John Clayton, longtime ESPN NFL reporter and radio host, dies at 67

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Saturday, March 19, 2022
John Clayton (FILE)
Joe Faraoni/ESPN

John Clayton, one of the country's foremost NFL insiders who covered the league to great depths during a 20-plus-year career at ESPN, died Friday after a brief illness, his family said.

He was 67.

"The Seahawks are heartbroken to learn of the passing of John Clayton after a battle with a brief illness at the age of 67," the team said in a statement.

Nicknamed "The Professor," Clayton was known for reporting on the NFL in such a detailed manner that, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen said, "Anyone paying attention walked away a little more educated."

He did that for 50 years, starting in 1972 while covering the Pittsburgh Steelers during the "Immaculate Reception" year up until just weeks ago, when he broke down the Seattle Seahawks' blockbuster trade of Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for Seattle Sports 710 AM, where he was a regular contributor.

In 2007, Clayton received what is now known as the Bill Nunn Memorial Award, which the Professional Football Writers of America presents annually for long and distinguished reporting on football. "It's the highest honor any writer covering this sport can receive," he said at the time.

"The PFWA mourns the passing of John Clayton. John was the PFWA's 19th president (1999-2000) and the organization's 2007 Bill Nunn Jr. Award recipient," the organization said in a statement. "'The Professor' was a friend to so many in our business. Our condolences to his wife Pat, family, colleagues and his many friends."

ESPN hired Clayton in 1995 as a jack-of-all-trades for its NFL coverage. SportsCenter producers created a weekly segment called "Four Downs" pitting Clayton against NFL analyst and former quarterback Sean Salisbury. It became must-see TV.

As did his appearances on "This is SportsCenter" commercials for ESPN, which to this day are hailed as among the best -- including a spot where he appeared for a TV hit in a tie, tore it off, let down his long hair and began rocking out in his basement.

Clayton grew up in Braddock, Pennsylvania, covered the Steelers while in high school and then attended Duquesne. He was hired by the Pittsburgh Press during his senior year, then later moved west, covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune before being hired by ESPN, where he worked until a few years ago.

Most recently, he was the host of The John Clayton Weekends show on Seattle Sports 710. He also spent five seasons as a sideline reporter for the Seattle Seahawks Radio Network.

His love for football never waned, until this day.

"Until they plant me, I guess," he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2018, when asked how long he'll keep covering the NFL. "I love this stuff. What I love about it is there's so much more stuff we didn't have access to years ago and now we do -- the salary information, NFL Game Rewind where you can watch coaches tape. There's so much information and analytical stuff, it's phenomenal."