John Clayton, the ESPN NFL insider who became a fan favorite in an eccentric commercial, died Friday. He was 67.
“John Clayton passed away today at a Seattle area hospital,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted. “His wife Pat and sister Amy were at his side and communicated earlier he passed peacefully after a brief illness. We loved John. We are mourning his loss.”
Multiple ESPN personalities spoke Friday night about his death.
“John Clayton, a first-class NFL insider and our beloved longtime ESPN colleague, died today,” veteran investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. wrote. “He also starred in the greatest This Is SportsCenter commercial of all time. RIP John.”
Known as “The Professor,” Clayton was a longtime NFL reporter for ESPN, delivering scoops from across the league to viewers nationwide.
The reserved Clayton, always seen in eyeglasses and suit, famously flipped his personality for a “SportsCenter” commercial: blaring hard rock music, living in his mother’s home and rocking a secret mullet.
Born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock, Clayton began writing about sports when he was still in high school. He covered the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and witnessed the Immaculate Reception in person.
He broke a story about the Steelers holding illegal offseason practices and landed on the team’s bad side.
“Within five minutes I get a call from the Steelers saying, ‘You can’t write that we’re having off-season shoulder-pad practices,’” Clayton said in 2013. “I said, ‘Thanks for the confirmation.’ I wrote the story, and the next thing you know, I’m getting death threats.”
Clayton made his second home in Seattle. He was the Seattle Seahawks beat writer for the Tacoma News Tribune from 1986-1998.
“The Seahawks are heartbroken to learn of the passing of John Clayton,” the Seahawks said in a statement Friday night. “We send our deepest condolences to Pat and the Clayton family.”
Clayton’s work at ESPN turned him into a well-known reporter across the country. He was hired by the worldwide leader in 1995 and was a fixture on “NFL Countdown” for multiple years in the early 2000s. Clayton provided crucial gameday information across the league. But he was surprised he made it on TV.
“You would figure that you’d have to have a certain look to be on TV, and obviously I don’t have that kind of look. I mean, you are what you are,” he said in 2013. “Fortunately I can talk through anything in a very crisp clip and try to get all the information quickly. That kind of surprised me that I was able to do that.”
In 2007, Clayton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a reporter. After ESPN let him go in 2017, Clayton continued hosting a radio show in Seattle on 710 AM KIRO. He also wrote columns for the station’s website. His most recent writing ran on March 10.
“This really hits hard, what a great man and friend, who was also sooo good at his job,” tweeted Mike Golic, a former ESPN colleague.