American Football: 'Minister of defence' Reggie White dies at 43

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The Independent Online

Former National Football League Defensive Player of the Year Reggie White died on Sunday, said his wife.

Initial reports suggested the 43-year-old, who was selected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 times, had suffered a massive heart attack.

"Today our beloved husband, father and friend passed away," White's wife Sara said in a statement issued through a family pastor. "His family appreciates your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of Reggie White."

An ordained Christian minister who was known as the "Minister of Defence," White played a total of 15 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers. He retired in 2000 as the NFL's all-time leader in sacks with 198. The mark has since been passed by Bruce Smith.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called White "one of the greatest men ever to play the game of football. His legacy on and off the football field will never be forgotten".

A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, White was selected for the Pro Bowl, the NFL's post-season all-star game, 13 consecutive times from 1986-98. He was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.

After an All-American senior season at the University of Tennessee, White began his pro career with the Memphis Showboats of the U.S. Football League in 1984, and joined the Eagles, who held his NFL rights, after the USFL folded in 1985.

After eight years as an integral piece in Philadelphia's "Gang Green Defense," White signed as a free agent with Green Bay in 1993 for $17 million over four years, huge for that era. His signing, along with a trade for quarterback Brett Favre, brought a measure of respectability back to the franchise and he was the first major black player to sign with the Packers as a free agent.

"That's what changed the football fortunes of this franchise. It was huge," Packers president Bob Harlan said on Sunday.

"Everyone thought the last place he would sign was Green Bay and it was monumental because not only did he sign but he recruited for Green Bay and got guys like Sean Jones to come here. He sent a message to the rest of the NFL that Green Bay was a great place to play and before that this was a place people didn't want to come."

He helped lead the Packers to consecutive Super Bowl appearances, including a win over New England in 1997, when he set a Super Bowl record with three sacks.