By In Stuff

That Daily Will


In my life as a sports columnist, I’ve had pretty good access to six players who either are in the Hall of Fame or will be someday soon. I learned from them. Well, maybe not all of them. I wrote a lot about Paul Pierce when he was at Kansas — he will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame soon — but I can’t say I picked up much from him. His greatness came later. At Kansas, he was young, shy, gifted and still figuring out what he was all about.

I wrote some about Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Willie Roaf at the end of his career, he was with the Chiefs, and I picked up something about just how good a man could get at blocking people. That wasn’t super helpful in my own life, but it was still fun to watch.

Former Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He taught me something about commanding the moment. That was his specialty. Thomas was mercurial and erratic, both on the field and in his personal life, but when the moment arrived, when the crowd got loud, and the Chiefs needed a big play, and time beckoned, Derrick Thomas seemed to get larger somehow. He would jump so quickly on the snap that you swore he was offsides. He would blind side the quarterback and, with his right arm, chop the football free. The game would turn, the Chiefs would win, and you weren’t even sure Derrick Thomas was on the field for the rest of the game. But he was there for the one play that mattered. And he was the difference.

Barry Larkin is in the Baseball Hall of Fame; I wrote a lot about him when I was columnist at the Cincinnati Post. His excellence is harder to describe. There is an awareness certain players have, one that sportswriters have been trying to break down for generations. I like to think of it as an ability, in a millisecond, to make the right choice . That was Larkin’s gift. He was as multitalented as just about anyone I’ve ever seen — hit, slug, run, throw, field, all with excellence — but at his best he played with that sixth tool, that ability to know when to take the extra base, when to try and throw out the lead runner, when to swing at the first pitch, how to cope with a pitcher on his game. Some of this was innate, some of it came from years of practice and study, but watching that kind of baseball day after day opened up my world a little bit.

Tony Gonzalez will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame soon. To me he represented a quenchless ambition for greatness. Gonzalez could have cruised to a marvelous career without really trying. He was bigger, stronger, faster than almost anyone. He was a staggering athlete, a basketball player on the football field, a football player on the basketball court. Defenders were basically helpless against him. He would go to a spot, turn, and catch the ball no matter how poorly it was thrown. He had movie star looks and a ridiculous amount of charisma. He was the coolest guy in the room. Some players become stars. Tony Gonzalez was born a star.

But in his second season, he struggled some. He dropped some passes. He did not quite fit into the offense. Gonzalez had this decision to make: Did he want to be a good NFL player who made a lot of money, partied with the coolest people and graced magazine covers? Or did he want to become one of the greatest football players who ever lived (along with those other things)?

Starting the next year, Tony Gonzalez played a game a perpetual catch. I almost never saw Tony Gonzalez NOT catching a football. He would catch them during practice. He would catch them on the sideline between practice plays. He would catch an extra 100, 200, 400 extra balls every day after every practice. During games, he never seemed to sit down on the sidelines; instead he would plead to throw to him. I once asked him how many footballs he’d caught through the years. “A million?” he said. It might be a million. Greatness comes to the relentless.

Then, there’s my favorite Hall of Famer of the bunch: Former Chiefs guard Will Shields. He was elected into the Hall on Saturday. What did I learn watching Will Shields excel and getting to know him just a bit? It’s complicated. Well, Will Shields is complicated.

He was the Outland Trophy winner while in college at Nebraska — that’s the award given to the best offensive or defensive college lineman — but NFL teams were skeptical. This was in the days when scouts didn’t trust Nebraska linemen. Dean Steinkuhler, Dave Rimington, Mark Behning, Mark Traynowicz — these guys had been drafted high and they had been disappointments. A narrative was constructed: Nebraska linemen cannot pass block. Shields was not taken until the third round by Kansas City.

