RIP: Willie Richardson, a Hall of Fame athlete and gentleman

\Willie Richardson, right, with fellow Hall of Famer Doug Hutton at the 2015 Kent Hull Golf Tournament. Mississippi's greatest.
\Willie Richardson, right, with fellow Hall of Famer Doug Hutton at the 2015 Kent Hull Golf Tournament.
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Willie Richardson, a former All-Pro and Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts and a 1979 inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, has died from natural causes, according to the Hinds County Coroner’s office. He was 76.

Richardson, a Greenville native and one of Jackson State’s all-time football greats, caught passes from Johnny Unitas and was coached by Don Shula. He caught five passes in the Colts’ loss to Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, one of the most famous games in NFL history.

Willie was one of five Richardson brothers to play professional football and he was a boyhood friend and teammate of George “Boomer” Scott, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, of Major League baseball fame.

Richardson was a tall, stout receiver, but he also possessed great speed. In high school track, his main event was the 440-yard dash but he once ran the 100-yard dash in 9.6.

Scott threw passes and Willie Richardson caught them at Greenville Coleman High School. Scott once told this writer about a pass he threw to Richardson to win a championship game over Jackson Lanier.

Said the Boomer: “Willie told me, ‘You just throw it up there and I’ll go get it. Well, I threw it up there and Willie went up over three or four of their guys and got it. With all due respect to Jerry Rice, Willie Richardson had the best hands I ever saw.”

Richardson could use those enormous and strong hands to play any sport. As a youth, he also starred in basketball and baseball. Later in life, he was an avid golfer. He possessed a long, fluid swing and often shot around par well into his 70s. He had soft hands around the green and was equally adept at chipping and putting.

Know this: Willie Richardson was a Southern gentleman, who always had a smile and kind words for anyone he encountered.

The last time I saw him was last week at the press conference to name Fred McNair the head coach at Alcorn State, Jackson State’s arch-rival.

Why would Willie come to see a head coach named at a rival school?

“Why am I here?” Richardon asked rhetorically. “I’ll tell you, I’ve known Fred for years. He’s a good guy, a really good guy. And here’s the thing, so many times people never get the opportunity they deserve. Life can be cruel that way. Today, Fred gets what he deserves. This was a long time coming for him and I’m glad to see it happen.”

That’s the kind of man Willie Richardson was.

He was a proud member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, who helped the museum in many ways.

He will be missed in so many ways by so many.

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