It was the best — and perhaps only — way to handle a very emotionally difficult situation. When Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz started his Monday post-practice press conference, he requested that the first question go unasked, and a moment of silence be observed, for the late sportswriter Tom "Killer" Kowalski, who died of natural causes on Monday morning at the age of 51.
"I got the word on the practice field a while ago about Tom's news and we just brought the team up and had a moment of silence and a prayer," Schwartz told the assembled reporters. "Obviously, our condolences go out to his friends and his family, of which we consider ourselves both here. I'll just say this about Tom—the one thing he always tried to do was get it right. He knew football and he always wanted to get it right and we had a lot of respect for that.
"I think what we'll do is let the first question go unasked today and when we're ready we'll go second question."
Kowalski's career spanned 32 years — he wrote for the Oakland Press and for Booth Newspapers -- and he covered the Detroit Lions the whole time. He saw them through the days of Barry Sanders just as he did through the days of Matt Millen — with clarity, authority, and absolute professionalism.
Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, as tough an old bird as you'll find in the NFL, respected Kowalski because he came to the media room, the locker room, and the sidelines with a perspective informed by game tape and a ceaseless search for football knowledge.
"It was tough hearing the news today about Tom because I felt like I lost a good friend and not just a writer," Cunningham said. "When he asked me questions, it was important to him to be right. Obviously, he always did his homework and that's what I respected most about him. To me, he was an old-school writer. He was honest and fair.
"The way I look at him, he is all Detroit. People in this area that I met, they are all alike and he epitomized that. Our conversations were solid, and there was mutual respect for each other. Beyond football, we would also talk about life.
"I am sad that he is gone. God bless his family and friends."
Longtime center Dominic Raiola had a real friendship with Kowalski, and that came through in his comments. "On behalf of the team, we consider him part of the family; we saw him every day. I dealt with Tom every day; I'd see him out here. (It will) take a lot of time to get over this.
"In the end, Tom always had the best interest of everybody in that locker room. He always wanted to know more about why things happened on the field and he always did a good job of that. He was a good person; he was fun to be around. (I) had a lot more personal relationship with him, so that was some tough news to hear."
Kicker Jason Hanson brought a similar perspective. "I have too many (memories)," Hanson said. "It is one of those things, just like with everybody, takes you by surprise. It kind of knocks the wind out of you. You don't know what to say or think yet. It is just amazing. Of all the reporters, I think he was the one that got it right most of the time and really had the insight.
"Beyond that, regardless of any of that, he will be missed by all of us. And everyone in this locker room, their condolences and their prayers and their thoughts go to his family and friends. I am just at a loss of words. I don't know what to think. We all are like 'Is it true?' We are devastated."
Writers and players generally have a cordial relationship, but to see the universal respect given to Kowalski by the Lions' players and the organization really illuminates the true rewards of a life devoted to the game of football and the people who play it.
According to MLive.com, Kowalski is survived by his fiancee Diane Wolan; sisters Carol Kowalski and Patty Moore, both of Detroit; and sister Peggy Kowalski and brother Billy Kowalski, both of Pennsylvania.
The entire staff of Shutdown Corner and Yahoo! Sports would like to extend our condolences to Kowalski's family, friends and colleagues.