I remember the first time one of his stories touched my soul: February 19, 2001. I was a junior in High School, and a huge Oklahoma St. basketball fan. By now, I had given up my dream of actually playing at Oklahoma State, but that only made me a bigger fan. This year was a difficult one to be a Cowboy fan, not because of their performance on the court, but because of the tragedy off of it. On January 27th, one of the planes carrying OSU players and staff crashed killing all 10 of the people on it 2 of whom were players. It was the essence of a tragedy. It was a heartbreaking for us fans, but only a tip of the iceberg for the grief that the families and the rest of the team were going through. It was an experience that is almost impossible to put into words, how do you respond to such a tragedy? Thankfully for us, Rick Reilly was on the plane.
On the back page of Sports Illustrated was Reilly’s article “Flying in the Face of Reason,” Reilly was on board for the teams first flight since the tragedy telling of us such tidbits as “At the Stillwater airport they waded through all the dread cries of, “We’ll pray for you!” and “Call the second you land!” and “I can’t stop seeing them,” said Sutton, whose best friend, director of basketball operations Pat Noyes, died in the wreckage. “Did they know they were going to die? Were they screaming? Panicking? I have nightmares about it.” I started to cry and you will too as you read it. This is not the time to skip the blue link that began this paragraph. I am ordering you to click on the link and read about it because well, I think it helps us reflect on life. I think it honors the memory of those who died and who were deeply affected. I also want you to click because I want you to read Rick Reilly too.
Reilly has finally returned to writing. He took some time off between his stints at Sports Illustrated, and now he is at ESPN. He writes more in 800 words than most can do in thousands. Don’t take my word for it, he’s an 11-time national sportswriter of the year. We call that a dynasty. In addition to his weekly artciles for SI, he’s written best selling books and wrote the script for “Leatherheads.” He is finally back writing on a weekly basis with this tribute to his father who just passed away. It is vintage Reilly: funny, reflective, heart-warming, heart-challenging, and ended with excellence. I have never read anyone else who can sum up a column in a closing sentence like Reilly can.
When Reilly wrote for Sports Illustrated, I would always slowly flip through the magazine skimming it, until I got to his article on the back page, then I would read it slowly waiting for the best line in the magazine: his final one.
Talk about saving the best for last.