A tribute to Don Banks

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When I woke up this morning, I signed onto my phone and saw some very good news. Don Banks had been hired to cover the NFL by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. I instantly sent him a congratulatory e-mail because that’s what friends and former competitors (who respect each other) are supposed to do.

I didn’t get a response, but I didn’t give it much thought. Don was supposed to be traveling home from the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony and also probably had a thousand or so e-mails to respond to before.

But I am giving it a lot of thought as to why he didn’t respond tonight. That’s because I heard the tragic news that Don had died. He was found in a hotel room in Canton, Ohio. He was 56.

That’s hitting close to home. Yeah, Don had a few years on me.  But not all that many in the grand scheme of things. Don always appeared to be in good physical shape.

Don and I were competitors from 1993 through 1998 when I was at The Tampa Tribune and he was at the St. Petersburg Times. At first, we got along very well which is rare for competitors. But, then, the competitive streak in both of us got the better of both of us. We had a spat and didn’t talk for two or three years. That wasn’t healthy for either of us. But we were young, immature and consumed with our own egos.

I have to give Don credit for ending our feud after he had moved to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. We were covering an NFL meeting in Miami. Don walked over to me, extended his hand and said, “Can we put this behind us?” I reached back, shook his hand, and said, “Yes’’. At that point, I realized Don was a bigger man (figuratively) than I was.

After that, we became friends again. We both let our issue go. Don moved onto Sports Illustrated and I moved onto The Charlotte Observer. When Don came to Spartanburg, S.C. for Carolina Panthers training camp, we would go out to lunch and I would give him insight into the Panthers. After I went to ESPN, we only became closer. We talked on the phone periodically to share information.

After the media business became really difficult, Don and I were both victims of cost-cutting moves. But we remained there for each other as sounding boards. He tried to help me and I tried to help him.

That’s why I was so happy about his new job in Las Vegas and sent him the e-mail this morning. Sadly, it’s an e-mail he’ll never respond to. So, let me have the last word.

Don, thanks for being a pro and being a friend. Rest in peace, my friend.

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