The man was larger than life

There are days you enjoy, days you wish would end, but every day is a good day (just try missing one).
Reggie White missed one on Boxing Day—and that day was reserved for mourning as one of football’s greatest players and most superb personalities took a place at heaven’s barroom corner table alongside the likes of Vince Lombardi, Jim Thorpe, and Walter Payton, reminiscing about the game they played, loved, and left a mark on.
The “Minister of Defense,” who retired only four years ago, passed away at the tender age of 43 from sarcoidosis—a rare lung ailment that affected not only his sleep but also the amount of air his lungs could hold, ultimately resulting in what doctors described as “fatal cardiac arrhythmia.”
The man born into this world as Reginald Howard White, who created turmoil for opposing offences, died painlessly in his sleep and was comforted by those that called him husband and father—his wife, Sarah, and children, Jeremy and Jecolia.
“A 43-year-old is not supposed to die in his sleep,” former Green Bay Packer teammate Eugene Robinson told the Associated Press. “It was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete surprise.
“Reggie wasn’t a sick man . . . he was vibrant. He had lots of energy, lots of passion.”
But maybe none of us should be surprised that White’s heart gave out. Maybe it was just overworked. In the NFL’s 83-year existence, you would be hard-pressed to find a player whose heart was as big—and as generous.
For someone who was a monster on the gridiron during his 15-year NFL career, which saw him leave as the league’s all-time sack leader with 198 (later surpassed by Bruce Smith’s 200), White was a gentle giant in the streets where he will be missed even more.
In the seven years since White and his wife helped find “Urban Hope,” based out of Green Bay where White helped lead the Packers to two Super Bowl appearances, the program has assisted in starting 400 businesses.
“A lot of people know Reggie as a football player and a legend, but what he has returned to the community and the seeds he’s planted here was one of the best models in America for economic development,” said Mark Burwell, Urban Hope’s executive director.
“Reggie was one of those people who I think recognized he needed to justify his blessing in his life by becoming a vehicle to bring blessings to others,” echoed former Green Bay mayor Paul Jadin.
It’s unknown how much currency White had in his wallet when he passed away, but no matter how much he garnered, it couldn’t even begin to match the amount he gave financially and emotionally to causes other that himself.
Take deep breathe now . . .
•given the prestigious Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award by the NFL Players’ Association in 1993 for his service to team, community, and country.
•in ’95 helped pioneer the Inner City Community Investment Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn. with a personal $1-million grant.
•co-authored “God’s Playbook” and “Complete Image of God,” with proceeds going to charity.
•in the seasons of ’89-’92, he spent his post-practice Friday afternoons on Philadelphia street corners trying to educate area youngsters about the perils of drugs and alcohol, as well as the importance of staying in school.
And that’s only a glimpse of his contributions as a humanitarian.
“I’m a better person for having been around Reggie White,” said Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who coached White in Green Bay.
On the playing field, the 6’5,” 300-pound defensive end was considered by many, including myself, as the most dominant player to ever line up on the opposite side of the football.
The future Hall-of-Famer was remarkably durable, missing only one game in his last 12 seasons and starting all but three games during his superb career, which saw him recognized as a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, elected to the Pro Bowl an astonishing 13-straight times, twice named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, and collect a Super Bowl ring.
White also was the centerpiece of the circus that was the NFL’s birth into the real free agency in 1993. You probably remember how many teams desperately wanted him: Washington, the N.Y. Jets, San Francisco, Green Bay, Dallas, and Cleveland.
Maybe he could have done more big works in a large metropolitan area, but he established a base for doing good things at the home of the “Cheesehead” in Green Bay, as well as his adopted home of Knoxville.
Was the money a factor? Yes, a big one. But Reggie White put his money where his beliefs were helping unwed mothers who couldn’t afford to help themselves.
I believe the Packers would not have achieved the success they had in the late ’90s without White. Sure, Favre won three MVPs, but he along with White were the sheriffs in that locker-room.
Players would just follow him.
His humorous imitations of Muhammad Ali, Fred Flintstone, and Clint Eastwood kept his teammates loose.
“At times, you would get a little frustrated with Reggie because he was always goofing around on the practice field. Now on Sundays, he’d get serious and he would have fun,” said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who was with White in Philadelphia as his defensive coordinator.
His title as an evangelical minister and his strict adherence to following the footsteps of God kept people’s respect.
“It’s no coincidence he passed away on football Sunday,” said Keith Johnson, head of the CAUSE minister (Christian Athletes for Spiritual Empowerment), of which White was one of the founders.
“Reggie loved the game, and he loved the people associated with the game,” Johnson added. “You say Reggie’s name and people just have an immediate respect for him.
And his uncanny abilities on the field kept both his teammates and opponents admiring. “He was a great friend on and off the field. We’ll all miss him,” said Favre.
He was more than sacks. More than trophies. More than the championships. Reggie White was a diverse mind with amazing athletic gifts every bit as unique as his raspy voice.
There must be a river of tears in Knoxville, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. There should be great sorrow for a man that made many lives richer in his 43 years.
That’s how we should remember him.
emoutsatsos@fortfrances.com

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