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Coaching the Grief-stricken
Rick Reilly
April 30, 2007
MAYBE YOU could use a happy story after what happened at Virginia Tech, and maybe I've got one.
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April 30, 2007

Coaching The Grief-stricken

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MAYBE YOU could use a happy story after what happened at Virginia Tech, and maybe I've got one.

I have this friend, an Iowa truck driver named Mark Lemke. Last July he wrote to SI, nominating his 19-year-old son, Cory, for FACES IN THE CROWD. Said the kid set all kinds of golf records and he'd been meaning to write for a long time. Said he was finally doing it now because Cory had just died in a motorcycle wreck.

Well, I wrote a column (Aug. 21, 2006) about how I got Mark on his cellphone as he was driving his tractor trailer on an Ohio highway and how he wept while talking about losing his best pal. And I don't know if it was from thinking of my own 19-year-old son or what, but it's the only time I ever cried while I wrote.

And then we made up a FACES IN THE CROWD box for Cory and stuck it at the bottom of the column.

Anyway, a couple of months go by, and then Mark gets this call: " Mr. Lemke?" the voice says. "It's Tony Dungy."

Now, Lemke, 51, is just an ex-jock with a simple life that a motorcycle drove a hole through. The most he hopes for when he gets off the road is his wife Maud's sloppy joes and his favorite couch and maybe a frosty root beer and a Vikings game to take his mind off Cory for a few hours. So, naturally, he figures the call is a joke.

"No, it is Tony Dungy," the voice says. "I'm just calling to offer my condolences to you and see if there's anything I can do to help you."

Now, you've got to understand, this was in October. The Colts were into the teeth of their schedule, the most critical season in Dungy's life, not to mention Peyton Manning's, not to mention the millions of Colts fans'. They figure if their team doesn't win it all this year, the genie goes back in the bottle.

But Dungy has his own sorrow to swallow. His 18-year-old son, James, hanged himself three days before Christmas in 2005. And Lemke knows this. So maybe Dungy, who's the same age as Lemke, is a guy who can relate. So they talk, and the coach tells Lemke to keep in touch.

"The hardest thing for me is, I sit in that truck all day, and all I do is think about him," Lemke tells him one day. "You're lucky. You've got so many people around you to get you through the days."

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