Chattanooga mourns the loss of Reggie White, the minister of defense
By Noble Johns
Chattanooga TN. (BNW), Considered one of the best defensive players in the history of football, Reggie White, died Sunday, his wife said. He was 43.
Born into poverty in Chattanooga, White was a fearsome defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. He was one of the great players in NFL history.
White got his football career started at Howard High School in Chattanooga, and went on to play for the University of Tennessee where he had an outstanding career in college football. The cause of death was not immediately known.
"Today our beloved husband, father and friend passed away," White's wife, Sara, said in a statement through a family pastor. "His family appreciates your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of Reggie White. We want to thank you in advance for honoring our privacy."
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and ordained minister who was known as the "Minister of Defense," White played a total of 15 years with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. He retired in 2000 as the NFL's all-time leader in sacks with 198.
The mark has since been passed by Burch Smith "Reggie White was a gentle warrior who will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "Equally as impressive as his achievements on the field was the positive impact he made off the field and the way he served as a positive influence on so many young people."
A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, White was elected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 straight times from 1986-98. He was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.
"As great a player as Reggie was, he was a better person, and it isn't close," Detroit Lions chief executive officer Matt Millen said. "Every life that Reggie touched is better for it."
After an All-American senior season at Tennessee, White began his pro career with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in 1984. He joined the Philadelphia Eagles, who held his NFL rights, after the USFL folded in 1985. For eight years he was as an integral piece in Philadelphia's "Gang Green Defense."
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called White "one of the greatest men ever to play the game of football" and said his "legacy on and off the football field will never be forgotten."
White then signed as a free agent with Green Bay in 1993 for $17 million over four years. His signing, along with a trade for quarterback Brett Faver, helped make the Packers champions again. He was the first major black player to sign with the Packers as a free agent.
His decision to choose the Packers was a surprise. While visiting various teams, he suggested he would prefer a major city, where he could minister to black youth.
"That's what changed the football fortunes of this franchise. It was huge," Packers president Bob Harlan said Sunday. "Everyone thought the last place he would sign was Green Bay and it was monumental because not only did he sign but he recruited for Green Bay and got guys like Sean Jones to come here. He sent a message to the rest of the NFL that Green Bay was a great place to play."
The Packers made consecutive Super Bowl appearances, including a win over New England in 1997, when White set a Super Bowl record with three sacks.
White worked tirelessly in the off season with inner-city youths. But his image was tarnished when he gave a speech in which he denounced homosexuality and used ethnic stereotypes. White later apologized.
White was 39 when he finished his NFL career with Carolina -- his third retirement. He retired for one day before the 1998 season, but then said God had told him he needed to play again, and he returned to the Packers.
White retired again after the 1998 season and took a year off from football. After the Packers allowed him out of his contract, White returned to the Panthers last season.
"I will always miss the locker room and the guys, but I know God's will for me to move on to other challenges because it's not in me like it used to be," White said at the time.
White's last season was disappointing. He recorded a career-low 5.5 sacks with only 27 tackles. He didn't show the same pass-rushing skills that made such a dominating force.
White spent eight years with the Eagles and six with the Packers before a final one with the Panthers. Remarkably durable, White missed only one game in his last 12 seasons and started all but three games during that span.
"Reggie's records and accomplishments say it all," George Seifert, who coached him on the Panthers, once said. "He is a Hall of Fame player and possibly the best defensive lineman ever to play the game."
All-Time Sack Leaders
Bruce Smith 200
Reggie White 198
Kevin Greene 160
Chris Doleman 150.5
John Randle 137.5
Richard Dent 137.5
Lawrence Taylor 132.5
Leslie O'Neal 132.5
Rickey Jackson 128
Derrick Thomas 126.5
Clyde Simmons 121.5
Michael Strahan 118
Sean Jones 113
Greg Townsend 109.5
Pat Swilling 107.5
Trace Armstrong 106
Neil Smith 104.5
Jim Jeffcoat 102.5
Charles Haley 100.5
William Fuller 100.5