You don't have to read Shakespeare to know that the nature of tragedy is ironic--how something sad can be bittersweet, how an act as pragmatically final as death can be a beginning, how the horror of the premature end of someone's life can recall so many wonderful memories.
This is the feature that I never wrote on Bob McDermott. He was my idol when I was a sophomore and he a postgraduate at Deerfield Academy in 1972-'73, my friend and supporter for my first two years at Harvard.
And from Day One of our sportswriter-athlete relationship it was always the same:
"Yeah Bobby, I'm planning that big feature on you for next week..."
"We'll do that feature for this season for sure..."
And on and on. "The Feature" never was. I guess I took it for granted that it would always be there, my ace in the hole. The appealing story of an even more appealing athlete and person. And likewise I guess I took it for granted that Bob McDermott would always be around.
He was the athletic tower of strength at Deerfield his P.G. year. McDermott won letters in basketball and track, as well as Most Valuable Defensive Player on the football team, MVP in basketball, and yet another special award in track.
After he left Deerfield I wrote a column in our school paper which mentioned that McDermott was the second hardest tackler that I had seen play there. To my astonishment, he read the column and when he came up to school to visit warned me that after he got through at Harvard he would prove me wrong.
He never got the chance. His freshman year they switched Mac from linebacker to tight end, a move that cost him his playful revenge with me but indelibly etched his name in Harvard football memory.
After captaining the 1973 freshman team, McDermott started for the varsity much of his sophomore year when Peter Curtin was, sidelined with an injury. He caught eight passes and scored a touchdown that year, but there was no room for a hard worker and enthusiastic team man in the world of football hero-worship at the time. Not with Pat McInally in his senior year.
McInally left with everything except an Ivy League football championship for himself, and while McDermott was no glamor boy, his glamorous moments as a junior during the 1975 season copped the Crimson its first outright championship ever.
There were three big games that autumn: home against Dartmouth, at Brown on T.V., and at Yale for the title on the season's final day. Bob McDermott had three big games that fall, and it so happened they were against Dartmouth, Brown and Yale.
In the 24-10 triumph over the Green, Mac tied a Harvard record, with three touchdown catches, the third a diving grab between two defenders. Against the Bruins, number 81 hauled in six passes to help Crimson quarterback Jim Kubacki to his finest day.
And at Yale--fourth and 12 with less than a minute to go--the tight end cut over the middle--the clutch reception at the 14 yard line--the Mike Lynch field goal seconds later to win it.
The Golden Helmet Award-winner as New England's Division One Player of the year at season's end, McDermott's final year of football at Harvard saw no pomp, no hardware, but no loss of self-respect, as the tight end played steady and hard and finished tied for fourth place on the all-time Crimson receiving parade.
I look back now and I've hit all the press highlights, and I guess that's probably what "The Feature" would have been like. When a guy is in college somehow it's too early to think that he's one of the most loyal and sincere people you'll ever know.
Bob McDermott was a rare human being then and I took it for granted. His death was tragic, but his life an inspiration for those who have learned from the irony of tragedy.
"The Feature" has been written. Bob McDermott the man will not be taken for granted any longer. But the timing of this feature is ultimately ironic.
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