Ty Schalter: Rest in Peace, Tom

Tom Kowalski did what very few beat writers could: he made a seamless transition from old-school deadline writing to new-school "hyperconnectedness."

Just days before I was born, the Lions opened their 1981 campaign with a win over the San Francisco 49ers. That January, Kowalski covered the Niners' Super Bowl victory at the Pontiac Silverdome. Now, less than two weeks before my 30th birthday, I sit stunned: for the first time in my life, Killer won't be working the Lions beat.

Detroit Lions Team President Tom Lewand:

""The entire Lions organization, the Ford family, and me, personally, were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Kowalski this morning. Tom was a true professional, the consummate beat writer, somebody who brought a lot of tremendous information to our fans — even in times of disagreement; we always had the utmost respect for his professionalism."

Kowalski did what very few beat writers could: he made a seamless transition from old-school deadline writing to new-school "hyperconnectedness." Not only did he engage commenters on his articles, he frequently hosted live chats, solicited input and feedback, wrote entire articles in direct response to commenters, chopped it up with over 12,000 followers on Twitter—even video blogged from training camp, owner's meetings, and the NFL Combine. That kind of two-way reporting simply didn't exist when he broke into the industry, yet he does it as well as any twentysomething.

One extraordinary instance of Kowalski's reportage comes to mind: when the Lions drafted Joey Harrington, Killer got a tip that Marty Mornhinweg was "furious" with the pick. Kowalski confirmed the tip, and went live on the radio with the story. Minutes afterward, the Lions PR staff brought Kowalski in for a face-to-face meeting with Mornhinweg, who spent 30 minutes trying to convince Killer his sources were wrong—while other teams were on the clock in the first round! Mornhinweg later admitted it was all bluster.

This is something many fail to see about the blogging game; I've had many well-meaning but wrong-headed people tell me things like, "I love your stuff! It's so much better than the crap on [fill in the blank mainstream media site]!" But that's so, so wrong. Bloggers like me stand on the shoulders of giants like Tom. His relentless reporting, constant availability, and impeccable connections provide armchair journalists like me with the grist for my mill. Without the 24-hour grind of Tom Kowalski and his colleagues, I'd just be telling you folks every week whether watching the game made me happy or sad.

It's only fitting that as news of his passing spread, "Tom Kowalski" became a Trending Topic on Twitter. Not just in Detroit, or in the United States, but Worldwide. Said Gregg Rosenthal of Pro Football Talk:

"We always considered Kowalski one of the very best beat writers in the country."

It must be said: throughout his long tenure, Kowalski had one of the bleakest assignments in the NFL. He covered only 8 winning seasons and 8 playoff games from 1978 to today, including the NFL's only 0-16 season. Yet, his coverage remained objective and fair throughout; he strove to put both losses and wins in perspective for beleaguered, yet desperately passionate Lions fan base.

ESPN.com  NFC North blogger Kevin Siefert said on Twitter:

"What's amazing is that he enjoyed it EVERY year. Even '08."

His love of what he did always shone through; his work will be deeply missed by fans and colleagues in what promises to be a banner year for Kowalski's subject. The timing of his passing from this world seems unjust; Killer won't be around to cover his hapless subject finally turning the corner.

I choose to believe he'll watch this season from an even better seat: one from which cheering is perfectly allowed.


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