Former Cardinal, NFL tight end Ryan Wetnight loses battle with cancer

Shaw, Lynch reflect on loss

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Former Stanford and Chicago Bears tight end Ryan Wetnight passed away last Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 49 years old.

Playing for the Cardinal for two seasons in 1991 and 1992, the Fresno, California, native caught 27 passes for 402 yards and one touchdown. As an undrafted free agent, he signed with the Chicago Bears in 1993 and soon established himself as one of their top tight ends of the 1990s. He caught 175 passes for 1,542 yards and nine touchdowns in seven years between 1993 and 1999. The Bears made the playoffs once in his career, losing in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers during the 1994-95 season. 

Wetnight finished his career in 2000 with the division-rival Green Bay Packers, recording three catches for 20 yards. 

After his NFL career, he moved to Simi Valley, California, where he earned his California Broker license and started his own real estate firm. More recently, he coached his son’s football and baseball team and worked as an assistant coach at Thousand Oaks High School and a wide receivers’ coach at Grace Brethren High School. 

Wetnight’s impact on his community will persist after his passing, with a mother of one of Wetnight’s athletes describing him as a “marquee mentor” and writing, “He blessed our son with nothing but the prime tools to perfect his skills in football.” 

Wetnight had fought a two-year long battle with stomach cancer. The Bears first announced the diagnosis in 2018, when he underwent initial treatment. Wetnight was declared cancer free in January 2019, but eight months later in September, doctors found an inoperable tumor in his stomach. 

Both Stanford’s current football head coach David Shaw and current San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch played for the Cardinal simultaneously with Wetnight. Shaw played from 1991-94 and Lynch from 1989-92. Both paid tribute to the former Cardinal on Twitter.

All three contributed to the success of the Cardinal between 1991-92, when the team finished the 1991 season ranked No. 22 in the AP Top 25 poll and ranked No. 9 at the end of the 1992 season.

Community support was high for Wetnight during his battle, with an April 11 rally, less than a month ago. The gathering was organized by the Grace Brethren head football coach to support Wetnight and his family and included a caravan of more than 100 cars that drove past his house with inspirational messages written on windows and signs

According to a press release from the Bears, to show his appreciation, Wetnight wrote on Facebook, “Even though I suffer, I gain motivation from your actions to keep up the fight. The parade of cars on Saturday was amazing along with the donations, gift cards, food and incredible messages. I want everyone to know I feel the love and support from your kind gestures. This is a horrible disease to fight, but my family is extremely blessed by your love.”

He is survived by his wife, Stacy, and his two sons, Scott, 15, and Zach, 13. His wife also announced his passing on Facebook, writing, “Ryan fought his heart out to the very end and left his children with many valuable lessons! His legacy will live on in them and all the other young men he touched through coaching … Rest In Peace my love. We love you and miss you already and will see you again one day!”

Contact Sofia Scekic at sscekic ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Sofia Scekic '22 is a Public Policy and Economics major who writes for The Daily's sports section. A Wisconsin native, she is an avid Green Bay Packers fan who has not missed a game in eight years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' stanford.edu.