Thought this was somewhat deserving of a thread. Jerry Sullivan, while often the target of criticism here, wrote a moving piece on the late Allen Wilson, who died last week. A very nice read. Going to school for sports writing, I've always been a fan of Wilson's work. A consummate professional.
Late Thursday, I stood beside Allen Wilson's hospital bed, holding his hand and praying for a miracle. Big Al was sedated, unable to communicate or breathe on his own. It tore me apart to see my dear friend, a giant of a man with a heart to match, lying helpless in the intensive care unit at Roswell, his body ravaged by leukemia.
My first impulse was to scream in rage. Why? What did the people at The News do to deserve this horrible run of tragedy? Images of departed friends raced through my head: Jay Bonfatti, Tom Borrelli, Bob Summers, Jim Kelley. Now Al was about to pass too soon, leaving a little girl and wife behind. Damn it all, it just didn't seem fair.
But I realized that if Al could wake up, he'd smile, pat me on the arm and tell me everything was OK. It occurred to me that in 20 years, I had never seen him act out of spite or anger, or do anything to hurt another person. Al didn't have a mean-spirited bone in his body.
The Bills, prior to their game with Tennessee Sunday, held a moment of silence for the 49-year-old Buffalo News beat man in the press box. Wilson, very large and very quiet and very well-respected, died of leukemia Saturday in Buffalo, leaving behind his wife -- the paper's executive sports editor, Lisa Wilson, and a daughter, Alissa. And a lot of sad peers.
"It's so upsetting,'' former Bills coach Gregg Williams told me Saturday night, "because of the kind of family man he was, and the kind of person he was, and the kind of professional he was. I had so much respect for him. We both are very close to our families, and that was our bond.''
Wilson a former college football player at North Carolina Central, was occasionally mistaken for Bruce Smith; their hair and big chests were similar. "I'm not him,'' Wilson would tell fans, "but I do cover him.'' Most times in press boxes, he was the silent type -- but there was something about him that attracted respect. As I told Williams, "It's like he was Switzerland -- he was so impartial.'' We're in a business now in which newspaper beat people are told by their bosses in many cases to be opinionated, to interpret the news. That's important, to be sure. But it's also important to present the news when you're covering a team in an impartial way, and let the readers decide what they want to think about a story or an issue.
"You hit the nail on the head,'' said Williams. "He was so neutral. A lot of guys in your business I won't read, because I want to know facts, and I don't know what I'm getting from them. Allen, he dealt in facts. He reported what was happening, not what he thought should happen. I think there's an art to neutrality, and Allen was very good at it.''
One of the Bills Wilson covered, Takeo Spikes, reached out to me because he wanted to express his respect for him. "The best way to describe him was firm and fair,'' Spikes said. "He was up front with me, always. If he was going to write something I might not like, he'd come to me and say, 'Look, I'm writing this, And I want to get your side of it. Whatever you say is not going to make me not write it, but I want to be sure I tell your side.' When we're dealing with the media, that's all we want. He didn't come out with any bogus stories. The players respected him.''
He's the second tough but fair beat man to die this season, Tom Kowalski from Detroit the first back in August. The Lions played at Buffalo right after Kowalski died, and the Bills had a moment of silence for him too. Two very good men and reporters, gone too soon.