Mike Lucci, who spent nine of 12 NFL seasons as a Detroit Lions linebacker, died Tuesday, the team announced. He was 81.
A cause of death wasn’t listed, but his obituary said he had been battling an illness for an extended period.
Lucci played for the Lions from 1965-73, earning All-NFL honors in 1969 and a Pro Bowl berth in 1971 — a season in which he tallied five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He was a team captain and the Lions’ defensive MVP from 1969-71.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mike Lucci, whose passion for life was felt by all who knew him,” Sheila Ford Hamp, Lions principal owner and chairperson, said in a statement. “Many will remember Mike for his toughness as a player during his nine seasons with the Lions, earning Pro Bowl honors in 1971 and being named the team’s defensive MVP three times.
“His positive presence as a leader within our Lions Legends community made him a familiar face to all, and his willingness to give back will always be part of his great legacy.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his wife, Patricia, and the entire Lucci family.”
Lucci was drafted out of Tennessee in the fifth round (No. 69 overall) by the Cleveland Browns in 1961, where he spent his first three seasons, helping the Browns win the NFL championship in 1964. He was acquired by the Lions in a three-team trade in 1965.
In nine seasons with the Lions, Lucci played in 117 games, including 106 starts. He had 21 interceptions with Detroit, returning four for touchdowns, and 13.5 sacks. He also recovered nine fumbles.
After his playing days, the Ambridge, Pennsylvania, native was a radio analyst for Lions games from 1976-78 and was a Metro Detroit businessman, serving as an executive with Bally Total Fitness. He also owned several Burger Kings in Michigan and Illionis, and raised millions for charities over the years.
He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania and National Italian-American Sports Halls of Fame.
Lucci is survived by wife of 58 years, Patricia, and children Michael and Michelle, as well as two grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family recommends donations to Gridiron Greats.