John Clayton, a Braddock native and Pro Football Hall of Fame journalist who began covering the Steelers for the St. Mary’s Daily Press when he was 18 and rose to prominence as a tireless and well-informed NFL insider for ESPN, died Friday. He was 67. “John Clayton passed away today at a Seattle area hospital,'” his former ESPN colleague, Chris Mortensen, wrote on Twitter. “His wife, Pat, and sister, Amy, were at his side and communicated he passed away peacefully after a brief illness. We are mourning his loss.”
A graduate of Duquesne University, Clayton worked for the Pittsburgh Press covering the Steelers in the late 1970s and ’80s and gained national prominence — if not notoriety — when he wrote a story in 1978 about the Steelers using shoulder pads during a minicamp practice in violation of NFL rules. The affair was dubbed “Shouldergate” by Clayton and eventually resulted in the Steelers being docked a third-round draft choice.
After leaving the Press, he went to work at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., covering the Seattle Seahawks and also doing radio work at a Seattle sports station with “The Fabulous Sports Babe.” That eventually led to being hired at ESPN, where he worked from 1995 until 2017.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) March 19, 2022
“We are very saddened to learn of the passing of John Clayton,” the Steelers said in a statement on Friday night. “He was a Pittsburgh media icon who covered the Steelers for over a decade in the 1970s and 1980s, and he continued to follow and report on the team even when he moved on to become one of the most respected NFL national reports. Our thoughts are with his wife, Pat, during this difficult time.”
Former Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette, who met Clayton when he worked at the McKeesport Daily News, said he was always impressed how much time Clayton spent on the phone, tracking down stories and talking to sources. But he most remembered Clayton for always being upbeat and helping him whenever he could.
“He was just a helpful person for me,” said Bouchette, who, like Clayton, was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for longtime excellence. “Even after he became big-time, if he found something out about the Steelers he would call me as the beat guy to let me know. I always appreciated that.”
For all his fame as an NFL correspondent on ESPN — the cable network even did a promotional commercial on Clayton, portraying him as a long-haired, rock-and-roller from the 1970s who eats Chinese food in his bedroom — he might have been most proud when his hometown of Braddock honored him with “John Clayton Day” in April 2018.
Clayton received a plaque as an official proclamation and received a note from then- Braddock mayor John Fetterman that said, “We’d give you the key to the city but it was stolen.”
“He never forgot where he came from,” Bouchette said. “He was so proud of that.”
The Seahawks posted a message on Twitter that said “Rest in Peace. The Professor,” a reference to a nickname given to Clayton for his professorial, wire-rimmed look.
“The thing that always struck me about John was his passion for our profession,” said long-time Cleveland Browns beat reporter Tony Grossi of 850 ESPN Cleveland. “He loved to report, he loved to write, he loved to be an insider for his team or the league. He was a true character, and there’s so few characters left in this business. He was one of a kind.”
Clayton’s passion for reporting and hard-work was never more evident than when he spent his time after the Steelers season tracking down high-school recruiting news — an area that wasn’t even his responsibility — and becoming one of the leading authorities in the country.
Longtime Hall of Fame Selector and NFL writer/insider John Clayton has passed away at the age of 67.
His impact and contribution to the game of football will be missed. pic.twitter.com/kRtnAXWeiF
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) March 19, 2022
But, despite his tireless work ethic, Clayton’s devotion to his wife, who suffered from an illness that bound her to a wheelchair, was most touching. He took her to just about every big event he covered and always found the time to take care of her.
“I visited him in Seattle when the Steelers were playing there and he took me to his house,” Bouchette said. “He was so proud of this house he built and it had an elevator that he built for Pat. After her illness, he would go to every super bowl and he would be wheeling her everywhere. I thought that was so loving. And he never complained or moaned. He was always upbeat.”
23 Jul 1974, Tue Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ( Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.com
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