This past Saturday, as I was in Jordan-Hare Stadium watching my Auburn Tigers struggle against the Utah State Aggies, I kept looking down at my phone waiting for text messages I knew would never come.
My friend Tom Kowalski died last week unexpectedly of a heart attack. The news of his passing still has me angry, shocked, and saddened. He was only 51 years old and still had a full life ahead of him. He was a great friend that I could count on during the best and worst times of my life.
I met Tom like I meet most of my friends: at a bar. Hanging out at Scruffy Duffys on an Saturday afternoon back in October of 2006, I was just enjoying a beer and watching some afternoon college football. A few minutes later, Tom and his wife at the time asked if the two seats beside me were open. Twelve hours later, we were still there enjoying Bud Lights, watching Game 1 of his Tigers in the 2006 World Series and, like any friend of Tom can attest to, a few games of Golden Tee. (I will say that, due to a prior engagement, I was supposed to meet a friend to see "The Departed" that night. Tom was constantly mocking me and calling it "movie night". I returned to Scruffy Duffys in 30 minutes when the movie was sold out.) I had no idea who Tom was at that time and did not care. He was a fun loving guy that spun his chair around (he was amazed that they went all the way around) and yelling "Wheeeee!!!".
After that night, we stayed in touch. We met up in Dallas to ring in the New Year for 2007. I came up to Detroit to meet him in November of 2007 and tailgated outside of the Big House before the Ohio State-Michigan game and then went to a (cough) strip club outside of Detroit with him. The next day, he had already reserved a ticket for me at the Giants-Lions game. When the Lions played at the Bengals in 2009, we met up at a bar across the river from Cincinnati and had another round of drinking until the bar closed.
To call Tom just a guy who covered the Lions is a big understatement. He was the face of the Lions for many fans. This became apparent to me very quickly. A big guy who unfortunately somewhat resembled Matt Millen, Tom was not a hard guy to spot in a bar. No matter how many fans approached him, "Killer" was always willing to chat with them about the Lions. (Note: I told Tom very early on that I could NEVER call him "Killer".) He was personable, especially if the fans bought him a beer, which they almost always did. When you shook hands with him, you felt like you were never going to find your hand ever again. His laugh and smile was always there and he would never be afraid to tell Lions fans that the team just flat out stunk. He WAS their connection to their team.
Tom was in New York in October of 2010. The Lions were playing the Giants that weekend and we met up at my local bar Hibernia. Along with him was his fiancée, Diane Wolan, who I could tell was special to Tom. We had beers, caught up and then said our goodbyes. I never thought this would be the last time I would see him.
During the past six years, Tom would always text me before a big Auburn game to see if I was attending, during an Auburn game if we were playing great or horrible and after an Auburn game if we won or lost. He would always give me crap if I was not attending an important game. Last year, during Auburn's National Championship run, he was one of the first people to call me and wish congratulations after each and every game.
I could not believe he was gone until this past Saturday, when I was attending the Auburn game. I kept on waiting for a text message from Tom but, in the back of my mind, knew that text would never come. He would have certainly had something to say about my school struggling against Utah State.
Tom's funeral was on Saturday as well. To honor him, I drank Bud Light, played some Golden Tee and spun my barstool around as fast I could. "WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"
I miss you Tom and will always love you.