George Michael was more than a good guy to know; he was a good guy
Friday, December 25, 2009
It's after 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and Joe Gibbs, a man of strong conviction, wants to talk about another man of strong conviction.
"George had such great courage," the former Redskins head coach said of his friend George Michael, who died of cancer Thursday morning at age 70. "The last two years when I would talk to him to see how he was doing, he would have such concern for others." He would often ask about Taylor, Gibbs's grandson, who was fighting leukemia. "By the time we were done, he ended up cheering me up."
Of all the odd couplings on a coach's show, which the two executed for years during both of Gibbs's tours, an iconic sportscaster paired with the most significant and humble sports figure in the city's history had to rank up there.
"I was the milquetoast coach and he would try to shock me by saying things like, 'You don't believe that!' After a while, I'd either laugh or just sit there looking at him."
The coach relates another story on the day George passed away, remembering his scheduled get-togethers with Michael every Thursday after an arduous week of practice. Gibbs wanted no part of these encounters in the beginning. Dog tired, he would sleep in the back of the limousine George sent for him to transport Gibbs and his wife, Pat, from Redskins Park to the NBC studios on Nebraska Avenue in the District. "I'd be dragging and so darned tired from a week of practice. They'd have to put me in makeup. All of a sudden I'd hear George coming down the hall, jabbering.
"I would look at George and say 'What's wrong with you?' "
An over-caffeinated George would reply: "We have to have a great show!"
In his trademark high-pitch cackle, Gibbs came back with: "You gotta have a great show."
Gibbs laughed out loud over the phone. As his voice trailed off, he added "It's Christmas Eve, and I can't believe he's not with us."
I knew him well enough to talk to the people who knew him better, who knew that the bluster and bombast camouflaged the disenfranchised kid who overcame an unspeakably tough upbringing in South St. Louis -- a childhood that helped him identify with the most hardscrabble people in the sports industry, many battling their own demons.
"Above everything else, George was about passion," said Jeff Greenberg, his longtime producer at WRC (Channel 4). "Passion was why he was able to accomplish the things he did."
It's why George Michael wasn't simply about the "get," the prized interview with the popular sports figure at the moment. Oh, he coveted ratings and he craved validation long after he achieved what few in his profession had ever dreamed. Like many of us, the insecurities that made him lash out over perceived slights remained from his youth.