One year after his death, Tom Kowalski's impact hasn't faded
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 6:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 10:07 PM
By Justin Rogers | email@example.com It's been a year since former MLive.com Detroit Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski passed away
ALLEN PARK -- Pinned to a cubicle wall in the media room at the Detroit Lions practice facility are two one-dollar bills. They are trophies, victories from some meaningless wagers placed long ago, left to serve as a constant reminder for all who see them. They are a reminder that Tom Kowalski was always right.
Kowalski, the long-time Lions beat writer for Booth Newspapers and MLive.com, passed away exactly one year ago, but the impact he left on his industry, his friends and those he touched through various charitable efforts is still very much alive.
For nearly 30 years, Kowalski was a conduit of information from the Lions organization to the fans. Not only was he more connected than any journalist on his beat, he had an obsessive desire to understand the nuances of the game of football and relay that information to his readers. Earlier this year he was awarded the McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers Association for a lifetime of achievement in covering professional football. See the video acceptance speech of Kowalski's award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction dinner.
The dedication to comprehend and accurately portray what was happening on the football field was something the Lions players appreciated.
"He was a guy that examined everything, did his due diligence with the film, and tried to be honest as possible," Dominic Raiola said. "We may not have agreed with everything he said, but he worked hard and you respect him for that."
Kowalksi's brutal honesty, as many players and colleagues labeled it, earned him respect in the locker room.
"I had to get used to that because it's rare," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "Sometimes people will throw you lobs, alley-oop questions. They say what you want to hear, but he came with it. That's something, as a player, I appreciate. I was able to return the favor when he spoke candidly with me about whatever -- maybe my production as an individual -- I was able to respond with the same type of honesty."
Professional athletes rarely admit to following what the media has to say about them or their team, but a few occasionally checked out Kowalski's takes.
"He's one of the few guys I remember if I was going to read up on a situation, I might read what he had to say," kicker Jason Hanson said. "Most of the time I thought he had it right."
Kowalski began his career as a traditional print reporter, but over the years he expanded his outlets to reach a wider audience. He embraced the internet earlier than most in his field, blogging and interacting with readers in fan forums and comment sections. Weekly radio segments developed into a drive-time hosting gig on WDFN-AM. And who can forget his work on Fox 2's Lions pre-game show with Dan Miller and Bob "Wojo" Wojnowski?
"He was (the fans') MVP," Miller said. "He was the guy that they went to every day to read and listen to his stuff. Tom was appointment reading, appointment listening and appointment viewing. Not many people can say that."
Even with the seemingly never-ending stream of work obligations, Kowalski always made time for others. The brutal honesty that won him favor in the locker room also made him a valuable friend.
"He was a great friend because he would tell you what he thought, not what you wanted to hear," Oakland press writer and long-time friend Paula Pasche said.
Kowalski also took time to mentor new reporters on the beat. When former MLive.com and current CBS Sports reporter Danny Knobler asked Kowalski if he knew anyone capable of covering the Lions for CBS, he recommended WDFN employee John Kreger.
The recommendation alone was enough to get Kreger the job.
"I learned more about the game of football standing next to Tom Kowalski at training camp than I had through 30 years of my life previous," Kreger said. "You watched a drill with Tom, it was like your own personal film study."
Beyond work, family and friends, Kowalski still consistently made time for charity.
"I always tell my kids that the character of a person is what they do when no one is looking," Lions senior vice president of communications Bill Keenist said. "Tom tried to live his life that way. He didn't want any credit. He just wanted to do good and help others."
On Monday, more than 100 family members, friends and former colleagues gathered for the first annual Killer Classic golf tournament. The event, which included a live auction, raised more than $40,000 for a pair of Kowalski's favorite charities -- Team Joseph and Our Children's Fund.
"You could almost feel the love in the room and he would have loved that," Pasche said. "Dan Miller was joking he would have loved it because it was named after him, but he would have loved it because the money was going to the charities that were tops in his heart."
Okay, maybe Kowalski wasn't always right. As colleague Mike O'Hara explained, "No one could argue a losing point with more passion and determination than Tom. Even when he knew he was wrong, he just wouldn't give up."
That said, Kowalski made every effort to be right and do right. As a reporter he aimed to be interesting and insightful, but above all, he strived to be accurate. As a friend and co-worker, he was always there to challenge you, but pick you up if you had fallen down. And for those less fortunate, he was quick to use his resources and connections to offer a helping hand.
"Tom was a guy that left such a mark on people," Miller said. "That will never leave."http://www.mlive.com/lions/index.ssf/20 ... alski.html