third pick of the 1962 draft. At 6'5" and 270 pounds Olsen was an imposing physical specimen who once told SI, "I spring from perfectly average, if sound, pioneer American stock." Olsen was also one of the game's most cerebral players, and he used that combination of size and wile to terrorize opposing linemen and quarterbacks. Those, however, were the only people he terrorized. "Merlin gives off quiet strength," said his Little House costar Michael Landon. "You might be able to fool them in the movies, but never on television—the truth of what you really are always shines through."
Ron Kramer, 75