John Clayton, who carved a legendary name for himself in Seattle sports media during a 36-year career in the region, died Friday. Clayton was 67 years old.
In a statement late Friday, the Seahawks said Clayton died after a brief illness.
Clayton’s latest story on MyNorthwest.com appeared just over a week ago, on March 10. He had recently been hospitalized.
The Seahawks’ statement said they were “heartbroken” to learn of his death.
In an article published Friday night on MyNorthwest.com, Bonneville Seattle Senior Vice President and Market Director Cathy Cangiano said, “John was a valued member of our team. John was a legend in our industry and a true Hall of Famer. He was a constant defender of the game of football.
“His connections, friendships and connections in the world of sport were simply second to none. His love of football was only surpassed by his love, loyalty and dedication to his wife Pat. Jean will be sorely missed. Our our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Pat and his family and friends.
A tweet from longtime ESPN colleague Chris Mortensen said Clayton died in a Seattle hospital with his wife Pat and sister Amy by his side, passing “peacefully after a brief illness.”
Clayton’s career spanned around 50 years, dating back to when he covered 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 area’s most visible and respected sports personalities, first with his newspaper work, then online and on radio and television.
Within minutes of 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. “We will all miss you.”
Wrote Ray Roberts, a Seahawks first-round pick in 1992 when Clayton covered the team for the News Tribune: “RIP John Clayton Edition.” Was one of the first to interview me after being drafted. I had a tough rookie year, but he always asked the tough questions with humility and respect. During free agency, he was my inside guy. Gave me all the inside scoop on interested teams.
Clayton has lovingly earned the nickname “The Professor”, due to his encyclopedic knowledge of all sports, but especially the NFL.
Clayton was so respected for his knowledge of the NFL’s salary cap that he was repeatedly approached by teams to work as a cap expert.
Clayton was born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1954.
He started covering for 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 ensure that the game was legal.
After graduating from Duquesne University, he was hired at The Pittsburgh Press. He covered for the Steelers and the NFL until he was lured to Tacoma to cover for the Seahawks in 1986.
As the world of sports media began to grow, so did Clayton, considered by many to be the hardest working man in the business.
He became one of the first memorable voices when KJR-AM (950) launched a sports chat format in the early 1990s, eventually gaining its own Saturday morning show.
This eventually led to spots on the then burgeoning ESPN radio and appearances on ESPN TV.
Hired by ESPN in 1995, he went on to cover the Seahawks for the News Tribune for a few years as well.
He left the News Tribune in 1998 to go to ESPN full-time as an NFL Insider while keeping his Saturday show on KJR, before moving to 710 ESPN Seattle.
Clayton memorably mocked his image in a popular “This is SportsCenter” commercial in which after completing a segment, he unrolled his costume to reveal a Slayer T-shirt and ponytail.
Clayton’s reach was so great that a 2013 article in the News Tribune reported that President Barack Obama once said he hadn’t defined his fantasy lineup until he heard Clayton say who could or could not. play every week.
Clayton was fired by ESPN in 2017 but continued to work as hard as anyone in the company, 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 the Seahawks’ secondary reporter for the past five seasons.
Among many accolades, Clayton won the Dick McCann Award, given annually by the Pro Football Writers of America “for long and distinguished reporting on professional football.” He was also inducted into the Duquesne Hall of Fame.
The Steelers released a statement Friday night:
“We are deeply 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 of the team even as he became one of the NFL’s most respected national reporters. Our hearts go out to his wife, Pat, during this difficult time.”
Clayton is survived by Pat, herself a former sportscaster whom he met while working at the News Tribune, and his sister Amy.