Russell Ross Francis was born on April 3, 1953, in Seattle, Washington, but grew up in Hawaii and Oregon. He was a multi-talented athlete who excelled in javelin, decathlon, and football.
Francis set the national high school record for the javelin in 1971, which stood for 17 years. He played college football at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, where he caught the attention of NFL scouts.
The cause of Russ Francis’ death was a plane crash near Lake Placid, New York, on Sunday, October 2, 2023. He was flying his own plane, a Cessna 177 Cardinal, with another passenger, Richard McSpadden, who was a senior vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and a former commander of the US Air Force Thunderbirds.
The plane experienced an emergency after takeoff and attempted to return to the airport, but failed to make the runway and struck an earth embankment. Both Francis and McSpadden died at the scene. The crash's cause remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Francis became a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in the 1975 NFL Draft. He quickly became one of the best tight ends in the league, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1977 to 1979.
The former late football player was also named to the All-Pro team twice and the All-Rookie team in 1975. He was known for his size, speed, strength, and toughness, as well as his acrobatic catches and blocking ability. He helped the Patriots reach the playoffs three times during his tenure with the team.
Francis retired from football in 1980 after a contract dispute with the Patriots but returned to the game in 1982 when he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers. He played under legendary coach Bill Walsh and alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.
The former star won his only Super Bowl ring with the 49ers in 1984, when they defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. He also reached two more Pro Bowls with the 49ers in 1983 and 1986.
Russ Francis played his final season in 1989 when he rejoined the Patriots for one last year. He finished his NFL career with 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Francis ranks among the top tight ends in NFL history in several categories, including receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, and yards per catch. He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
After retiring from football, Francis pursued a career in professional wrestling. He participated in WrestleMania 2’s battle royal event in 1986 and later wrestled for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).
In addition, he also worked as a radio host and a sportscaster for local and national media outlets.
Francis’s death shocked and saddened many individuals who knew him or appreciated him as a player and a person. The New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers issued comments offering their sympathies to his family and friends. They also praised his efforts to their teams and to the sport of football.
Many former teammates, coaches, opponents, fans, and media celebrities also shared their memories and appreciation for Francis on social media and other venues. He was regarded as a terrific player, a great entertainer, a great friend, and a great man.