An overpowering absence
Page 6 of 6 -- One of my fondest memories of him, though, was only peripherally about the work we shared for so long. It was sitting next to him in the press box in New Orleans last January as the Patriots drove down the field for the Super Bowl-winning field goal. Whenever we'd sit together at games, we'd tell old stories about games most of the people in that press box didn't remember. Mostly he'd talk and I'd listen.
On that evening, we were calling plays in low voices, directing Tom Brady where to throw the ball, not that he needed our input.
We'd both picked the Rams to win the game, Will by a little, me by a lot, but as the team we'd covered together for nearly 20 years worked the ball down the field, it was kind of funny. We were both sitting there, softly rooting against our pick. We wanted to be wrong for once.
When Adam Vinatieri kicked the field goal that made the Patriots Super Bowl champions for the first time in their history, we both stood up without thinking and high-fived each other. It was a reaction, not a planned celebration like you see on TV. Maybe realizing it wasn't the most professional thing we could be doing, we then sat down and started writing about what we'd just seen, which was the most professional thing we could do.
But at that moment when Vinatieri's kick split the uprights, we weren't just two sportswriters on deadline. We were two guys who liked each other and liked football and liked the fact that the hometown team had beaten the odds and proven us wrong. Frankly, we were two guys from New England happy to see the local team pull off the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
Then it was time to forget all that and go to work.
"He had the ability to write in the language of the people, and he knew people," said Coughlin. "He understood people and he understood how to do his job."
He understood it well enough that, when the end came last week, everyone else understood one thing.
"He was the most influential NFL reporter in the history of modern football," Browne said. "Who had more influence than Will? You'd come into the office, and one of the first things you'd hear would be, `Did you see what Willie wrote?'
"His column on Sunday was a landmark. He was always breaking news or writing something from an angle that all the other papers would be writing about 24 hours later. When he started out, print dominated this business. It's not true any more, but Will was still dominant. There'll be a large void at the Super Bowl this year."
Certainly there will be, but maybe the Man Upstairs decided that the last Super Bowl was enough. Will had seen his team win it all, something he never thought would happen a lot of years. Once he'd seen that, he'd seen everything.
As big as the loss is to pro football, though, there'll be a larger void at this newspaper and in this space on Sunday, where it reads "Pro Football Notes." Will McDonough was the Jim Brown of that position.
Everyone else is in the running for second place.