The passing of Bill Willis

Bill Willis passed away this week. The name might not mean anything to many of you but to me he was a hero and a trailblazer. Mr. Willis was the last of the original 4 African-American football players who re-intergrated the National Football League in 1946. Of that group were Mr. Willis and Marion Motley who played for the Cleveland Browns and Woodie Strode and Kenny Washington were signed to play for the Los Angeles Rams. In history books much has been written of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional baseball but very little is ever mentioned of those who did the same in professional football.

With the murder of the Redskins safety Sean Taylor, Mr. Willis’ passing will only earn a slight mention in most national newspapers. But every African-American football player who ever played in the National Football League should say a prayer and give thanks to Bill Willis and the others who paved the way for others. As a fellow Hall of Famer I was honored to be in his presence at Hall of Fame activities. As Executive Director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance I was humbled to be a part of an organization that honored Mr. Willis (or as my mother would say “give him his flowers while he could smell them”) in February at the last NFL Combine Reception in Indianapolis. As an African American football player I thank him, Mr. Strode, Mr. Washington and Mr. Motley for the scarafices they knowingly or unknowingly made for players that followed them. As a man I’m honored to have shared a seat with him on the bus as we traveled from our hotel to the golf course when we participated in Mike Ditka’s Golf Tournament on August 27th in Chicago. Mr. Willis wanted to know what was happening with the retired player’s issues. We spent much of that ride talking about those issues. At the end of the ride he encouraged us as retired players to continue the fight for all players.

Rest in Peace Mr. Willis……

November Catchup time!

Damn….!  I have to apologize again for not being up on keeping this blog updated. I’ve been working on about 6 different projects that have taken up not most but all of my time.

For all of you who want to know of my opinion about the Giants: after the initial rough start of losing 2 games, they’ve bounced back to win 6 games in a row.  But after watching them play against the Cowboys the second go round it’s obvious that the Cowboys are the team to beat in the NFC. The Giants are pretty good but they are not there yet and might not be this season but they are better than most of the other teams in the leagues.

Been on the road recently; my wife Maribel and I went to London to be with Giants fans for the Giants/Dolphins game. The game was just so-so. But for the players the playing field was awful to play on. The thing that really stands out is the buying power of the American dollar in Europe versus the Pound and the Euro sucks.  We went on to Paris to spend a few days with friends during the bye week and then Miami to play in the Ted Hendricks and the Miami Project golf tournaments over the weekend.

I was honored to be one of the 100 top players recognized by South Carolina State University as the school celebrated 100 years of football. For me, it’s always special to travel back to Orangeburg, SC, a place I consider one of my homes. It’s good to see some old friends who seem more like extended family members than former coaches, instructors die hard Bulldog football fans and people I went to school with. It was interesting to be back in the company of many of the guys I played with at State in the 70’s but also see players who established reputations on the field that I wanted to shoot for as a young college player.

Want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope to spend time with my family, my kids and especially my “Puddin”, my grand-daughter Jamison

On November 26th I will turn 54!  All in all, life’s been really good to me so far!!   

It’s the end of the line for some…..!

In past years I’ve done Giants exhibition game coverage.  One of the points that I always make in the last game is it’s the end of the line for some players. With the last exhibition game most fans eagerly anticipate the beginning of the regular season but with that last game comes the final cuts that all Head Coaches and General Managers have to make to get down to required 53 man final roster. I remember how Parcells would “stress” over going through the mental process of making the cuts. I think he realized that not only would he and GM George Young be releasing a player but they would also be releasing a wife, kids and an entire family. Many of those final cuts were of players who were already on previous years teams that he liked personally but had lost a step along the way. Most fans don’t think about those kinds of personnel decisions but I do. 

It’s only logical to understand that for every beginning there has to be an end. The end of the line as I see it is not just the end of a professional career but the end of football period! At the conclusion of that last game, as the players are walking off the field it will be the last time that some of them will walk off of any football field as a player. This reality is hard for all players because most don’t think about the end but it might be hardest for those players who have been around for several years. It will be the last time that they will take off their helmet and shoulder pads. From the time that they were 8 or 9 years old they played Pop Warner football or in some other Youth Football League. They went on to play in high school and perhaps became one of the more talented players to play on the college level and then earned a chance to get to the Professional level. That’s a lot of football practices, a lot of playing before small and sometimes large crowds and a lot of learning the lessons of the game and sometimes of life.

For those who will be walking off the field this year for the final time, I wish you good luck with your transition. For those who survive the cuts this year…. Enjoy! We will see you this time next year or the year after.  For as I indicated earlier, with every beginning there has to be an end and the end of the line in football just as in life comes for all.  It’s inevitable! 

Post Hall of Fame thoughts

Just returned from the Hall of Fame weekend in Canton.  It’s been a year since my own induction so I was able to view the process from a different perspective. When I was elected in 2006 my focus was on making sure my family and friends were able to attend the event and have a great experience. The whole weekend was a blur that went by so quickly. With this year’s induction there was no pressure except to show up and support the new class of inductees.  For years I watched the induction paying more attention to the “old-timers” or legends who would be introduced at the beginning of the ceremony.  Those were the guys that intrigued me the most, those guys I watched as I was growing up.  As I was introduced prior to this year’s event I realized that I am now one of the “old-timers”! Hahaha…!  But to be introduced with Gale Sayers, Jim Brown, Bart Starr and the more than 80 Hall of Famers to attend the events over the weekend was indeed an honor. While I appreciate the on the field greatness of all of the players, I really appreciate getting to know the personalities and the greatness of these players and their families off the field even more now.

 

An update on Donald…..

Most of you know that my son Donald was treated for a bone marrow disease called Aplastic Anemia. His last medical treatment was in early July 2006 at NIH in Bethesda, MD. He had a six month follow-up visit with his doctors in January of 2007 with another six month follow this week (7/10/2007). Aside from his bone marrow biopsy aspiration (the procedure took more than an hour to complete), I am extremely happy to let everyone know that Donald is doing incredibly well. His doctors at the National Institutes of Health are very pleased with his recovery. He is now due for his next follow-up in 1 year.

Donald is entering his second year of Graduate School in the Medical Master’s Program at Hampton University in Virginia. He hopes to attend medical school in the fall of 2008. For all of you in the Aplastic Anemia community being treated for the condition if you have an opportunity to be treated at NIH please jump on the opportunity, the hospital has wonderful doctors and a very professional and caring staff