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WILL MCDONOUGH | 1935-2003

An overpowering absence

This space should be empty today.

The requirements of daily newspapering demand that all white space be filled in each edition, and for many years filling this portion of it was the weekly task of my friend and colleague, Will McDonough. He filled it the way Dick Butkus filled a hole and the way Jim Brown hit the hole. He filled it better than anyone else who ever tried.

For the past few years, it has been my job to follow him, and I did, but I did not replace him. Some things are not possible no matter how hard you work at them, and one of them was to replace Will on the subject of pro football. It would be like replacing Jerry Rice or John Elway. It could not be done, so you merely stepped in and did the best you could, which was never quite good enough, to be honest, although he would never say that.

Unless you were wrong about something you wrote, of course.

"Let me tell you what's gonna happen," he'd say. Then he'd tell you what was going to happen. And then it would.

It was a great privilege to work next to Will, who died Thursday at the age of 67. It is an honor to type in the same column space he occupied for so long because he was without a doubt the most influential pro football writer of his time, if not of all-time. I would argue that the latter mantle fit him best, which is why this space seems empty today, as does the entire world of pro football.

These have been difficult times for the game he loved. Not long ago Johnny Unitas, arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, died. Barely a week ago, arguably the greatest teacher of the passing game, 91-year-old Sid Gillman, who like everyone else in pro football was a friend of McDonough, died at his home near San Diego. Now it is Will, a loss so difficult it left one of his closest and loudest friends, Bill Parcells, nearly silent.

"He was one of my best friends, and you can count them on one hand," a downcast Parcells said from his home on Long Island Friday. "A real friend is somebody who knows all about you and likes you anyway. That was what Will was to me.

"I first met him when I was an assistant coach with the Patriots in 1980 and we just hit it off. I don't know why. We just did. He was a special guy. He transcended journalism, the football business, and everything else. We were able to be friends and stay friends without ever compromising each other. This is a sad, sad day."   Continued...

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