He was furious. Sure, he took the snub personally. It had taken him a long time to believe in himself, really believe in himself. “I was the soft, pudgy kid everyone made fun of,” he told me once. He tells a great story about when he first started to find his confidence. He was in college facing freakish defensive lineman Steve Emtman (who would be the first overall pick in the draft). He had been told so often about Emtman’s sheer awesomeness that for a half Shields felt like he was on unsteady ground. He was shoved around like he was Emtman’s little brother. At halftime, Shields thrashed himself for allowing Emtman to get in his head. He promised the second half would be different. And it was: All second half, Shields hounded Emtman, pounded him, pancaked him, until finally Will saw something he never expected: He saw Emtman raise his hand toward the sideline. He wanted out of the game.

So Shields was outraged that the NFL did not believe in him, and from the start of his career he played with the rage of the discounted. He started his second game as a Chiefs player and then started every single game for the next fourteen years. He made the Pro Bowl for 12 straight years. He played through every variety of searing pain you or I can imaginable. I always thought it was fury that pulled him through; Will had a lot of it. He could turn people to stone with his looks and comments. Reporters were scared of him. Some days, his teammates said, he was approachable and fun. Others, he looked through right through them like they were nonexistent.

“There are days after games – lots of days, really – when I just don’t want to talk,” he told me once. “Football is a violent game. We are violent men.”

The story of a football player driven to excellence by his anger is not unfamiliar … but this is where Will Shields story splits from that story. Of all the athletes I’ve written about through the years, Will Shields might have had the biggest heart. He and his wife Senia were (and still are) tireless, absolutely tireless, when it came to helping people. When the Chiefs nominated Will Shields for NFL Man of the Year, they were only allowed one typewritten page in their nomination letter. In order to chronicle Shields’ goodness, they had to bump down the type size. Seriously. Here’s what I wrote after he won the award:

Here are just a few things he has done in the last few years. He and his wife, Senia, have donated more than $300,000 of their own money to Operation Breakthrough, which provides day care for some of Kansas City’s poorest families. Every year, they throw a Christmas party for the kids at the Marillac Center, an amazing place where children who have been sexually or physically abused or have had a terrible trauma in their lives can find hope. Senia personally buys all the presents. Their three children hand out the gifts.

Will donated 10,000 books to the Argentine Middle School, and he provided a computer lab for the abused children at The Children’s Place, and he gave $200,000 to the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch that helps troubled boys. He and Senia started a flag football tournament that raises money for SAFEHOME, which offers sheltered to battered women and children. They bought a van so low-income families could get to the Electronic Learning Center. They created a library at St. Monica’s School, and donated another $3,000 to the library at Brookridge Day School.

Wait. We’re only getting started here. They gave kitchen equipment to the Niles Home for Children, and they are on the board of Reach Out and Read Kansas City, and Will runs low-cost football camps for kids, and they donated money to the KU Medical Center burn unit and the Hope House, and they started “Team Esteem” which inspires kids to write, and they fund numerous scholarships, and they sponsor “A Day of Beauty” where battered women are taken to spas around the city and treated like royalty, and they are working on a way through the Internet for people to donate clothes and items directly to the families who need them most, and, well, there’s so much more. They buy shoes for children. They have provided eyeglasses. They give backpacks filled with school supplies. They sponsor kids who show an interest and talent in music (Will is a vocalist himself). They appear at almost every charitable function you can imagine.

It was all so personal for Will, so very personal, and sometimes I would go to his charitable events, and I would see this hulk of a man (6-foot-3, 315 pounds) who made a living smashing men physically transform. He would fold up somehow, make himself smaller, more approachable, the kids would rush up to him and want to play like he was one of them. In these moments, I would see Will Shields as one of the most caring and beautiful people I have ever known. Sometimes on those days we would have remarkable conversations, deep ones, about life and caring and the duty we all have to each other. Then, Sunday would come, he would smash away for hours and when the game ended he would glare angrily at me when I approached. It was such an extraordinary dichotomy. But then maybe it wasn’t. Football is a violent game. And these are violent men.

