John Clayton, the longtime NFL reporter for ESPN, has died at age 67 after an undisclosed brief illness. While he was considered one of the best in the business among football fans, for many he will be remembered for his unforgettable starring in role in perhaps the greatest “This Is SportsCenter” commercial ever.
After starting as a sportswriter in the covering the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks in the ’70s and ’80s, Clayton was hired by ESPN in 1995, where he remained with the network as one of its top NFL reporters until he was let go in 2017. According to ESPN, Clayton died Friday (March 18th) while surrounded by family in Washington state.
Clayton, who was nicknamed “The Professor,” had a charmingly nerdy appearance, which made his turn in the aforementioned “This Is SportsCenter” commercial both unexpected and hilarious.
The classic clip (watch below) shows SportsCenter host Neil Everett describing Clayton as the “consummate pro.” Then cut to Clayton delivering what appears to be a standard NFL report. However, once he’s done, a behind-the-scenes view shows Clayton rip off his fake suit and tie to reveal that he’s sporting a sleeveless Slayer shirt and long hair — and is reporting from his bedroom adorned with metal posters. He turns on his stereo, jumps in bed, eats leftover takeout food, and screams, “Hey mom, I’m done with my segment!”
Clayton talked about the commercial in a 2014 video interview with The News Tribune, revealing that he was invited backstage to a Slayer show after the clip had gone viral.
“The great part was Slayer was in town in Seattle … and I got a chance to go down and see the guys … one guy’s a Raider fan, one guy’s a 49er fan,” said Clayton. “And [guitarist] Kerry [King’s] wife took good care us so I can watch the concert. It was great. They are great people, great musicians, a great group.”
Our condolences go out to John Clayton’s family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time. Watch his classic ESPN commercial below, followed by the interview in which he discussed his experience meeting Slayer.