Former Great Britain rugby league international David Myers died in an accident on the M6 motorway on Monday night.
The incident happened around 90 minutes before a crash on the same road in which a family of six died, Cheshire Police said.
The ex-Widnes Vikings, Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls star's van hit a bridge support at 8.49pm.
A Cheshire Police spokesman said of the 37-year-old, who lived in Warrington: "We can confirm the name of the man who died in the earlier road crash on M6 between junctions 17 and 18 as David John Myers.''
A statement on the Widnes website from operations manager Pat Cluskey said: "David was a popular member of the Widnes team and will no doubt be remembered by many for his celebration as Widnes beat Leeds in the 1993 Challenge Cup Semi-Final at Central Park.
"The side's performance that day was straight out of the textbook and one that was worthy of winning a place at Wembley."
Wigan performance director Joe Lydon, a former team-mate, added: "David and I played in the same Wigan team in the early 1990s.
"It is such a tragedy to learn about this news and my thoughts are with his family.
"Everyone at the club would like to pass on their deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time."
Former Wigan half-back Shaun Edwards told Sky Sports News: "He was a fun guy. He was always the life and soul of the party, always having a laugh, always up for banter.
"He was a very talented winger, he had one of the best side-steps I have ever seen in a winger.
"He could finish tries off and also lay them on for other people.
"He had one particularly magnificent season at Wigan where he was looking like he was going to be a future international. Unfortunately he didn't quite make that level.
"It is terrible that he has lost his life in such a tragic way. It has really hit me hard, especially after losing my own brother in a car crash."