I think this was the first thing I picked up from Will Shields, that people are not one thing, the best of us don’t allow others to define them. Will and I would talk sometimes about the boxes people construct, and how he would not fit into any of them. He was a ferocious football player. He was a tender and kindhearted person. He was a difficult man to approach. He was as open as the state of Nebraska. He was all of these things at the same time.

But with Will Shields, there was something else that spoke to me deeply, a sturdiness, a consistency, a quiet resilience that was there all the time. The last few years of his career, he thought lot about quitting. Training camps wore on him. The pain was ever-present. And at some point, you run out of Pro Bowls, run out of honors. He wanted to win a Super Bowl, of course, but there’s only so much a guard — even a Hall of Fame guard — can do about that. The Chiefs let him down on that front. Every year, he thought about retiring. But then he would decide to go one more year. And for another year, he would soundlessly go out there and do his job brilliantly while so few people noticed.

Of the many things I remember from childhood, the thing that stands out was seeing my father go off to the factory early in the morning. I would usually wake up just as he was leaving, paper bag in his hand containing the salami on rye sandwich he brought with him. Sometimes, if I didn’t hit the snooze button a half dozen times, I would wake up early enough to sit at the kitchen table with him for a minute or two. We would talk about baseball or some test I had coming up or something from television the night before. What we never talked about was how hard his job was, how much he disliked it, how there really wasn’t any chance that today would be any better than yesterday had been. If he had such thoughts, I didn’t know about them.

I didn’t think much about it then, not until I worked at the factory for a summer. The place was so hot, the walls sweated. It smelled of oil and yarn and dye and hopelessness. At the end of days there, I felt this unshakeable soreness — not like the soreness after working out but something that seemed much deeper and more permanent. And, of course, the limited amount of work I did was nothing compared to what my father did as he tangled with sweater machines and turned screws with his bare hands and moved heavy boxes of yarn like they were empty. I realized that for him, it really was a permanent soreness. I had never heard him complain about it.

He wasn’t any different from countless Americans, countless people around the world, but he was different because he was my Dad, and I saw it up close. That defined my life. I’ve often said that I don’t get writer’s block because I never once saw my father get factory block. You do your job, and you do it every day, and you don’t complain even if you feel like you’ve been treated lousy, and you remember what it is that really matters.

That’s the thing I saw in Will Shields. I was much older by then — I’m actually four years older than Will — but seeing Shields go to work every day roused those same emotions. Of course it’s different. Shields was paid many, many multiples of my father. Even though he played an anonymous position, he was still famous and my father was the very opposite of famous. But the single-mindedness was the same. The ethic was the same. And I saw it up close. Will Shields showed up for work. He played to win. He didn’t complain. And he remembered, always remembered, what really matters.

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30 Responses to That Daily Will

  1. Paul Priore says:

    To all concerned:

    My name is Paul Priore, and I am the former New York Yankees clubhouse attendant who was mentioned in Dylan Vox’s article.

    I’m the coauthor of a tell-all book about my life and experiences working for the New York Yankees.

    I’ve included a lot of detail as to what happened to me.

    I would encourage everyone to look at the book’s website:

    If you choose to purchase the book, “Abused by the New York Yankees,” I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

    I’ve exposed many things about the Yankees organization and a majority of the baseball players who were team members in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

    I’ve left no stone unturned.

    Thank you.


    Paul Priore

    (ex-NY Yankees clubhouse attendant)

    • nightfly says:

      If you wrote Mr. Posnanski and asked his permission to advertise your book on his very popular and well-read site, that might be one thing… to leave this off-topic comment just to plug your book – however important the subject matter might be – smacks of opportunism.

      You have lost a sale.

      • Spencer says:


        Agreed 100%…I’ll never purchase that book. I doubt anyone else here will now.

