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Del Rio inspires ill friend

To suggest I know Jack Del Rio would be a gross exaggeration, if not entirely false. Our paths have crossed over the years only a few times, each in cursory fashion. Usually, he would be speaking to the masses from the podium after a game in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Or he would talk to Buffalo media during a conference call.

The relationship between sports figures and local media can be difficult for many to understand and even tougher to clarify. We might share a laugh, a disagreement or even a beer every now and again, but a certain divide always exists.

It's much more distant with visiting teams, assuming there's any relationship at all. Teams typically roll into town, play the game and board the team charter out of town. Del Rio for years seemed like a decent guy, but to me he was simply the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It all changed over the weekend, when Del Rio pushed football aside and made the world a better place. He walked through the doors of Roswell Park Cancer Institute to visit my friend and colleague, Allen Wilson. His only agenda was making Wilson's day a little brighter than his smile, a major accomplishment to be sure.

If you're wondering why Wilson has been absent from our Bills coverage, it's because he's fighting a life-threatening illness. He had managed chronic leukemia with medication for 3 1/2 years before the disease struck back in full force, the way it often does. Leukemia would retreat if it knew Wilson the way we do. The Big Man isn't backing down.

Del Rio was nothing if not a fighter himself, a quality he quickly understood about Wilson as Wilson awaits a bone-marrow transplant. What they share, other than their immense will to win, is immeasurable warmth when it comes to people. Del Rio heard about Wilson's plight through a mutual friend and immediately came to his side.

Now, that's a guy you want on your team. Sometimes we're so immersed in our jobs that we forget football is trivial when stacked against life and death.

Their love for football might have brought them together, but their commitment to the human spirit was their real connection. Wilson has been trying to build up enough strength to get his big body moving, so he can go home before undergoing the transplant. Del Rio's visit can only inspire him.

Wilson being a top-notch veteran reporter and Del Rio being a top-notch veteran coach, they couldn't resist talking some football. Wilson had the energy to grill Del Rio about rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and ex-Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny. You can take Wilson away from football, but you're never going to take football away from Wilson.

Del Rio learned as much before saying goodbye and tending to the Jaguars' preseason game against the Bills. Their private meeting leaked out, exposing the best qualities of two great men.

Wilson is learning he has friends he didn't know he had. Numerous others whose names you would recognize have visited without recognition. Wilson has thanked them for their thoughts, their prayers, their time and their support.

Funny, but Del Rio left the hospital thanking Wilson for the experience. I planned to wait around for Del Rio after his news conference Saturday night to tell him how much he meant to several people, but work pulled me away. Deadlines are deadlines. What can I say?

Well, Jack, thank you for your care and class. Thank you for being one of many sports figures who visit hospitals or volunteer their time without asking for anything in return. Thank you for being much like the person you visited, a big man, a kind man, a teddy bear.

You don't know me, but I think the world of you no matter your record. Guys like you deserve a Super Bowl. We're rooting for something greater.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com