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In Memoriam: Russ Francis

From very early in his life, Russ Francis had always been a maverick, often taking to the air to get away from life's struggles. On Sunday, October 1st, he died in a small plane crash off of Lake Placid. The former Patriots and 49ers star tight end was just 70 years old.

Although he was born in Seattle, Russ Francis attended high school in both Hawaii (Kailua High School) and Oregon (Pleasant Hill High School), setting a national record in the javelin toss as a senior. At a mark of 259 feet nine inches, his record stood for 17 years.

While he was more of a track and field athlete as a Duck, Russ's 14 games on the gridiron were enough for NFL scouts to take notice of his raw talents. As a first-round pick of the Patriots in 1975, Francis proved to be a quick study, going to the Pro Bowl three straight years from 1977 through 1979 and was named second-team All-Pro in 1976 and 1978. He became the bright spot on an otherwise weak team and grew weary of bearing the load and never getting anywhere near the Super Bowl, so he retired after 1980, returning to Hawaii to fly planes and move on with his life.

By 1982, Bill Walsh called, wondering if the old tight end still had something left in his tank to give to the game. Just before the 1984 season, he was all set to break the world speed record for small planes when Bill Walsh talked him out of the endeavor, citing safety concerns. Francis was grateful for listening to that suggestion as the 49ers won the Super Bowl that year. He contributed to the effort by catching five passes for 60 yards in the dominating win against the Dolphins.

Three years later, he returned to New England to finish his career where it started. By the close of 1989, his career had come to an end, having caught 393 passes for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns in his career.

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