        • Paul Priore says:

          That,s O. K. i,m not asking you personally to buy my book, i,m just letting people know for information purposes, tha,s all.
          The website is talking about sports, so that,s what my book is about,
          Behind the scenes of the NY Yankees.
          Thank You.
          Paul Priore

        • Paul Priore says:

          Not my lost, only your,s.
          You will only deprive yourself of knowing the complete truth about the NY Yankees and their hidden secrets.

          • dp51497 says:

            If it’s not your lost, whose might it be? Your editor’s?

          • Paul Priore says:

            Re: your comment- if it,s not your lost, whose might it be? your editor?:
            Not at all, only your,s.
            You are the one who will miss out on a great, truthful, controversial tell-all book about the NY Yankees and their behind the scenes secrets.

      • Kevin Sullivan says:


        Why does anyone need permission from a blog owner to post a comment whether off-topic or not?

        I am familiar with blogs where comments go up unmoderated. The blog owner may later remove them if they are objectionable.

        I am familiar with blogs where prospective comments are held in a queue, pending blog owner approval.

        But, this is the first time that I’m hearing about the need for anyone to request permission prior to posting a comment.

        If Paul Priore needed such prior permission, then it’s likely that he should have sought it.

        However, chances are that such permission was not required.

        In any event, I looked over the various comments about the matter, was sufficiently motivated to visit the book’s website and the associated social media sites (such as Facebook and Twitter), and then…guess what?

        I bought the E-edition.

        And, in my opinion, it’s well worth the purchase price!

        Years ago, I read Matt McGough’s book, “Batboy.” That’s the one which was later made into a short-lived CBS television series, “Clubhouse,” where all the names were changed, and which starred Dean Cain and Jeremy Sumpter.

        One thing that the two books have in common is a discussion of Paul’s father, Nick Priore, who was the manager of the Yankees clubhouse for many years.

        Another thing that they have in common is an insider’s view of various behind the scenes events which allegedly took place inside the Yankees clubhouse and around the stadium.

        If Mr. Posnanski finds any of the comments on this thread to be of value, yet inappropriate for his original post, enlightening as they may be, then he’s perfectly free to move them elsewhere.

        • says:

          I’m selling rare Beanie Babies on eBay. Check them out! If you buy two or more, I will combine postage!!!

        • nightfly says:

          Thanks for a thoughtful reply.

          To clarify: my objection isn’t based on a formal rule, so much as a matter of etiquette and principle. The column had nothing to do with the topic of the man’s book. It’s not unreasonable to think that Joe wrote about Will Shields for reasons other than selling someone else’s memoirs about working for the New York Yankees. The man exploited someone else’s platform for his own self-promotion, advertising work-for-sale to an audience he has not earned and who were not here to be solicited for someone else’s work. It strikes me as unethical and disrespectful to have done this.

          The lack of a formal moderation and approval process isn’t license to post what amounts to an unpaid commercial in someone else’s forum. It’s as if you gave a work presentation with an open Q & A, and the first person to the mic ignored everything you said in order to tell the audience he was hawking t-shirts in the lobby afterward.

          Had he asked prior permission to do that, you might have said one of two things, obviously: no or yes. But his going ahead without the courtesy of asking doesn’t give you any choice at all. Maybe you would have allowed it; perhaps even spoken a few words of introduction. Likewise, maybe Pos would grant the man a little plug or at least a mention – but the decision was taken out of his hands.

          I object to this on principle. Obviously Pos doesn’t need my defense, but the principle does, especially in a forum that runs on trusting the discretion of the posters instead of formal moderation and approval.

        • Paul Priore says:

          Thank You so very much for your support and understanding.
          Paul Priore

        • Paul Priore says:

          Thank You for buying the e-book version and I hope you enjoy reading the book, it,s more then worth it.

      • Paul Priore says:

        I posted my book for information purposes, so people could understand that not all sports are so rosy, that just because you know something on the outside is not the same on the inside.
        You should read the book before you judge me.
        Then you can give your opinion on it.
        If you don,t wish to buy the book, that,s your right.
        Thank You.
        Paul Priore
        (former NY Yankees clubhouse attendant.)

