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Chris Mortensen, an award-winning ESPN reporter who covered the NFL, dies at 72

Chris Mortensen, the award-winning journalist who covered the NFL for close to four decades, including 32 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 place of death.

“Mort was widely respected as an industry pioneer and universally beloved as a supportive, hardworking teammate,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “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.”

Mortensen announced in 2016 that he 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 lost a true legend,” Manning said in a social media post. “Mort was the best in the business and I cherished our friendship. I trusted him with my announcement to sign with the Broncos and with the news of my retirement. I will miss him dearly and my thoughts and prayers are with Micki & his family. Rest in peace, Mort.”

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

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

“He’s just one of the sweetest souls you will have ever met, and he loved his sport,” Jeremiah said. “That’s why when we found out about this, the last thing I want to do is come out 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 for years helped shape the network's coverage as the NFL exploded into year-round coverage. Besides appearing on a myriad of network shows, he also wrote for ESPN.com.

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

Mortensen also worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983-89. 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 nearly 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' “The NFL Today” in 1990.

“I join the immeasurable number of hearts across the nation, in journalism and the sports community, as we mourn Chris Mortensen. I’m grateful to have had the privilege of knowing Chris through his incredible work beginning at his days at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and like so many, being blessed by his professional excellence and personal grace through the many years that have followed," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. “I considered Chris a personal hero of my mine and it is truly hard to imagine sports journalism without him. His ability to take on life’s obstacles with grit and determination was always truly inspiring and his enormous impact on so many, me included, will live on through this work and unwavering friendships.”

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

“An absolutely devastating day. Mort was one of the greatest reporters in sports history, and an even better man,” said ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter 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.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Joe Reedy, The Associated Press