Besides Dale Earnhardt, what other sports legends died while on top?

Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Rikidozan are about the only ones I can think of.

The purpose of this exercise is not to compare NASCAR to baseball or other sports, by the way. This is assuming stock car racing is a sport and I think if it were, no one would doubt Earnhardt was a legend in that sport.

Jimmy Clark, Jochen Rindt, and Ayrton Senna come quickly to mind in auto racing, but so many have died while at the top of their game in that it hardly counts. Knute Rockne in football coaching.

Payne Stewart.

Roberto Clemente.

Thurmon Munson.

Pelle Lindberg.


FWIW, I swear the flag was at half-mast for a month after he died [I attend his alma mater; he was class of '70something].

Around 1960, give or take a few years, a plane with almost the entire US figure skating team crashed on approach to Paris. They were the current world champions and had a young woman who was considered head and shoulders above the rest of the world. It wasn’t until Peggy Fleming that the US regained the prominance in that sport that it had enjoyed.

Terry Sawchuk.

Lenny Bias.

The 11 Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich.

Jim Fixx.

Derrick Thomas. The Chiefs defense hasn’t been the same since. :frowning:

O.J. Simpson

Greg Moore was our latest, greatest sports loss, in my opinion, no offense to The Intimidator. Senna, of course. The crippling injuries of Danny Ongaias, Nikki Lauda, and Jim “shape 'em to fit a steering wheel” Hurtubrise give us evidence that nothing short of death itself will deter some racers from returning to the fold.

A great Canadian, Gilles Villeneuve.
Kansas City Chief football player, Derrick Thomas.
[sub]R.I.P. Dale.[/sub]

Ooops, I missed KK mentioning Derrick Thomas…

And though he was retired, Walter Payton was still on top in my books.

Formula One drivers:
Besides the drivers already mentioned, I’d add Piers Courage, Jo Siffert, Pedro Rodriguez, Peter Revson, Tom Pryce, Carlos Pace, Ronnie Petterson… and that’s just the gruesome Seventies - a terribly unsafe age for Formula One.
Progressing to the Eighties, names like Patrick Depailler, Harald Ertl, Gilles Villeneuve (had to mention him again. Can’t leave HIM off. Adieu, Gilles.), Ricardo Paletti, Michael Winkelhock, Stefan Bellof, and Elio de Angelis come to mind.
They’re all in chronological order, not in order of importance. Since Elio in 1986, only Ronald Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna have died while racing in F1, both on that horrible weekend in Monza, 1994. The sport is a lot safer these days. Let’s hope it stays that way.

In 1989, a Surinam Airways DC-8 crashed near Zanderij Airport (Paramaribo), killing 20 Dutch soccer players of Surinam descent. It was a hard blow to football in the Netherlands.

Payne Stewart, Terry Sawchuck, and Senna are all good examples of sports legends that met an untimely demise.

Actually, O.J. Simpson is alive and well, unless that was a joke.

To the list of legends I submit:

Howie Morenz. Before there was a “Rocket” or a “Flower”, Morenz was the biggest Montreal Canadien hockey player before his untimely death from complications surrounding a a head injury in 1937.

Frank Gotch. Considered by historians to be the premier American werestler of the early 20th century. Was still active when he died of illness around 1916.
Here’s more names, some possibly legendary, some not but tragic nontheless:
Oklahoma State University basketball team

U.S. Boxing Team (plane crash in Poland)

University of Evansville Basketball team (sometime in the 1950s, plane crash)

AC Milan soccer team (plane crash, 1950ish)

Jerome Brown (Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro, killed w/son in car crash)

I don’t have the guys name, but there was a Soviet hockey player that died in a car crash in the early 80s who was considered at the time to be the greatest player in the world. Also, there was a bullfighter who held the record for the most kills when he was gored to death by a bull many years ago.

Knute Rockne

Bob Bassold (St. Louis Blues)

The Marshall University football team (plane crash)

Let’s not forget Lou Gehrig and Brian Piccolo, careers that were ended by fatal illness.

I was gonna say Greg Moore, but Sofa King already did. (I agree with your “greatest loss” comment, by the way. Earnhardt made his mark for 21 years. Greg hardly got a chance to leave his.)

Drazen Petrovich. Hank Gathers.

Davey Allison

Well, he didn’t die, but J.R. Richard suffered a blood clot and then a stroke which ended his career at a time when he was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball.