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Longtime ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen dies at 72

The award-winning football reporter had retired last April after covering his 33rd NFL draft.
/ Source: NBC News

Longtime ESPN commentator Chris Mortensen has died at age 72, the cable sports channel announced Sunday.

“Mort was widely respected as an industry pioneer and universally beloved as a supportive, hard-working teammate,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a social media statement. “He covered the NFL with extraordinary skill and passion, and was at the top of his field for decades. He will truly be missed by colleagues and fans, and our hearts and thoughts are with his loved ones.”

Mortensen retired last April after having covered his 33rd NFL draft. Since he started at ESPN in 1991, he reported for the network’s largest NFL broadcast shows, as well as the “SportsCenter segment” “Inside the Huddle.”

Mortensen, who had battled esophageal cancer for years, wrote on X in September that he had decided to focus on his health, family and faith. He had initially taken a leave of absence after he announced his diagnosis in early 2016.

“The gratitude and humility is overwhelming. It’s not a classic retirement. I’ll still be here talking ball,” he wrote of his retirement. “It’s just time. God Bless you all.”

Before his iconic sports broadcasting career, Mortensen covered the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, winning a George Polk Award in 1987 for his reporting. He then covered the NFL for The National Sports Daily, a now-defunct newspaper, before he joined ESPN.

In 1991, he published a book, “Playing for Keeps: How One Man Kept the Mob from Sinking Its Hooks into Pro Football.”

Mortensen is survived by his wife, Micki Mortensen, and a son, Alex Mortensen, who is a football coach and former professional quarterback.

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.