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Don Banks, longtime NFL reporter, dies at 57

Updated August 4, 2019 - 5:53 pm

Don Banks, one of the most respected and recognized NFL writers over the past three decades and who was recently hired by the Review-Journal to cover the league, died Sunday morning.

He was 57.

Banks died after attending Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton, Ohio. Paramedics were called to a hotel in North Canton, where Banks was found in his room unresponsive and pronounced dead.

His wife, Alissa, confirmed later Sunday that Banks died in his sleep.

“He was re-energized and so invigorated by the opportunity to work (for the Review-Journal),” she said. “He couldn’t wait to get started. It was the happiest I have seen him in quite some time.

“He was supposed to arrive home in Boston on Sunday morning. … He went very peacefully.”

Banks spent the past three seasons working for The Athletic-Boston, producing his wildly popular “Snap Judgments” column and other NFL-focused content.

For 17 seasons prior, he was part of Sports Illustrated’s NFL coverage team.

His debut in the Review-Journal came Sunday, writing about lessons the Cleveland Browns learned while appearing on the HBO reality series, “Hard Knocks,” which will feature the Oakland Raiders this month.

“Words can’t express the depth of sadness the Review-Journal staff feels for Don’s family and friends,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said Sunday. “Beyond a sportswriting institution, Don was a dedicated husband and father and a class act. No NFL journalist commanded more respect. The sport has lost one of its finest storytellers.”

Banks’ cellphone contact list was known throughout the league as a who’s who of NFL greats, from Hall of Fame players and coaches to executives and agents.

He played a sportswriter in the football-related movies “Invincible’” and “The Game Plan,’’ while also appearing regularly on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines’’ and “Olbermann,” and guest hosting four weekly radio shows over the past 10 years.

Banks also made numerous NFL Films appearances as one of the game’s leading media voices.

While in Canton this week, he was able to watch close friend Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times receive the prestigious Dick McCann Award as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.

“We spent more time together over the years than we did with our own families,” a distraught Farmer said. “Our wives called us ‘Road Wives.’ It’s as if we spoke in code, we knew each other so well. We knew all of each other’s stories.

“He was so excited about coming to the Review-Journal. It was as if a cloud had been lifted. He was so ready. It was going to be special. He was the first one in the press box (this week) for the (Hall of Fame) game. His notebooks were lined up perfectly on one side and his pens on the other.

“He wanted to show everyone again what an incredible talent he was. He joked that he finally had a West Coast deadline.”

Banks graduated with honors from the University of South Florida in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.

In addition to The Athletic and Sports Illustrated, he wrote for the St. Petersburg Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press, NFL.com, Bleacher Report and Patriots.com.

Banks is survived by his wife and two sons, Matt, 28, and Micah, 21, from a previous marriage.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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