John Saunders, who covered college football and other sports for ESPN for nearly three decades and hosted The Sports Reporters for 15 years, has died. He was 61. Saunders was one of the cable sports giant’s longest-tenured announcers, having joined in 1986 as a SportsCenter anchor.
A former colleague and close friend of the late Jim Valvano, Saunders was a founding member and served on the board of directors for The V Foundation for Cancer Research and was actively involved in many of the organization’s fundraising events and initiatives.
“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades,” ESPN President John Skipper said in a statement. “His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.”
Saunders hosted of ESPN sibling ABC’s Saturday studio coverage of college football and some editions of ESPN’s College Football Live and ESPN’s college basketball studio coverage. He hosted The Sports Reporters, the Sunday morning roundtable of sports journalists, since December 2001. In recent years, he also co-hosted NFL highlight segments on Sunday night editions of SportsCenter during the football season.
Saunders also anchored studio coverage of college football’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 11, which saw Alabama beats Clemson 45-40.
He came to ESPN from WMAR-TV in Baltimore, where he had worked since 1982 as an anchor of three daily sports reports. He also hosted the Baltimore Orioles pregame program and provided analysis for Baltimore Colts preseason games. Saunders later did local TV play-by-play for the Toronto Raptors from 1995-2001.
An all-star defenseman in the Montreal junior leagues, the Canada native played hockey on scholarship at Western Michigan from 1974-76. He then transferred to Ryerson Polytechnical in Toronto, where he was an all-star on the Ontario University Athletic Association. Behind the microphone, he hosted ESPN’s coverage of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs from 1993-2004 and also Rendez-Vous ’87, the memorable two-game series between the NHL All-Stars and the Soviets that featured most of the biggest names in 1980s hockey.
Saunders began working for ABC in 1990, hosting NCAA basketball and football and doing play-by-play for the former. He also served as a contributor to Wide World of Sports.
“He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed,” Skipper said. “Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”
Saunders is survived by his wife, Wanda, and daughters Aleah and Jenna.