You turn the page on the calendar and you hope that leaves the bad times behind, the times that brutalized the world of sports, the times that robbed us of Kobe Bryant at the beginning of the year and Phil Niekro at the end.
And then, it happens again.
On the first two days of this brand new year, two more Hall of Famers were struck down. First, the great running back Floyd Little passed away at age 78 and the next day NBA star and coach Paul Westphal died at just 70.
Death is cruel and relentless but it cannot diminish a life well-lived. And the lives we lost last year were the best and the brightest, great athletes who accomplished so much.
Think about assembling a pitching rotation of Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Johnny Antonelli and Niekro. You need a spot starter? Don Larsen is available and the bullpen could be manned by Ron Perranoski and Lindy McDaniel.
Joe Morgan could bat leadoff with Lou Brock right behind him. Need some punch in the lineup? There’s Al Kaline, Dick Allen and Jimmy Wynn right behind them.
If your game is football, we’ve got that covered. Running backs Gale Sayers, Bobby Mitchell and Paul Hornung could churn out the yards. The defense would be anchored by four more Hall of Famers – Kevin Greene and Green Bay teammates Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Willie Wood. Need a field goal? We’ve got Tom Dempsey and that square-toed cleat waiting for the call. Pacing the sidelines and drawing up play schemes would be Don Shula.
Basketball lost its share. Besides Bryant, who died in a heliocopter crash, we lost Tommy Heinsohn and KC Jones, cornerstones of the Boston Celtics dynasty as well as Wes Unseld, among the last of the dominant centers. For basketball brainpower, try John Thompson, Jerry Sloan and Lute Olson.
David Stern, who shaped the modern NBA as its longtime commissioner, also died in 2020.
Bryant at 41 and Niekro at 81 were at opposite ends of the life cycle, one a young man just beginning to enjoy his post-retirement days, the other a senior citizen with a lifetime of pitching wisdom locked in his brain.
Bryant’s death shocked us because it was so unexpected. Niekro’s departure was the final exclamation point on a devastating year of losses.
And now we start the first days of 2021 losing two more stars of their sports—Floyd Little and Paul Westphal. Both were special.
May their memories be a blessing.
Photo: Greg Ashman/Icon Sportswire