Before we get into this week’s topics, Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Yes, these have not been easy times to say the least, but remember the four magic words.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS!
Two of our three stories involve a personal association.
The other is a welcome revelation that had to warm the hearts of all sports fans.
So here it is, late November, and we are discussing the Masters. A staple to our sports life in April, complete with the Azaleas and chirping birds, it was moved to this month, as many sports have adjusted.
You can play basketball indoors in late summer, for example.
Who would even care? The game is the game.
But the Masters was a bit shocking to me played in November, where the greens were soft and scores dropped dramatically.
It was good that they held it, but it just didn’t seem to have the same feel.
It did to Dustin Johnson, of course, who was THE story, and then some.
It has been written here in the past, how Johnson, obviously one of the supreme golfers of his time, and maybe more than that, has squandered leads down the stretch of many tournaments, including majors, disappointing his supporters who have recognized his enormous talent.
No need to chronicle those events here. If you follow golf, you know.
But this time, at the November Masters, Dustin Johnson came through.
With a healthy lead going into the final round, Johnson saw his advantage slip a bit, only to regain his footing and capture his first Masters, and second major, having won the U.S. Open in 2016.
He wound up with a record score of 268, 20-under par.
To those who go beyond pure results and pure numbers there is more to the story.
Dustin Johnson has shown to be aloof, unflappable, unemotional most of the time, and not especially personable.
That’s what the public has seen.
There’s always been more to this man.
Actually, Johnson relishes meeting new people.
He’s been particularly kind and generous to fans on the other side of the ropes. In other words, he is a solid individual, not aloof at all. That’s just what some people have observed when he plays.
He grew up in South Carolina, not far from the Augusta cathedral where he had always dreamed he would conquer.
Well, he finally did.
And all that emotion, which Dustin Johnson seemed to hold back to keep himself even-keel, overflowed in the post-Masters interview.
He broke down, and described what winning this monumental championship meant to him.
He apologized for stopping during his answers to gather himself.
No need for Dustin Johnson to apologize.
It would be a stretch to label him a super-human golfer.
But one thing he did establish. To those who have agonized over his history of falling short, he is human.
To those who have watched him on television, we might not have been sure.
We are now. And that’s the wonderful story of the Masters.
Last week my bosses at Fox Sports kept a tradition going that started 27 years ago.
When Fox began covering the NFL in 1994, they put together the majestic lead team of Pat Summerall and John Madden.
Perhaps the best NFL broadcast duo of all-time.
Our second group consisted of yours truly, teamed with Matt Millen. Millen had been a colorful linebacker with the Raiders, 49ers, and the Redskins, and developed quickly into an upbeat analyst, who drew his expertise from watching game film, and not spouting opinions based on whim or casual observation.
We were a team for seven years and were well accepted by the viewing public.
Our time together ended when Matt decided to accept the heady role as President & CEO of the Detroit Lions in 2001.
To say he would have been better staying put where he was would be an extremely vast understatement.
It just didn’t work for Matt in Detroit. That too, is an understatement.
During his tenure, the Lions had the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL, 31-84, including the first team to go 0-16, eventually tied by the 2017 Cleveland Browns.
In Cleveland this season
Millen, eventually returned to the broadcast booth working Big Ten games. He was a star at Penn State, and that was a good fit.
The good folks at Fox were keen on reuniting us for one game starting in 2016.
So, we worked a game Thanksgiving weekend in Cleveland between the Giants and the Browns.
It was magic all over again.
We did the same last season. Same time, this one in Indianapolis between the Bucs and the Colts.
Things happened in between.
Let’s jump to this year when were were together for the Texans-Browns contest in Cleveland in week 10. Here we were, 27 years later, from the time we began as a team, doing the game as we did it back then.
We called the game and conversed about what we were witnessing which formed the nucleus of what made us successful back in the day.
A one-shot deal for a season.
But the humor we shared was also evident.
There was a line from Matt, that drew howls from those who know the human story.
My partner in assessing a feature about a particular player, said, “look, I’ve had a change of heart”.
It was a hilarious line, considering that Matt Millen did indeed have a change of heart.
Yes, Millen, back in 2018, had a heart transplant.
He was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which an abnormal protein builds up in organs with the potential to cause many health issues. In Matt’s case, it affected his heart.
His only chance of survival would be a transplant.
But you need a donor. And it has to be the right fit.
So many variables.
Time was running out on my partner. He was in a Newark hospital for nearly three months.
Finally, a donor, with a perfect match.
The surgery took place. It went smoothly.
December 24th 2018.
I know it was the second game I worked with Matt since his transplant.
But somehow this was extra special. It was nearly two years since the big moment. And it was heart-warming to be around him again.
A final word about Tommy Heinsohn.
Heinsohn was my partner on NBA broadcasts on CBS for four straight years in the 80’s.
He had been an All-America basketball star at Holy Cross, then was associated with the Boston Celtics from 1956 until his passing November 9th, at the age of 86.
He was a championship player, championship coach, and championship human.
After his coaching days, he would sell the sport in his enthusiastic manner, and excel as an expert on the air.
Mostly, he was renowned on Celtics radio broadcasts, teaming with Mike Gorman, as good a hoop announcer as you’ll find.
I had the honor of being alongside Tom for four of the 9 years we worked the NBA Finals.
He was diligent and insistent on teams playing the uptempo, fast break pace he espoused as a coach.
He said the right things at the right time.
He was a burly 6-foot 7-inches with a gruff voice.
But underneath, Tom Heinsohn was a gentle man who excelled as a painter. He cared for others. Was willing to hear their problems sincerely.
With Heinsohn courtside
He was a kind, gentle, and decent man.
That’s how I will remember him.
So there’s plenty to be thankful for, in spite of what surrounds us.
I know Dustin Johnson feels that way.
I absolutely know Matt Millen feels that way.
And for Tom Heinsohn, who lived a full and rich life, those whose lives he touched are thankful as well.