Longtime ESPN NFL reporter John Clayton dies at 67

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is interviewed by John Clayton of ESPN after 24-14 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in NFL Network Thursday Night Football game at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash. on December 14, 2006. (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images)
John Clayton was an ESPN mainstay. (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images)

John Clayton, a fixture on ESPN's "SportsCenter" for years, has died, a collection of his colleagues confirmed Friday. He was 67.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was hard to turn on SportsCenter or any of ESPN's NFL shows without seeing Clayton and his familiar background pop up to discuss the biggest football story of the day. He started at the network in 1995 after a long career as a newspaper writer covering the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, and stayed there until he was let go in 2017.

Clayton was also a regular presence on radio in Seattle and around the country, hosting The John Clayton Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM until his death.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Saturday, calling Clayton "a wonderful person."

"John Clayton, one of the first 'Insiders,' helped bring fans closer to the game they loved. For five decades, he covered the league with endless energy and professionalism. He earned my tremendous respect and admiration as a journalist but more importantly as a wonderful person, particularly as it relates to the love, care, and devotion to his wife Pat. We will miss John and send our deepest condolences to Pat and his sister Amy."

It didn't take long for Clayton to establish his bona fides in the industry. While covering the Steelers as a fill-in reporter for the Pittsburgh Press in 1978, he uncovered a rules violation concerning shoulder pads that would eventually cost the Steelers a draft pick. Even after being subjected to the vitriol of Steelers head coach Chuck Noll and fans, he worked his way up to beat writer.

An exemplary career would follow across print, television and radio, eventually earning him the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Dick McCann Memorial Award in 2007.

Both teams Clayton covered as a beat writer released statements in tribute to the reporter.

Clayton's reliability was reflected in many ways, perhaps most of all in how it was the joke of his famous "This is SportsCenter" commercial. His quality as a person was reflected in the outpouring of tributes from his former ESPN colleagues as soon as news of his death hit: