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THE LIVES THEY LED
MARK BECHTEL
December 27, 2010
Whether they simply felt larger than life (a fireballing phenom, an imperious owner) or were literally so (a 7'7" social activist, a gentle giant), the figures the sports world lost had impacts that are sure to endure
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December 27, 2010

The Lives They Led

Whether they simply felt larger than life (a fireballing phenom, an imperious owner) or were literally so (a 7'7" social activist, a gentle giant), the figures the sports world lost had impacts that are sure to endure

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A bruising runner who liked few things more than flattening a linebacker, Lytle left Michigan with a school-best 3,317 rushing yards, a total that would have been higher had he not been so eager to serve as the blocker. After finishing third in the 1976 Heisman voting, Lytle was taken in the second round by the Broncos in '77 and as a rookie scored in Super Bowl XII, making him the first player with a touchdown in both a Rose Bowl and a Super Bowl.

Henry Wittenberg, 91

A chess aficionado, Wittenberg took up wrestling at City College of New York only after his inability to master turns brought his swimming career to an end. He won a gold medal at 191.5 pounds in the 1948 Olympics and a silver in '52; his record from 1947 to '52 was 350--2. All the while Wittenberg was a New York City cop; he earned five commendations (including one for disarming an ax-wielding perp) before retiring as a sergeant in 1954.

William P. Foster, 91

After he took over as director of the Florida A&M band in 1946, Foster replaced the traditional marching outfit with one that he said "slides, slithers, swivels, rotates, shakes, rocks and rolls." Countless schools followed step, but only Foster's Marching 100 was selected by the French government to represent the U.S. at the parade marking the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Foster retired in 1998.

George Blanda, 83

"Personally, I think it's a shame, all the star football players who retired in the prime of life," Blanda wrote in SI in 1971. "Lou Groza, washed up at 43. Ben Agajanian, prematurely retired at 45." He was kidding. Sort of. Blanda's longevity was as difficult to explain as it was remarkable. His diet consisted of meat and potatoes, and he said his worst five years were the five in his 20s when he neither drank nor smoked. So he indulged those vices (though he claimed he didn't inhale) for the rest of his playing days. And there were plenty of those. By the time he quit for good in 1975, at the ripe age of 48, Blanda had scored more points than anyone in pro football history (2,002). He had actually retired for one year, in 1959, when it looked as if his days as a quarterback were over. (Bears coach George Halas used him only as a kicker.) But in 1960 the AFL was born, giving Blanda a job, first with the Oilers and then the Raiders; in 1970 he won the MVP award for his kicking and passing with Oakland. Blanda threw for more than 20,000 yards after his season in exile, and he had a simple explanation for what kept him coming back year after year: "I've been running up and down football fields since I was five years old; why stop now?"

Jose Lima, 37

The righthander coined the phrase Lima time to describe his pitching, which was so flamboyant that it often bordered on performance art. He wanted to become a singer in his native Dominican Republic after his baseball career, which had the sharp downward trajectory of one of his sliders. In 1998, Lima went 16--8 for the Astros; the next year he was 21--10. But gopher balls were his undoing, and the Mets released him in 2006.

Raymond Parks, 96

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