From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 2, 1999

For much of the country, this past week has been filled with sunshine and moderate temperatures. But for the sports world, the past week has beenfilled with rain.

That rain is made of tears.

Tears for Payne Stewart, a champion on and off the links. A 5-time RyderCupper, two-time U.S. Open champion, a winner of the PGA Championship, ahusband, a father.

There are a number of images of Stewart that will remain. His knickersand tam-o’-shanters, a nod to the origins of the game. His 18-foot putt towin the U.S. Open this year. His turning to Phil Mickelson, whom he justbeat out for the win, grabbing him and telling Mickelson that he was going to be a father. And in probably in what was the top sportsmanship momentof the year, conceding Colin Montgomery’s putt on the final hole at the Ryder Cup.

What Stewart meant to the game of golf was shown in his fellow competitor’s reaction to his death. The moving ceremony last Thursday atthe Tour Championship, Tom Lehman’s words and the haunting image of watching a bagpiper emerge from the fog.

Stewart’s death shows once again why every moment should be held precious. Four months ago, he was winning the Open. A month ago, he washelping the U.S. regain the Ryder Cup. Now, he’s gone, an original that willnever be duplicated.

There are tears for Charles O’Neill, the father of New York Yankee outfielder Paul O’Neill, who died the day his son was to play in Game Four of the World Series. Paul O’Neill honored his dad, a former Triple Aballplayer himself, by playing in that game, helping the Yankees win their third World Series of the decade. Somewhere, Charles O’Neill is smiling.The tears of rain fall for Greg Moore, a CART race driver, killed Sunday at the age of 24 when his car slammed into the wall at California Speedway.

Another life ended much too soon.

Tears of sorrow fall for Max Patkin, a man who often had others crying with laughter. Patkin was the Crown Prince of Baseball who entertainedbaseball fans for decades with his rubber-faced slapstick. Baseball justgot less funnier.

And the tears fall for Walter Payton, “Sweetness” in every sense of the word. Payton was grace personified, the most productive running back inNFL history and one of its most elusive. But in the end, he could not elude arare liver disease and cancer.

Payton will always have a special place for me. My dad took me to my firstSaints game in 1983 against the Bears. The Saints won that game, 34-31,on a Morten Andersen kick in overtime, the first overtime victory in franchise history. But I’ll always remember the show Payton put on in thatgame, rushing for over 160 yards and throwing two halfback passes for touchdowns. There will never be another one like him.The events of the past week put the sports into perspective. The gameswent on, as they should have, honoring those who played them and are now gone. Stewart, Charles O’Neill, Moore, Patkin and Payton would not havewanted it any other way. But for those who go on comes the realizationthat it could end at any time, that it doesn’t matter how many titles you have or how many yards you have rushed for, no one is immortal.

Yes, sports will go on. There will be more golf tournaments, other carraces and baseball and football games. But with the losses of the lastweek, they will be a little less unique, a little less colorful, a little less funny, a little less sweet.

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