‘Best in the business’: NFL mourns death of ESPN journalist Chris Mortensen

Chris Mortensen, the award-winning journalist who covered the NFL for nearly four decades, including 32 years as a senior analyst at ESPN, died Sunday morning. He was 72.

ESPN confirmed Mortensen’s death on Sunday. There was no immediate word on the cause or location of death.

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

Mortensen announced in 2016 that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. Even while undergoing treatment, he was the first to confirm the retirement of Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

“We have lost a true legend,” Manning said in a social media post. “Mort was the best in the business and I cherished our friendship. I confided in him my announcement to sign with the Broncos and the news of my retirement. I will miss him dearly and my thoughts and prayers are with Micki and his family. Rest in peace, Mort.

Mortensen announced his retirement last year after the NFL draft so he could “focus on my health, family and faith.”

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Sunday during the end of coverage at the NFL Scouting Combine that Mortensen texted him to ask how he thought Spencer Rattler would do during quarterback workouts in Indianapolis.

“He’s just one of the sweetest souls you’ll ever meet, and he loved his sport,” Jeremiah said. “That’s why the last thing I want to do when we heard this is come here. But man, he would punch me in the face if we didn’t, if we didn’t do this and have fun and enjoy this great game that he loved so much.

Mortensen joined ESPN in 1991 and helped shape the network’s coverage for years as the NFL exploded into year-round coverage. In addition to appearing on numerous network shows, he also wrote for ESPN.com.

“Chris will forever be a part of the NFL family. Loved by so many, he was a brilliant voice for the game and as passionate and talented as there has ever been,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “My appreciation and respect for Chris came quickly as I visited him often in Austin in my early years. We built a great bond there.”

He received the Dick McCann Award from the Professional Football Writers of America in 2016. It was renamed the Bill Nunn Jr Award in 2021 and is presented annually at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies to the reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution delivered. through their coverage of the game.

“I admired how hard Chris worked to become one of the most influential and respected reporters in sports. He earned our respect and that of many others with his relentless search for news, but also with the kindness he showed to everyone he met,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed by many of us around the league who were fortunate to know him far better than the stories he told every Sunday.”

Mortensen also worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983 to 1989. He covered the Atlanta Falcons from 1985-86 and the league from 1985-89. He left for The National in 1989 and worked there for almost two years.

He was an NFL columnist for The Sporting News and a contributing writer for Sport magazine. He was also a consultant for CBS’s The NFL Today in 1990.

“I considered Chris a personal hero of mine and it’s really hard to imagine sports journalism without him. His ability to tackle life’s obstacles with grit and determination was always truly inspiring and his tremendous impact on so many, including me, will live on through this work and unwavering friendships,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement.

A native of Torrance, California, Mortensen attended El Camino College. He served in the Army for two years before starting his journalism career at the South Bay Daily Breeze in 1969.

“An absolutely devastating day. Mort was one of the greatest reporters in sports history, and an even better man,” ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter said on social media. “Mort was the very best. He will be forever missed and remembered.”

He is survived by his wife Micki and son Alex.