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News / Sports

Longtime NFL reporter John Clayton dies after brief illness

He was a media icon in Seattle as well as nationally on ESPN

By Bob Condotta, The Seattle Times
Published: March 18, 2022, 9:19pm

SEATTLE — John Clayton, who carved out a legendary name in Seattle sports media during a career that spanned 36 years in the area, died Friday. Clayton was 67.

In a statement Friday night, the Seahawks said Clayton had died after a brief illness.

Clayton’s last story on MyNorthwest.com appeared just a little over a week ago, March 10. He had recently been hospitalized.

The Seahawks’ statement said they were “heartbroken” to learn of his death.

In a story posted Friday night on MyNorthwest.com, Bonneville Seattle Senior Vice President and Market Manager Cathy Cangiano said: “John was a treasured member of our team. John was a legend in our industry and a true Hall of Famer. He was a consistent advocate for the game of football.

“His connections, friendships and relationships throughout the sports world were simply unmatched. His love of football was only surpassed by his love, loyalty and dedication to his wife Pat. John will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Pat and his family and friends.”

A tweet from Chris Mortensen, a longtime colleague at ESPN, said Clayton died at a Seattle hospital with his wife Pat and sister Amy at his side, passing “peacefully after a brief illness.”

Clayton’s career spanned roughly 50 years dating to his days covering sports in his native Pittsburgh while in high school.

He moved to the Seattle area in 1986 to cover the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune and became one of the most visible and respected sports personalities in the area, initially with his newspaper work and later online and on radio and television.

Within minutes of the news of Clayton’s death, social-media tributes poured in from local and national media personalities as well as NFL players.

“RIP to a legend!” Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs tweeted. “You all will be missed.”

Wrote Ray Roberts, a Seahawks first-round draft pick in 1992 when Clayton covered the team for the News Tribune: “RIP John Clayton Edition.” Was one of the 1st to interview me after I was drafted. I had a tough rookie year but he always asked the tough questions w humility & respect. During free agency, he was my inside dude. Gave me all the scoop on the interested teams.”

Clayton lovingly earned the nickname “The Professor,” due to his encyclopedic knowledge of all sports, but especially the NFL.

Clayton was so well-respected for his knowledge of the NFL salary cap that it was said he was approached several times by teams about working as a cap expert.

Clayton was born in Braddock, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, in 1954.

He began covering the Pittsburgh Steelers while in high school in 1972, the year of Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception. It was said that in the chaos of the Pittsburgh press box — the Steelers had never won a playoff game — that Clayton approached an NFL official and asked to see a replay because he wanted to make sure the play was legal.

After graduating from Duquesne University he was hired at The Pittsburgh Press. He covered the Steelers and NFL until he was lured to Tacoma to cover the Seahawks in 1986.

As the sports media world began to expand, so did Clayton, regarded by many as the hardest-working man in the business.

He became one of the first memorable voices when KJR-AM (950) debuted a sports-talk format in the early 1990s, eventually earning his own Saturday morning show.

That eventually led to spots on the then-burgeoning ESPN radio and to appearances on ESPN TV.

Hired by ESPN in 1995, for a few years he continued to also cover the Seahawks for the News Tribune.

He left the News Tribune in 1998 to go to ESPN full-time as an NFL insider while keeping his Saturday show on KJR, later moving to 710 ESPN Seattle.

Clayton memorably poked fun of his image in a popular “This is SportsCenter” commercial in which after finishing a segment, he unfurled his suit to reveal a Slayer T-shirt and a ponytail.

Clayton’s reach was so big that a 2013 story in the News Tribune reported that President Barack Obama once said he did not set his fantasy lineup until he’d heard Clayton say who may or may not play each week.

Clayton was let go by ESPN in 2017 but continued to work as hard as anyone in the business, continuing to do shows on 710 and finding new jobs with The Washington Post and 104.3 The Fan in Denver covering the Broncos, as well as serving as a sideline reporter for the Seahawks for the past five seasons.

Among numerous honors, Clayton won the Dick McCann Award, given annually by the Pro Football Writers of America “for long and distinguished reporting on professional football.’’ He also was inducted into the Duquesne Hall of Fame.

The Steelers released a statement Friday night:

“We are very saddened to learn of the passing of John Clayton. He was a Pittsburgh media icon who covered the Steelers for over a decade in the 1970s and 1980s, and he continued to follow and report on the team even when he moved on to become one of the most respected NFL national reporters. Our thoughts are with his wife, Pat, during this difficult time.”

Clayton is survived by Pat, herself a former sportswriter whom he met while working at the News Tribune, and sister Amy.

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