Archive for July, 2011
Posted on July 12, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
After a life of football and stardom and Johnstown-to-Notre-Dame-All-American-to-Denver-Broncos-busting sojourn, the effervescent Pete Duranko never once settled into the spiral of Lou Gehrig’s Disease ultimate outcome: death.
No, Duranko never settled for anything.
I still remember talking to him about it 4 1/2 years ago, his message more powerful than his will and voice, though it was an exceedingly close race.
“You’re used to being so independent, then you have to depend on people,” Duranko fairly growled for that Super Bowl column in 2007, a tale of two central Pennsylvania guys – Steve Smith of Penn State and the Oakland Raiders was the other — battling ALS. “I used to be able to play racquetball and cross-country ski. But sometimes I can’t scratch my own nose or I can’t even pick up a cup of coffee with one hand.
“I don’t sit back and cry. I feel lucky. I’m 63 now, but I act like I’m 12 and feel like I’m 85. I’ve lived a long time and got to meet a lot of people. My faith is strong. If I can help somebody, even one or two … or if I raise some money, you never know when a cure will be discovered.”
Duranko died over the weekend. He was 67. He spent 11 years with the diagnosis of death. Mike Mastovich of the Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat wrote a lovely farewell.
I wrote of Duranko and Smith back in 2007 because both were Western Pennsylvanians, both were sturdy football men felled by awful ALS. Two beloved co-workers at my former employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, were lost to the dread disease.
Now comes talk that ALS may have a root cause: concussions. Research late last year at Boston University found abnormal amounts of protein in two late NFLers and a boxer, all sufferers of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It merits further study, experts noted.
Smith, whom I had the pleasure to cover and observe making pancaking blocks for tailback D.J. Dozier at Penn State, is still going as of this writing, best as I can tell. Back when I wrote the aforementioned column, the once mighty fullback was bed-ridden and in poor health, long unable to eat or speak. He was diagnosed in 2002 — on Sept. 11, of all dates. Here is a series of moving, “HBO RealSports” segments on him and other pro-football players with ALS first, second, third.
By the way, the column’s link to the charitable lithograph no longer works; I believe the sale event ended. That doesn’t minimize what Dozier and other Penn State pals did for Smith. As Dozier told me: “The disease has no prejudice, in terms of how it operates.” Smith likely won’t live to 50, but who knows?
Here’s hoping, as Duranko put it, a cure for ALS will be one of the many discovered in our lifetime.
Posted on July 11, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
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Posted on July 7, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
John Mackey, a mover and shaker on the NFL fields and in boardrooms where the league’s future was formed, deserved more than his $2,500 NFL pension.
He deserved far better than the brain injuries that left him a mute, lost man in middle age.
He deserved to live beyond not only age 69, but beyond the longest league labor impasse where the most important points weren’t slicing up $9 billion but the futures of players past and present. More in their future than $2,500 a month for a Hall of Famer, former NFLPA President and the man for whom the 88 Plan was named, awarding $88,000 a year to players like him requiring institutionalization for post-career dementia.
Mackey, a Syracuse product the same as my parents, revolutionized the tight end position in the NFL. He caught passes galore. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch (one yard more than the great Jerry Rice). He made suffocating blocks like an offensive tackle.
Then, in retirement, he helped to usher in free agency and better times for NFL union members in the 1970s.
Shame he couldn’t live, and live with his faculties, to see a CBA that should give more and care better for the players on whose shoulders the modern NFLers stand. He died Thursday.
Scott Pitoniak, in this wonderful CNY Sports Magazine piece, profiled the late-in-life difficulties:
“A simple game of catch is able to jog what’s left of his memory and connect him to a past largely erased by Frontal Temporal Dementia, a hideous and progressive mind-robbing disease. The 69-year-old Mackey no longer talks, no longer can feed himself, no longer remembers the name of the guy wearing the No. 88 Colts jersey in the huge photograph hanging in his room.”
A Hall of Famer, a revolutionizing player and union president, shouldn’t have to get placed in a home. Shouldn’t have to run frightened from TSA because he thought they were trying to steal his Hall of Fame and Super Bowl rings at the airport security checkpoint. Shouldn’t have to be tricked, by his loving wife, not to worry about the car — so-and-so was working on it outside. Shouldn’t have to lose his successful businesses, his memory, his dignity. As of five years ago, John’s $1,950-a-month pension wasn’t cutting it. Sylvia went back to work at age 56 as a flight attendant to support the family.
Franco Harris and other retired players filed suit to get a voice at the negotiating table, the one that will reach an agreement in the next week or so. . . lest the owners and players lose millions on the delayed 2011 season.
The best voice would have been the one that no longer belonged to the redefining tight end.
Not every former or future NFL player will turn into another John Mackey.
But wasn’t one enough?