December 26, 2004: Greatest NFL Defensive Player Dies at Age 43

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A Brief History

On December 26, 2004, former NFL defensive end and perennial All Pro Reggie White was rushed to the hospital where he died from cardiac arrhythmia.  He was only 43 years old.

Digging Deeper

White played college football at the University of Tennessee (All-American there) and  then 2 years in the USFL before being selected by the Eagles of the NFL.  White also played for the Packers and the Panthers before retiring after 15 years in the NFL.  After 17 years of professional football, an extremely long stretch for a defensive lineman, the celebrated player finally retired in 2000, after amassing 2 Defensive Player of the Year honors, 13 trips to the Pro Bowl, and retired as the NFL’s all time sacks leader (beaten after White’s retirement by Bruce Smith).

White’s status as an all time great is also reflected in his selection to the 75th Anniversary All-Time NFL Team and his selection to both the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team and the NFL’s 1990’s All-Decade Team.  Of course, White is also enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  His nickname, “The Minister of Defense,” stemmed from his involvement with Christian ministry even while he played.  White also received numerous other awards and recognition, making him perhaps the most awarded defensive NFL player in history.

Reggie was so good during his 8 years with the Eagles, that ESPN recognized him as the greatest player in Eagles history, not just defensive players.  The 6 foot 5 inch 300 lb White turned his 6 years with the Packers into an equally impressive stretch, in which he set the Packers career sacks record and capped of their winning effort at Super Bowl XXXI with a game ending sack.  White retired after the 1998 season, but came back in 2000 with the Panthers, where he started every game that season and recorded an additional 5 ½ sacks.  White then retired for good at age 39.

In retirement White participated in 1 professional wrestling match as a celebrity observer and another pro wrestling match as a wrestler.  White also continued his Christian ministry during his retirement from football, although his Christian beliefs caused controversy as he publicly opposed homosexuality.

After having a history of sleep apnea and pulmonary and cardiac sarcoidosis, White died at the young age of 43.  His widow founded the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation in his honor.  In addition to his football awards, a street in Chattanooga, Tennessee and a street in Green Bay, Wisconsin are named in his honor.  White is the only player in NFL history to have his jersey number retired by more than one team (Eagles and Packers).

Question for students (and subscribers): If you think Reggie White is not the greatest defensive player in NFL history, please share your nomination as to whom you think is the best in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Denney, Jim and Reggie White.  Reggie White in the Trenches: The Autobiography.  Thomas Nelson Inc, 1996.

Ross, Alan.  I Remember Reggie White: Friends, Teammates, and Coaches Talk about the NFL’s “Minister of Defense”.  Cumberland House Publishing, 2005.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.