FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots organization is mourning the death of former tight end Russ Francis, who “tragically passed away” over the weekend, the team announced Monday.
Francis, along with an aviation expert, were killed in a plane crash at Lake Placid Airport in New York on Sunday, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported. He had recently purchased the Lake Placid Airways scenic tour business.
The 70-year-old played 13 NFL seasons and was with the Patriots during two stints from 1975-80 and 1987-88. He played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1982-1987.
Francis was drafted by the Patriots as a first-round draft pick out of Oregon in the 1975 NFL Draft.
“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,” Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. “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.”
Francis grew up wanting to fly, the Daily Enterprise reported. Those who knew him also remembered how he would fly his plane to football practice during his time with the 49ers.
In a statement, the mother of Francis’ son wrote, I am shattered to share that my son’s father, NFL great Russ Francis, passed away, along with a friend, in a plane crash Sunday afternoon. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to choke those words out to Michael...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.”
Francis was traded by New England to San Francisco in 1982 for a draft pick that was used to select Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett. He was a key member of the 49ers 1984 Super Bowl victory over Miami.
Francis returned to New England in 1987 and retired as a member of the Patriots following the 1988 season. He finished his career with 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The other victim of the crash was identified as Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden.
The crash remains under investigation by New York State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Traffic Safety Board.
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