ATHENS — Bill Stanfill will be laid to rest Monday in Albany. He passed away Friday at the age of 69.
Cause of death: Football.
That’s not what will be on his death certificate. Technically, the legendary Georgia and NFL defensive end died of complications from surgery to repair a badly-broken leg suffered in a fall last week. But, ultimately, it was the football injuries that caused a lifetime of physical problems for Stanfill that killed him.
I had a long talk with Stan Stanfill, one of Bill’s three sons, Saturday morning before the Auburn game, and that’s what he thinks. Stan, a UGA letterman himself, filled in some of the blanks for me as far as what happened to his father last week and what his life had been like the past decade or so.
In short, it’d been rather miserable from a health standpoint. Bill Stanfill couldn’t fully turn his head or tilt it back due to spinal fusion surgery. He walked in pain due to a laundry list of leg and hip injuries. He once bragged that he’d broken every bone in his body playing football, “some of them twice.” Stanfill played for the Miami Dolphins during an era in the NFL when you took a shot and went back in the game if you got hurt.
“But he wasn’t bitter about football,” Stan told me. “He wouldn’t have changed a thing. He loved football. It made him who he was.”
I had not realized until Stan told me that his father was suffering from dementia at the time of his death. Stan said his father never complained much about the physical problems he was having to endure because of football. Came with the territory, he reasoned. But Stan said his father in lucid moments expressed frustration at the cognitive difficulties he was experiencing late in life.
Stanfill suffered numerous concussions during his career, so they’re pretty sure he was yet another victim of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Stan said his father was part of the $1 billion class-action lawsuit filed by former NFL players.
“They sent his brain and his spine to Boston University,” Stan Stanfill said of his father. “I expect something will probably come from that.”
Boston University founded the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and recently received a $1 million gift from the NFL to go toward the research of the degenerative disease of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), believed to have been caused by repeated concussions.
But that’s not what they’re going to be focused on today in Albany. Stan Stanfill anticipates an upbeat affair where they will share some laughs about his father and swap some stories with a lifetime’s worth of friends gathered at the First Methodist Church of Albany.
“That was his favorite thing, telling stories,” Stan said. “He loved to make people laugh.