Russ Francis, a former NFL Pro Bowl tight end, and his family confirmed on social media that he was one of the two fatalities in Sunday’s plane crash in upstate New York. He was seventy years old.
“My older brother Russ Francis was just killed in a plane crash in Lake Placid, New York,” said Ed Francis, the younger brother of Francis, alongside a picture of his brother during a 49ers game. It goes without saying that my family and I are utterly destroyed. My brother had always loved to fly, so it seemed like a natural way for him to depart away. “God bless you, my older brother!”
Francis was killed along with Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Lake Place News reported the crash happened at about 4:09 p.m. Sunday. AOPA said the plane the two men were in was a Cessna 177 Cardinal and that the plane “experienced an emergency after takeoff,” according to a statement.
The New England Patriots issued a statement from team chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, saying, “On behalf of the entire New England Patriots organization, we extend our sincerest sympathies to the family of Russ Francis, who tragically passed away yesterday. Russ was a fan favorite throughout his playing career. He was a dynamic player on the field who had an even bigger personality off it. He knew no boundaries, pushed the limits and lived his life to the fullest. Our thoughts are with Russ’s family, friends, teammates and the many Patriots fans who mourn his loss.”
The San Francisco 49ers issued a statement Monday, saying, “The San Francisco 49ers are saddened to learn of the tragic passing of former tight end and Super Bowl XIX champion Russ Francis. We send our deepest condolences to the Francis family during this difficult time.”
A native of Seattle, Francis was selected by New England in the 1975 NFL Draft and played six seasons with the team, earning Pro Bowl honors in 1977, 1978 and 1979. He retired after the 1980 season and worked a year as a commentator for ABC Sports. At the 1982 Pro Bowl, Francis interviewed the 49ers head coach at the time, Bill Walsh, who had just won the team’s first Super Bowl. Walsh convinced Francis to come out of retirement.
Francis joined the 49ers in 1982 and played six seasons for San Francisco, winning a Super Bowl following the 1984 season and posting a career-high 44 receptions in 1985. Francis was waived by the 49ers during the 1987 season and he signed again with New England for the final two years of his career.