A former NFL Super Bowl champion who regaled listeners in the Big Horn Basin with stories about the outdoors died in a plane crash Sunday.
Russ Francis, 70, recently lived in Powell and hosted an outdoors radio show on KODI Radio while there.
Also dying in the crash in upstate New York was Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The small private plane crashed around 4:10 p.m. toward the end of a runway at Lake Placid Airport, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. The airport subsequently closed as emergency workers attempted to remove the plane from a gully where it landed.
The New York State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Traffic Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Francis moved to a ranch between Cody and Powell in 2016 with his longtime partner, Jaclyn Ryan. By around 2020, the two had moved back to Connecticut but still returned to Wyoming from time to time to visit friends.
Francis explained during a 2021 KODI interview they moved back to New England because he thought he had a job opportunity covering college football and possibly NFL Monday Night Football with ESPN. When the pandemic hit, those plans derailed.
For a short time, Francis hosted a show on KODI called “Forever West Outdoors.” According to a 2016 Cody Enterprise story, Francis would talk about his reverence for the land, mountains and beauty of Wyoming, expressing gratitude for having it all at his fingertips.
“It was a thrill for me because I love the outdoors, I grew up in the outdoors in Hawaii,” he said during the 2021 interview. “There’s just not too many places like Wyoming. Wyoming is very special..”
Francis said he missed living in Park County during the interview and expressed optimism that he and Ryan might move back someday.
Cody historian Bob Richard was friends with Francis and said this was also something the former football star expressed to him.
“I feel like this is home,” Francis said of Wyoming during a 2021 KODI interview.
Richard said he and Francis bonded over a love for the great outdoors.
“He was a man’s man that was always interested in being involved with the community’s activities,” Richard said.
Richard said Francis became a member of the Cody American Legion while living in town. He also helped judge at the Cody Wild West Chili Cook-Off in 2016.
Richard said Francis was a private pilot. According to the Daily Enterprise, Francis had recently bought the Lake Placid Airways scenic tour business at the airport there in New York.
Francis, a three-time Pro Bowl tight end, was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.
He played 14 years in the NFL from 1975-1989 and caught a total of 393 passes in his career for 5,762 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Many of his former teammates and friends took to social media to honor their fallen friend Sunday.
Former 49ers teammate Jesse Sapolu said he was saddened by the news.
“Rip big bro,” Sapolu said in an X post (formerly Twitter).
Ed Francis reacted to his brother's death in a Facebook post: “Needless to say, my family and I are completely flattened. Flying was my brother's lifelong passion, and perhaps a fitting way for him to go. God speed to you my big brother.”
Kate Naiman, who had a son with Francis, said she was “shattered” by the news.
In a Facebook post she said, “To Russ, flying was like breathing ... it came naturally and he lived for it. He used to fly his P-51 Mustang to practice and land in the stadium parking lot and really piss off Bill Walsh. There will be some comfort down the road in knowing that he died doing the thing he loved most, but not today. Not today.”
A Colorful Life
Francis grew up surfing and living the island life. His father was a wrestling promoter, which led to some interesting childhood experiences with famous stars like Andre the Giant.
He only played one season of football at the University of Oregon before being selected in the 1975 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots with their first pick. Francis also ran track at Oregon and was a teammate of the legendary Steve Prefontaine.
In 1980 and 1981, he participated in the “Superstars” TV program, a televised sporting event featuring 10 top athletes from 10 sports competing in events that were not their own. He set a record of 23.91 seconds in the 50-yard swimming event.
After retiring from football, Francis hosted a radio show in New Hampshire and competed in a few professional wrestling events. In 2015, he was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame as a contributor.
In 2000, he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Hawaii as a Republican.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.