Neil Kerley was South Australia's Mr Football - the premiership player and coach known as Knuckles who became a figurehead of Australian Rules.
The Australian Football Hall of Fame member and "proud and passionate South Australian" has died in a car crash at Walker Flat, east of Adelaide. He was 88.
Kerley made his mark on Australia's home-grown football code as an outstanding player, coach, administrator and media figure.
Even long after his retirement as a player, Kerley's passionate support for South Australia - especially in State of Origin clashes with arch-rival Victoria - was unrivalled.
He became better known to a national audience as the larger-than-life boundary rider for TV broadcasts of AFL matches.
Kerley earned the nickname Knuckles not only for his fierce approach to the game and larrikinism, but also the damage done to his fingers.
He played 276 games for West Adelaide, South Adelaide and Glenelg, and represented his state 32 times.
Kerley coached five SANFL clubs to a total of four premierships and also coached SA.
When the Adelaide Crows entered the AFL in 1991, Kerley was appointed their inaugural football manager as a key support figure to first-year coach Graham Cornes.
"Neil's contribution to the game is immeasurable and he embodied what it means to be a proud and passionate South Australian," Crows chairman John Olsen said in a statement.
"As a player and coach, he was tough and uncompromising and he commanded respect, and he will be remembered as one of football's great characters.
"In the context of his overall career, his time at the Crows was brief but his impact is best described as significant given he helped build the club from the ground up."
Kerley's verbal stoushes before State of Origin fixtures with the man nicknamed Mr Football, Victorian counterpart Ted Whitten, were the stuff of legend.
But the fiercely-proud South Australian admitted in 2014 he perhaps should have headed east at some point in his career.
"Not coming to Victoria (was a regret)," he told Fox Footy's Open Mike.
"If I could have walked out of there and played here the following year, then yes, I would have come, for a couple of years maybe."
The AFL paid tribute to Kerley and his impact on football in South Australia.
"Neil Kerley was the embodiment of football in South Australia," chief executive Gillon McLachlan said.
"He devoted his life to the game, brought improvement and success wherever he went across the SANFL competition and was absolutely driven in the cause of state football, and particularly putting a victory over the Big V.
"In coaching the Croweaters for 10 separate years of state football, he was the lifeblood of the game in the state and relentlessly drove the reputation of SA football and its footballers on the national stage."
Amid his passion for football, Kerley also thoroughly enjoyed the social side of the game.
He was coaching Central District in the SANFL when they suffered a heavy loss.
Fellow bon vivant and SA sporting legend Neil Hawke, then working in the media, was asked how the famously hot-tempered Kerley would have taken such a drubbing.
"He'd have rounded up a few of his mates that night and said 'fellas, let's have a game of cards'," Hawke said.
Kerley died on Wednesday afternoon in a car accident in the Murraylands region of SA.
He is survived by his wife Barb and family.
Australian Associated Press
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