Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, whose fierce play epitomized the champion Green Bay Packers of the Vince Lombardi era, died Sunday. He was 61.
He died in Florida of a massive heart attack, the Packers said.Nitschke's daughter, Amy Klaas, said she and her 17-month-old daughter, Jacqueline, had been visiting with her father at his winter home in Naples, Fla., and they were driving to a friend's house when her father felt chest pains.
They stopped at a service station in Venice, Fla., and she went in for water and a soft drink. When she returned, he had been stricken.
"A man at the gas station helped me get him out of the car and I started CPR," she said, adding that a "wonderful lady" then came and relieved her. Her father was taken to Venice Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m.
Nitschke, a third-round draft pick of the Packers out of Illinois, played for the Packers from 1958 to 1972, and was the defensive anchor on the Lombardi teams that won five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls. He was a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team.
Nitschke and Dick Butkus were the standard for the punishing middle linebacker of the '60s and '70s.
In a recent poll, he was voted the fourth-best player in the team's history, behind receiver Don Hutson, current quarterback Brett Favre, and Bart Starr, the quarterback on Lombardi's teams.
Nitschke, who made his home in Green Bay after his retirement, was often at Packers practices and traveled to road games. He would chat with whomever approached him - a man whose private demeanor was in stark contrast to his fierce on-field persona.
"The last time I saw him, he was critiquing the entire Super Bowl to me. It comes as a shock," said Packers offensive lineman Adam Timmerman.