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An overpowering absence

Page 2 of 6 -- In Alameda, Calif., 72-year-old Al Davis, the leader of the Raidahs and a man who has been close to McDonough since the dawning of the American Football League, sat in his silver-and-black-tinted office preparing to watch the day's practice film. Before he got to that, though, he thought of his friend now gone and shook his head in sad disbelief.

Davis met McDonough when they were both in their football infancy, as was the AFL.

Davis was a 31-year-old assistant coach under Gillman, working for a team then called the Los Angeles Chargers. McDonough was a 25-year-old sportswriter covering some team called the Boston Patriots that nobody in New England really cared about, because in those days this was New York Giants country.

Davis and McDonough became friends over the years, and like many of the people involved in the early days of the AFL, they remained friends to the end.

"I've always been attracted to great people in their field," Davis said. "There is a special mystique about them that can inspire you. Sarah Vaughn. Sugar Ray Robinson. They give you the will to be great by being around them. Will McDonough, to me, was like Sid.

"I've had to give a lot of eulogies lately, and I've come to believe time stops for the great ones. They have a cloak of immortality. I'm thankful Will and I crossed paths. I feel so bad. You just want to say, `Goodbye. We loved you. We'll be coming along soon."'

Davis always has been a renegade, and eventually that made him the arch enemy of another close friend of McDonough (do we see a trend here?), former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Davis would go to war many times with Rozelle and the NFL. Will was always in his corner yet able to stay close to Rozelle as well, a bit of nifty footwork worthy of Barry Sanders.

On Friday, another of McDonough's dearest friends and someone often at odds with Davis reflected on that, acknowledging the difficulty of it all yet how deftly McDonough pulled it off.

"We had an understanding that there were certain people and subjects we just didn't discuss," said Joe Browne, the NFL executive vice president of communications and public relations and a loyal liege of first Rozelle and now Paul Tagliabue. "We'd end up getting into arguments every time we tried, so eventually we avoided it because we knew we had so many other things in common. We both loved pro football and we both loved the NFL."

When the Super Bowl is played this year, Will McDonough won't be there -- for the first time in 37 years. He was one of only seven living writers who had attended every one, so a small piece of the game's history was chipped away last week.   Continued...

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