Russ Francis
No. 81
Position:Tight end
Personal information
Born:(1953-04-03)April 3, 1953
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Died:October 1, 2023(2023-10-01) (aged 70)
Lake Placid, New York, U.S.
Height:6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Weight:242 lb (110 kg)
Career information
College:Oregon
NFL Draft:1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 16
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:167
Receptions:393
Receiving yards:5,262
Touchdowns:40
Player stats at NFL.com · PFR

Russell Ross Francis (April 3, 1953 – October 1, 2023) was an American professional football player who was a tight end for 13 seasons in the National Football League (NFL). He played for the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. He was also a professional wrestler.

Francis finished his NFL career with 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 2021, the Professional Football Researchers Association named Francis to the PFRA Hall of Very Good Class of 2021.[1]

Early life and career

Francis began high school at Kailua High School on Oahu, Hawaii, and finished at Pleasant Hill High School in Oregon, southeast of Eugene.[2] He set the national high school record for the javelin as a senior in 1971 at 259 ft 9 in (79.17 m); the record stood until 1988.[3] Francis was also a decathlete for Pleasant Hill.[4]

College career

At the University of Oregon in Eugene, 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) Francis threw the javelin and played only 14 games of varsity football for the Ducks. Injured after three games as a sophomore in 1972, he played in 1973,[5] but sat out his senior season in 1974.[6]

Francis enrolled at rival Oregon State University in order to expire his collegiate eligibility and be eligible for the 1975 NFL Draft.[7] Briefly a pro wrestler,[8] he trained for the Superstars competition and was selected in the first round by the New England Patriots, the 16th overall pick and signed in May.[9]

Professional career

New England Patriots (1975–1980)

During the Patriots 30–27 win in 1976 over the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers on September 26, Francis caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Steve Grogan on fourth and one. In that same game, Francis had a career-best 139 yards receiving.[10] As a result, Howard Cosell proclaimed him as the "All-World Tight End".[11]

In 1978, Francis had a career-longest 53-yard reception and 126 yards receiving in the Patriots 21–14 win over the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum on September 24. That season, he led the Patriots in receptions with 39 catches for 543 yards.[12]

Francis was a Pro Bowl selection for three consecutive seasons (19771979).[13]

Following the 1980 season, Francis opted to retire from professional football[14] after the Patriots refused to give him his promised bonus for making the Pro Bowl that he missed due to injury,[15] and when the team tried to cancel Darryl Stingley's medical insurance after he was paralyzed by a Jack Tatum hit two years earlier. Francis, who was roommates with Stingley, said that it was tough to play after Stingley's injury.[16]

San Francisco 49ers (1982–1987)

After sitting out the 1981 season, Francis came out of retirement and joined the 49ers for the 1982 season. In the 49ers' win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX,[16] he had five receptions for 60 yards. In 1985, he had a career-high 44 receptions.[13]

New England Patriots (1987–1988)

Francis was released by the 49ers in 1987 and rejoined the Patriots before the season's final game.[17] He was on the roster in 1988 but after missing the 1989 season due to injury and then being released, he retired for the second time.[18]

Outside football

Francis qualified for The Superstars final and the World Superstars in 1980 and 1981, finishing second in the 1980 final and third in the 1981 event.[19] He won the football preliminary in 1981 and set a record of 23.91 seconds in the 50-yard (46 m) swimming event.[20] That record stood until 1986, when it was broken by Greg Louganis.[21]

Francis appeared in a 20-man battle royal at WrestleMania 2 along with other NFL stars.[22] He was the son of wrestling promoter Ed Francis and he briefly competed full-time in the American Wrestling Association after retiring from football.[23] He also competed in the National Wrestling Alliance's NWA Hawaii where at one time he held the NWA Hawaii Tag Team Championship with his older brother, Billy Roy Francis.[24]

After retiring, he hosted The Russ Francis Show from 9 am to noon on 107.7 WTPL "The Pulse", out of Concord, New Hampshire,[25] and later he hosted Forever West Outdoors from 4 to 6 pm on 1400 AM KODI, out of Cody, Wyoming.[26]

In 2015, he was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame as a contributor.[27] Francis was also the president of Lake Placid Airways, a scenic and charter-flight airline.[28]

Politics

In 2000, Francis challenged long-time Democratic incumbent Patsy Mink for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district.[29] Running as a Republican, Francis was defeated, winning 35.97% of the vote to Mink's 61.59%.[30]

Death

On October 1, 2023, Francis and AOPA Air Safety Institute vice president Richard McSpadden were both killed in a plane crash in Lake Placid, New York, after the 1976 Cessna 177 flown by Francis out of Lake Placid Airport experienced power failure and attempted to return to the airport, but struck a berm on the runway and crashed into a ravine.[31] Francis was 70 years old.[32]

