Ex-quarterback Cullen Finnerty was a Denver Bronco so briefly before the 2008 season that only the most fervent fans of the team are likely to recall him.
Until now, that is. Finnerty, who led his Grand Valley State University squad to three national championships before his short stint with Denver, has been the subject of an intensive search in his native Michigan, where he vanished after what his family feared was "some kind of mental episode" -- and it's ended unhappily, with the discovery of his body.
Finnerty was born in Brighton, Michigan, and excelled on the gridiron while matriculating at Brighton High School. From there, he moved on to Grand Valley State, located in the Michigan community of Allendale, and as a freshman under the tutelage of future Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, he helped the school score a national title at the Division II level.
He repeated, and three-peated, this feat in 2005 and 2006 -- something that would made him a major star had his achievements been in Division I. Instead, he was largely unheralded when the Baltimore Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent. He didn't make the team, however, and he fell short during his shot with the Broncos as well.
At that point, Finnerty fell off the media's radar -- and he didn't reappear until he was reported missing this past Sunday in northern Michigan, where he'd apparently gone to fish. His family told authorities he'd seemed nervous during his last phone conversation, with the sheriff heading up the search saying that his loved ones were afraid "he might be having some kind of a mental episode -- that he was either afraid or something and ran off into the woods." The discovery of Finnerty's boat increased concerns about his well-being, as well as the urgency of a large search party. But in the end, he couldn't be saved. As noted by WOOD-TV, his body was found under a tree, and while the cause of death has yet to be released, foul play is not suspected.
It's too soon to speculate about what happened. But Finnerty's tragic end is a reminder that athletes are more than just bulky gods who perform for our amusement. They're people as susceptible to the ups and downs of life as any of us. Our condolences to Finnerty's friends, family and loved ones.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Here's the WOOD-TV report about Finnerty's death.
More from our Sports archive: "Broncos superfan Hat Man on getting shot at in Kansas City -- and six other incredible stories."