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Chris Mortensen, Who Broke Some of Football’s Biggest Stories, Dies at 72

  • The ESPN veteran, who died Sunday, announced in 2016 that he had throat cancer.
  • For years he was first with some of the top NFL news, like Peyton Manning’s move to Denver and his retirement.
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Mortensen, an ESPN NFL reporter for more than 30 years, died Sunday, the network announced.

Mortensen was 72. In 2016 he announced a Stage IV throat cancer diagnosis, but he continued to work for ESPN until fully stepping away last year.

“Mort,” as he was widely known, routinely broke news for ESPN. Among his biggest scoops: Peyton Manning’s decisions to go to the Broncos and later to retire. “Mort was the best in the business and I cherished our friendship,” Manning posted on Instagram, pointing out how he twice trusted Mortensen with the biggest news of his career.

Mortensen was also the first to report Lane Kiffin’s dismissal from the Oakland Raiders in 2008, Brian Kelly’s move to Notre Dame in ’09, Chip Kelly to the Eagles in ’13, and Jack Del Rio to the Raiders in ’15. He routinely broke news while partnered with Adam Schefter, such as Andy Reid to the Chiefs and Bill O’Brien to the Texans, both in ’13, and Ken Whisenhunt to the Titans and Mike Zimmer to the Vikings in ’14. (He was also tied to ESPN’s early coverage of Deflategate, which required some awkward adjustments as the news unfolded.)

Before joining ESPN, Mortensen wrote about the Falcons, Braves, and NFL for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he received a George Polk Award, one of the only sportswriters to do so. He also spent time at the short-lived, sports-only newspaper The National, on CBS’s The NFL Today, and he wrote for The Sporting News and Sport magazine before moving to the network. He published a book about football and organized crime, and he has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. One of the highest honors among his 18 journalism awards: the 2016 Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick McCann Award, now called the Bill Nunn Memorial Award.

“Mort was widely respected as an industry pioneer and universally beloved as a supportive, hard-working teammate,” ESPN chairperson Jimmy Pitaro said. “He covered the NFL with extraordinary skill and passion, and was at the top of his field for decades. He will truly be missed by colleagues and fans, and our hearts and thoughts are with his loved ones.”

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