Husky Great Mansfield Dies In Grand Canyon -- Former UW, Pittsburgh Steeler Lineman, 55, Collapses During Hiking Trip
Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services
That Ray Mansfield would head off for a four-day hike in the Grand Canyon, even in the middle of football season, was no surprise to those who knew him.
The former University of Washington and Pittsburgh Steeler lineman was nicknamed "Ranger" for his love of the outdoors. That's where he died Saturday.
The body of the 55-year-old was flown out of the canyon by helicopter yesterday, and the Coconino County (Ariz.) medical examiner was to conduct an autopsy, a Park Service spokeswoman said. With Mansfield's family history of cardiac illness and no signs of trauma, the Park Service preliminarily said he died of natural causes.
Mansfield played on two Super Bowl teams for the Steelers and three seasons for the University of Washington in the early 1960s.
"He was an adventurer," said former Steeler defensive lineman John Banaszak, who once joined Mansfield in a climb up Colorado's Mount Princeton. "That was his element. That was his form of competition . . . recreation and relaxation."
Mansfield apparently was hiking behind his son, Jim, and a friend, and had lagged behind. When Mansfield didn't arrive at the campsite by Sunday morning, the two others went back to find him. When they reached Mansfield, he had no pulse and wasn't breathing.
Mansfield was born in Bakersfield, Calif., the child of farm workers who traveled the West from Arizona to Washington. His family settled in Kennewick, where he attended high school and was
recruited to Washington by Coach Jim Owens.
A powerful lineman, Mansfield contributed to the resurgence of Husky football under Owens. Following in the All-America footsteps of Roy McKasson, Mansfield played as a reserve in the Jan. 2, 1961, Rose Bowl victory over Minnesota before becoming the starting center the next season.
"Tough - he was really tough," said another ex-Husky, Duane Lochnane, who met Mansfield when they played in the East-West high-school all-star game in Spokane in 1959.
Lochnane said he and Mansfield were together at the UW-Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 12.
"It was just such a wonderful time," Lochnane said. "To hear this is just unbelievable."
Owens also saw Mansfield at Notre Dame, but said the two did not get a chance to speak.
"We just missed in the crowd," Owens said from his home in Montana. "It's hard to believe that a strong young man like that is gone. We're all going to miss him."
Owens called Mansfield "one of the top linemen ever at Washington."
Bob Schloredt, quarterback on the 1959 and '60 Husky teams that played in the Rose Bowl, called Mansfield "a very intense player and a very smart player. He had good size and quickness. He was a big center who could snap the ball and move. He had great instincts."
In 1962, Mansfield was on the American Football Coaches' All-America second team, the Associated Press' third team and received honorable mention from United Press International. He was also first-team All-Coast.
After his Husky career, Mansfield was selected as a tackle by Philadelphia in the second round of the 1963 NFL draft. Denver selected him in the fifth round of the AFL draft. He began his 13-year affiliation with the Steelers in 1964.
Mansfield, who ran an insurance business in suburban Pittsburgh, still holds the Steelers' record for consecutive games played at 182 from 1964-76. He was with Steeler teams that beat Minnesota in Super Bowl IX and Dallas in Super Bowl X.
"Ray was a special person," former Steeler coach Chuck Noll said. "He was one of the guys who was a Steeler when I arrived in '69, and he was great in the locker room. He was a guy that everybody rallied around. He always had a certain amount of levity, but he was a tremendous football player."
Steeler President Dan Rooney said Mansfield was "a fine guy and very close to us" and recalled his standing up to Oakland Raider fans after a 24-7 victory in the AFC championship following the 1974 season.
"He added a lot of humor and spirit to our teams," Rooney said. "I remember the first time we won at Oakland in an AFC championship. It was one of those pitched battles like we always had with them.
"He was the first player on the field, and you know those fans out there were giving him a hard time. I remember he put his hand up in one of those victory things, and that really got them going, but it got very infectious on our team."
Banaszak called Mansfield a role model on and off the field. He said he remembered his friend best as a raconteur of tales from the team's "good years."
"I can see him with a big cigar telling those stories, and it brings a smile to my face right now," Banaszak said.
Mansfield was a main figure in a best-selling book Roy Blount Jr. wrote about the 1973 Steelers, "About Three Bricks Shy of a Load."
While in the NFL, Mansfield returned to school, earning a degree from Eastern Washington University in 1968.
In 1995, he was enshrined in the Husky Hall of Fame.
Compiled from Seattle Times staff reporter Dick Rockne, night sports editor Tom Peterson and Associated Press reports.
Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.