John Reaves, a former Florida and NFL quarterback who set several passing records in his college and professional career, was found dead at his home in Tampa, Florida, on August 1, 2017. He was 67 years old. The cause of death is still under investigation, but Reaves had a history of health and substance abuse problems that may have contributed to his demise. Here is what we know so far about John Reaves’ cause of death and his life story.
A Star Quarterback with a Troubled Past
Reaves was born in Anniston, Alabama, in 1950, and moved to Tampa with his mother and grandmother after his father died when he was 9 years old. He attended T.R. Robinson High School, where he was a star quarterback for the Robinson Knights. He led the Knights to the Florida Class 2A football semifinal game in 1967, and was named the State Player of the Year. He also excelled in basketball, baseball, and track.
Reaves accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he played quarterback for the Florida Gators from 1969 to 1971. He was part of a group of second-year star players known as the “Super Sophs”, which included Reaves, wide receiver Carlos Alvarez, and running back Tommy Durrance. Reaves and the Super Sophs led the Gators to their best season record of 9-1-1 in 1969, and an upset victory over Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. Reaves graduated from Florida in 1971 as the NCAA’s all-time leading passer with 7,581 yards and 54 touchdowns. He also won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top passer, and was a first-team All-American and All-SEC selection. He was later inducted into the Florida–Georgia Hall of Fame and the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame.
Reaves was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft. He played for the Eagles from 1972 to 1974, but struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals in 1975, where he had his best season in 1976, throwing for 2,621 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1979 to 1980, and the Houston Oilers in 1981. He finished his NFL career with 3,417 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.
Reaves continued his playing career in the United States Football League (USFL), where he joined the Tampa Bay Bandits in 1983. He played for the Bandits until 1985, throwing for over 10,000 yards and 62 touchdowns. He led the Bandits to three consecutive playoff appearances, and became a fan favorite in his hometown. He briefly returned to the NFL in 1987 as a replacement player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the players’ strike.
However, Reaves’ football success was overshadowed by his personal struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He admitted that he started using cocaine in college, and became addicted to painkillers after suffering several injuries in the NFL. He also battled depression and anxiety, and attempted suicide twice. He was arrested several times for drug possession and driving under the influence. He spent time in rehab centers and jail cells, trying to overcome his demons.
A Coach and Mentor with a Legacy
Reaves turned his life around in the late 1980s, when he became a born-again Christian and joined a recovery program. He decided to pursue a coaching career, hoping to use his experience and knowledge to help young players. He returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach under Steve Spurrier from 1990 to 1994, where he coached quarterbacks such as Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, and Eric Kresser. He helped the Gators win three SEC championships and a national championship in 1996.
Reaves then followed Spurrier to South Carolina, where he served as an assistant coach from 1995 to 1997. He coached quarterbacks such as Steve Taneyhill, Anthony Wright, and Blake Mitchell. He also worked as a private quarterback coach for several high school and college players, including his son Stephen Reaves, who played at Michigan State and South Florida.
Reaves was widely respected and admired by his former teammates, coaches, players, and fans for his passion, talent, and resilience. He was remembered as a fierce competitor, a loyal friend, a loving father, and a generous mentor. He inspired many people with his courage and faith in overcoming his addiction and finding redemption.
A Mystery Surrounding His Death
Reaves was found dead at his home on August 1, 2017, by his son David, who had come to check on him after not hearing from him for a few days. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office said that the cause of death is being investigated, and that an autopsy and toxicology tests will be performed. The office did not reveal any signs of foul play or trauma.
Reaves’ family and friends said that they were shocked and saddened by his sudden death, and that they did not know of any health issues or problems that he was facing. They said that he seemed happy and healthy in the days before his death, and that he was looking forward to attending a reunion of the 1969 Gators team in September. They also said that he was proud of his recovery and his coaching career, and that he was devoted to his three sons and his grandchildren.
Reaves’ death remains a mystery, as the public awaits the results of the medical examiner’s investigation. However, regardless of the cause of death, Reaves’ legacy as a star quarterback, a coach, and a mentor will live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and loved him.