John Clayton, longtime NFL reporter dies at 67

John Clayton died Friday in Washington following a brief illness, according to his family. His list of connections in the NFL was equalled only by his attention to detail and passion to his trade.

In a five-decade career that includes almost 20 years with ESPN, Clayton, dubbed “The Professor,” was one of the country’s greatest NFL insiders. Clayton’s quest for knowledge and information was so intense that “everyone paying attention came away a bit more educated,” 

Clayton’s longtime friend Mike Sando of The Athletic remarked, “John could have been the finest news-breaking team beat writer of his generation, the sort who could sit on a storey for months and then break it before anyone had any idea what was going on.” “He was that excellent,” says the narrator. On a personal level, when I took over as the Seahawks beat reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune many years ago, John was tremendously gracious to me. I owe John a great deal and shall miss him greatly.”

Clayton, a native of Braddock, Pennsylvania, began his career as a youngster in 1972, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers during the “Immaculate Reception.” He subsequently went to Duquesne University, where he was employed by the Pittsburgh Press as a senior. He kept working until only ten days ago when he broke down Russell Wilson’s bombshell trade to the Denver Broncos for Seattle Sports 710 AM, where he was a frequent contributor.

“We will all miss your words and brilliance @JohnClaytonNFL #RIPJohnClayton,” Wilson tweeted Friday night, as former colleagues and friends of Clayton paid tribute to him on social media.

“The Seahawks are devastated to learn of John Clayton’s loss,” the team said in a statement. Clayton was dubbed “a Pittsburgh media icon” by the Steelers.

“The overriding theme of tremendous respect and a sense of sad sorrow and shock that I’ve heard from the number of NFL executives and coaches that I’ve spoken with,” Mortensen added.

Clayton worked for the Tacoma (Washington) News Tribune for nearly a decade before joining ESPN for more than two decades. Clayton has also worked as a sideline reporter for the Seahawks radio network for five seasons and has written for many publications, including The Washington Post, in recent years after his long tenure at ESPN. Since February of last year, he has also provided tales to KKFN-FM (104.3 FM) in Denver.

“John was not just a pioneer as an NFL insider, but he was also one of the nicest individuals you’ll ever meet,” said Seth Markman, vice president and executive producer at ESPN. “He never turned down an invitation to appear on a show — from 6 a.m. until midnight, if you asked for the Professor, he was there. I’ll also recall how much he loved and looked after his loving wife Pat during her fight with multiple sclerosis. John will be deeply missed by all of us.”

Clayton was awarded the Bill Nunn Memorial Award, the profession’s highest accolade, in 2007. The Pro Football Writers of America presents the award each year in honour of “long and exceptional reporting in the area of pro football.”

“The PFWA expresses its condolences on John Clayton’s loss,” the group said in a statement. “John served as the PFWA’s 19th president (1999-2000) and received the Bill Nunn Jr. Award in 2007. Many people in our industry considered ‘The Professor’ to be a friend. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Pat, his family, coworkers, and many friends.”

Clayton was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Selectors for a long period.

Clayton was hired as a jack-of-all-trades for ESPN’s NFL coverage in 1995. “Four Downs” is a weekly piece on SportsCenter that pits Clayton against NFL analyst and former quarterback Sean Salisbury. It quickly became a must-see television show.

Clayton was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Selectors for a long period.

Clayton was hired as a jack-of-all-trades for ESPN’s NFL coverage in 1995. “Four Downs” is a weekly piece on SportsCenter that pits Clayton against NFL analyst and former quarterback Sean Salisbury. It quickly became a must-see television show.

His appearances on ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” advertisements, which are still among the greatest of the popular segments, accomplished the same. Clayton made an appearance with a coat and tie, as if he were on SportsCenter, before ripping them off to expose a Slayer T-shirt, letting down his long hair, jumping on a bed, and shouting, “Hey mum, I’m done with my segment.”

From those early days, his passion for football never waned.

When asked how long he will follow the NFL, he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2018: “Until they plant me.” “I’m a huge fan of this material.” What I appreciate about it is there are so much more things we didn’t have access to years ago and now we have — the salary information, NFL Game Rewind where you can see coaches’ footage. It’s incredible how much information and analysis there is.”

Clayton is survived by Pat, his wife, and Amy, his sister.

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