      • Paul Priore says:

        It,s no problem for me one way or another if you decide to buy my book, you will only lose out on knowing the complete inside truth about the inner working of the NY Yankees organization & it,s players and management.

  2. shagster says:

    Good writing Joe. You do Will credit.

  3. bake mcbride says:

    Great job Joe, beautiful.

    And Yankees scum bag, you have now guaranteed I will NEVER read your book.
    Well done.

    • Paul Priore says:

      You don,t have to buy my book, i,m not asking you too, I,m just posting for information purposes.

      • Paul Priore says:

        The Book is for the public rights to know about what really goes on behind the scenes working for the NY Yankees organization & the abuse I had suffered at the hands of all involved.

  4. DjangoZ says:

    “Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman

  5. MikeN says:

    Weren’t you following Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon?

  6. Richard Aronson says:

    Joe runs this site. If he doesn’t approve of Priore’s book being plugged here, he’ll delete it. Maybe the guy has permission to so post but neglected to say so, or didn’t say so since Joe has to deal with the Yankees professionally. Don’t be so quick to judge. You can decide not to buy it because it ruined your good feeling from Joe’s writing, or whatever reason you have (there are a LOT of books I don’t buy, mostly because I never hear of them) but if the post doesn’t disappear and the subject matter interests you, why not buy it? Priore did make his request politely.

  7. Bob Waddell says:

    You made a mistake posting here Mr. Priore. What you are pushing is Salacious, and that’s not what Joe writes about or why we read his blog. What offends me most is that your post attempts to hijack a truly excellent posting by Joe, which almost reads like poetry. Thank you Joe; go away Paul

    • Paul Priore says:

      My book is based on factual truthful information about the NY Yankees organization, players, management and how bad it was working for them.
      The treatment that I had endured.

    • Paul Priore says:

      I,m sorry you feel that way, it was never my intention to take away from another subject matter of interest.
      Since it is a sports blogs, I thought people would like to know other things that goes on behind the scenes in baseball.
      It,s the publics right to know.
      Thank You.
      Paul Priore
      Former NY Yankees clubhouse attendant

  8. edfromyumaaz says:

    As always, your writing is a joy to read, and your insights keep me coming back. I’m not a real sports nut – actually a retired English professor – but good and intelligent writing is a pleasure to experience.

  9. sbmcmanus says:

    Who is the quarterback #7 in this picture?

  10. Brent says:

    Matt Cassell? Is that possible? Joe Germaine?

  11. Chris K. says:

    It seems odd that one of Joe’s fabulous posts should devolve into a discussion about comment posting etiquette. But, so it goes..

    In my opinion, Joe is the finest sportswriter of MY generation, at least. Great writers have a way of making you care and/or think about subjects that you didn’t have any inclination to care and/or think about beofrehand. Joe is just gifted like that. This post is no exception — I knew almost nothing about Will Shields but I know A LOT about Joe’s writing and therefore, I read this with great interest.

    In addition, one of the great pleasures I receive from his blog is reading what are, invariably, well thought out, reasoned and measured comments delivered by courteous visitors. Sometimes the arguments and discussions can be so compelling, EACH way, that it becomes difficult to know exactly where I fall on the subjects — so many valid points are flying about.

    But this feels pretty clear to me. I have to side with nightfly on this one. While there are no rules explicitly stating what should or should not be posted in the comments section, random tell-all book plugs from Yankee clubhouse attendants don’t feel appropriate. And the way it was executed instead felt a bit … seedy to me, and certainly does not stoke my interest in buying the book. It does smack of opportunism.

    Note the absence of pop-up advertisements present on the page. Note the absence of banners as well. Besides expanding his own readership, and plugging HIS OWN books — hey, it’s his website after all, there’s no commercial activity of any kind. There are other venues for that.

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