References

  1. ^ Ken Crippen. "PFRA's Hall of Very Good Class of 2021". Archived from the original on November 21, 2021. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  2. ^ "Russ Francis – Football". Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on March 1, 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  3. ^ "Lists: High School: All-Time: Men". Track and Field News. November 15, 2005. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  4. ^ Taylor, Brett (October 2, 2023). "Oregon legend Russ Francis killed during plane crash". KEZI. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  5. ^ Newnham, Blaine (January 25, 1974). "Russ has a choice". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). p. 1D. Archived from the original on May 2, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  6. ^ Conrad, John (October 16, 1993). "Francis comes full circle in return to Eugene". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). p. 4D. Archived from the original on May 9, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  7. ^ "Sneaky Russ Francis has chance to play in pros". Tuscaloosa News. (Alabama). Associated Press. January 26, 1975. p. 12B. Archived from the original on May 4, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  8. ^ Cawood, Neil (December 4, 1974). "Russ resurfaces". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). p. 1B. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  9. ^ "Francis the wrestler signs with Patriots". Lewiston Evening Journal. (Maine). Associated Press. May 16, 1975. p. 22. Archived from the original on April 29, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  10. ^ "Francis hexes Steelers". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. September 27, 1976. p. 2C. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  11. ^ Branch, Eric (October 2, 2023). "Former 49ers tight end Russ Francis, 70, dies in plane crash". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  12. ^ Touri, Amin (October 2, 2023). "Looking back at the career of Russ Francis: All-Pro tight end, free spirit, and a subject of legend". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  13. ^ a b Castaneda, Carlos (October 2, 2023). "Russ Francis, former 49ers and Patriots Pro Bowl TE, dies in plane crash". CBS San Francisco. Archived from the original on October 8, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  14. ^ Tosches, Rick (January 18, 1982). "Russ Francis: no regrets about early retirement". Bend Bulletin. (Oregon). UPI. p. D1. Archived from the original on May 19, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  15. ^ "Stingley has some feeling after surgery". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). UPI. August 14, 1978. p. 4C. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  16. ^ a b "starbulletin.com". Archived from the original on July 26, 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2008.
  17. ^ "Sports People; Francis Rejoins Patriots". The New York Times. December 24, 1987. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  18. ^ "Sports People: Pro Football; Morgan Out for Season". The New York Times. November 17, 1989. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  19. ^ Touri, Amin (October 2, 2023). "Looking back at the career of Russ Francis: All-Pro tight end, free spirit, and a subject of legend – The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  20. ^ Entel, Jessi (October 2, 2023). "Former Super Bowl Champion and KODI Radio Host Russ Francis Dies in Plane Crash". Big Horn Basin Media. Archived from the original on October 7, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  21. ^ "1986 Men's Final". www.thesuperstars.org. Archived from the original on May 22, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  22. ^ Marbone, Aaron (October 3, 2023). "Living to fly | NFL great, longtime pilot Russ Francis dead in Lake Placid plane crash". Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Archived from the original on October 3, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  23. ^ McDonald, Jerry (October 2, 2023). "Russ Francis, tight end on SF 49ers' 1984 Super Bowl team, dies in plane crash". The Mercury News. Archived from the original on October 8, 2023. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  24. ^ "NWA Hawaiian Tag Team Title History". Solie's Wrestling Titles. Archived from the original on July 26, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2009.
  25. ^ M. Clark, Ian (July 27, 2005). "Russ Francis brings experiences to local radio". 247Sports. Archived from the original on August 14, 2022. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  26. ^ Freedman, Lew (April 18, 2016). "Russ Francis: Plenty of life after football". Cody Enterprise. Archived from the original on October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  27. ^ "Former Hawaii resident, NFL standout Russ Francis dies in plane crash". Spectrum Local News. Associated Press. October 2, 2023. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  28. ^ "Plane crash in Lake Placid kills 2, including former NFL player Russ Francis of Patriots, 49ers". AP News. October 2, 2023. Archived from the original on October 7, 2023. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  29. ^ "Russ Francis deals with troubled past". The Honolulu Advertiser. October 18, 2000. p. 1. Archived from the original on October 9, 2023. Retrieved October 6, 2023.
  30. ^ "Statewide Summary Report" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 14, 2022. Retrieved October 6, 2023.
  31. ^ Associated Press (October 3, 2023). "Power loss led to ex-NFLer Russ Francis' fatal plane crash". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on October 3, 2023. Retrieved October 3, 2023.
  32. ^ D'Abate, Mike (October 2, 2023). "Russ Francis, Former Patriots TE, Dies at 70". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on October 7, 2023. Retrieved October 7, 2023.