Longtime ESPN broadcaster John Saunders passed away on Wednesday at the age of 61. The network announced the somber news on-air and on its website. 

Saunders, a Canadian with hockey roots, became one of ESPN's leading personalities on its college football coverage. Not only did he anchor the ABC studio shows on Saturdays, but he has been the presenter of the national championship trophy since ESPN gained the rights to the BCS and College Football Playoff.

"John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades," said John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, in a statement. "His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

"He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time."

Saunders started his career in Bristol, Connecticut 30 years ago.