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Patriots great Russ Francis dies in plane crash

A football. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Former Patriots tight end Russ Francis died in a plane crash Sunday in Lake Placid, N.Y., the team announced Monday.

Francis, 70, played 13 NFL seasons, including two stints in New England from 1975-80 and 1987-88. Francis made two All-Pro teams and three Pro Bowls during his career. The Patriots drafted him in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft out of Oregon.

In 1982, the Pats traded Francis and a second-round pick to San Francisco in exchange for four picks, including one that became Pro Football Hall of Fame outside linebacker Andre Tippett. Francis won a Super Bowl with the 49ers before returning to New England to finish his career.

In 2009, the Patriots Hall of Fame committee named Francis to the franchise’s 1970s All-Decade team. He was also a member of the Patriots’ 35th Anniversary Team.

Owner Robert Kraft released a statement on Francis’ passing Monday morning.

“On behalf of the entire New England Patriots organization, we extend our sincerest sympathies to the family of Russ Francis, who tragically passed away yesterday,” Kraft’s statement read. “Russ was a fan favorite throughout his playing career. He was a dynamic player on the field who had an even bigger personality off it. He knew no boundaries, pushed the limits and lived his life to the fullest.

“Our thoughts are with Russ’s family, friends, teammates and the many Patriots fans who mourn his loss.”

Over his career, Francis totaled 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns. His 28 touchdown catches rank 11th in franchise history.

Francis’ younger brother, Ed, announced his passing in a Facebook post Sunday evening. It was not immediately clear whether Francis piloted or was a passenger on the plane that killed him.

“My older brother Russ Francis was just killed in an airplane crash in Lake Placid, New York,” Ed wrote. “Flying was my brother’s lifelong passion, and perhaps a fitting way for him to go. God speed to you my big brother!!”

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