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Remembering Terez Paylor, and his ceaseless spirit of giving, for his birthday

·NFL columnist
·6 min read
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It’s been nearly a year since Terez Paylor passed away and I’m ashamed to admit I’m running out of stories to share with people.

That’s the downside of having been long-distance friends over the years. Schedules keep you busy, free time is spent with your family, so you don’t get a wealth of opportunities to be in the same city at the same time. You also make the poor assumption that you have the rest of your lives to hang out when the opportunity presents itself — only to find out unexpectedly that fate had other plans for you both.

I think about that now, because there were always a few times a year that I knew Terez and I would be in the same city. The Super Bowl was one of those weeks, and I could count on two things: We’d have a belated birthday celebration for him, leaving the talk about stories and deadlines and gripes back at the hotel for at least one night and find some place in the city to enjoy ourselves; and then later we’d catch up a couple hours after the Super Bowl was over and we’d finished all our work — usually talking into the early morning hours about the relief of making it through a long season.

Friday would have been Terez’s 38th birthday. We undoubtedly would have found somewhere in Los Angeles to enjoy it. Instead, some of those closest to him, including his fiancée Ebony Reed, will take a moment to gather on the date of his passing last year — Feb. 9 — to remember him in a private gathering on the beach. I imagine it being sad and happy and reflective, which mirrors what most of the last year has been. An expanse of time when we have all shared stories about him, with each other and also with the public, leaning on one another as many of us miss him each and every day. It has been a period of hoping and healing and learning new things about our friend and loved one, but also a time of giving.

That’s part of what today is about. Because many of you have helped to make a dream of Terez’s a reality in the last year — twice over — by giving to a pair of scholarships in his name: the Terez A. Paylor Scholarship at Howard University (where Terez attended college), and the PowerMizzou Journalism Alumni Scholarship in memory of Terez Paylor (stemming from the University of Missouri, where Terez spent time as a beat writer).

Ebony recently talked about the success of both scholarships on our NFL podcast, which we have included in this piece along with some video of that interview. First and foremost, I want to take this space to say thank you. The love, support and generosity have been a wonderful development in the wake of Terez’s passing. Each and every dollar donated will go to funding the education of someone who in many ways will walk in Terez’s earliest footsteps in his journalism journey. And knowing his penchant for spreading positive energy in our chosen careers, I think he would have liked that — paying it forward in whatever way he could.

So if you’ve given, I’d once again say thank you. And if you haven’t, I’d ask that you consider it this week in honor of his birthday. I can promise you it would have meant the world to him to know that he shared a connection with so many of you that was strong enough to promote giving back in his honor. I prefer to think of this as another chapter in his story, lifting others to potentially life-changing opportunities even after he’s gone. To me, that’s what these scholarships are all about. A new memory that he would have been proud of.

Terez Paylor's 38th birthday would have been Friday, January 28. (Yahoo Sports)
Terez Paylor's 38th birthday would have been Friday, January 28. (Yahoo Sports)

Of course, we can add it as a continuation of the stories shared about him over the past year, many of which reflect parts of who he was as a person, friend, fiancé, writer and professional. For me, some of the best memories I have will always be tied to this Super Bowl week.

And with that in mind, I do have one more moment to share. It was something that I had planned to talk about at a tribute gathering held by the Kansas City Chiefs in August, but a flight delay ultimately kept that from happening.

So this week, I figured what better place to share than here, in a space with so many people who cared for him both near and far. And it’s a relevant moment, too, because it was the last time the two off us walked out of a Super Bowl stadium together — in February 2020 in Miami, just before the start of the COVID pandemic, following the Chiefs' win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Terez and I had stayed in Hard Rock Stadium late, until just about 3 a.m., finishing our stories and then shooting a podcast in a suite overlooking the field. When we finally packed up, we took an elevator down and headed to catch an Uber back to our hotel. But before walking out, we ducked into the stadium one last time to look at the field as workers buzzed around us cleaning up.

We walked into a corner of an end zone for a moment, and as we were taking in the scene, I saw Terez hunched over out of the corner of my eye, patting his hand on the ground. For a moment, I thought he’d dropped his phone or some keys or something out of his backpack. But as I stepped closer, I realized he was just running his hand back and forth over the Bermuda Grass.

“Bro, what are you doing?” I said in a tone that was more teasing than curious.

“I’m feeling the grass,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, chuckling a bit.

And then Terez replied with something that I can still hear today if I close my eyes and think about the moment.

“If someone asks what the field was like when Patrick Mahomes won his first Super Bowl, what are you going to say?” he retorted.

I laughed. It was a funny thing to me, because seriously — who on Earth would ever ask that specific question? But at the same time, it also dawned on me: Being able to actually say that you knew what the field felt like on that day would put you in pretty select company. And now he was in it.

“Well sh-t,” I said, “If anyone is wondering, I guess I’ll just tell them to ask Terez Paylor.”

From the standpoint of our jobs, that is one of my favorite moments to remember. Because it spoke to how beautifully curious he was, and also the fact that he hadn’t lost the ability to still be a fan of the most unique little details in football. I like to think it’s that kind of inquisitiveness that gets promoted by the scholarships in his name.

Helping to promote open minds, different perspectives and fresh eyes — each looking out for the small details in the corners, when others can’t be there to do it for themselves.