85°F
weather icon Clear

Don Banks, giant of NFL writers, gone too soon

Giants of industry are not always what you imagine.

Don Banks was one when it came to our country’s finest NFL writers, as accomplished in his field as most any who penned thoughts and news about the league and its 32 teams.

And yet the first thing I noticed was his immense pride when talking about his family.

Don died in his sleep early Sunday morning at the age of 57, alone in a hotel room in Canton, Ohio, having attended the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies and earlier filing his first story for the Review-Journal.

We recently hired him as our NFL writer and you can imagine the level of pride we all felt. Come on. We were adding Don Banks to our team.

Our coverage of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas in 2020 has continued to grow, but this was beyond the scope of what we had imagined in terms of staffing.

This was the guy we read for nearly 17 years in Sports Illustrated, who shook more hands in a Super Bowl press box than a politician running for office, who never had to worry if Roger Goodell would take his call.

It was Don Banks. Of course the commissioner picked up.

Don was the ultimate clean-up hitter. A pro’s pro. The man who wrote “The Conscience,” column on the Monday Morning Quarterback website.

Mr. Snap Judgments himself.

I sat with Don and assistant sports editor Al Leiker at lunch some weeks back during the interview process, which rightly felt like Don deciding whether or not Las Vegas was the right fit for him than vise versa.

I had met Don at different Super Bowls, introduced by colleagues and yet always amazed at his unassuming nature. You would have thought he was a rookie covering his first NFL game. There wasn’t a big-time bone in his body.

Don was a rarity in 2019 in that he could write on sports with the utmost expertise and not feel a need for his words to scream off a laptop screen. It’s a gift in this me-first, shout-it-out 280 characters world, owning the ability to remain biting and compelling and critical when needed, all the while doing so with a measured one.

He had that. Few still do.

“He never let an emotion go unnoticed,” said John Romano, sports columnist at the Tampa Bay Times and one of Banks’ closest friends. “He was passionate. He couldn’t hide a thing. He would have been the world’s worst poker player. But that sort of also reflected in his boys. They are incredibly mature for their ages. Just amazing kids.”

The latter became apparent at lunch a few weeks back, when Don spoke of wife Alissa and sons, Matt (28) and Micah (21), when I learned his youngest, like my son, had attended George Washington University.

We swapped a few Foggy Bottom stories and, as is customary at such gatherings of sportswriters, some off-the-record ones of life on the road. He got a kick out of that.

“He was such an incredible father,” Alissa told me through tears late Sunday afternoon via phone. “I spoke to both of (the boys) and was so amazed at their perspective. They are both wise beyond their years. I only hope that I can get to that point about this over time.”

Sense of timing

The story goes that Don, a massive Red Sox fan, had an extra ticket to a World Series game against the Cardinals in 2004. He walked into a bar and noticed two beautiful women standing together.

But instead of pulling a Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” and sliding his ticket over to friends to go see about a girl, Banks approached one with an invite to the game and, well, he and Alissa clicked.

He even took her back to that bar when it came time to propose.

Those closest to Don tell you this, as much as anything, defined him.

Great storytellers, you see, have an impeccable sense of timing.

“His divorce from (first wife Dorinne), his high school sweetheart, hit him hard, and he always felt meeting Alissa had given him a second opportunity at something he wasn’t sure he would find again,” Romano said. “He was really grateful for that. She helped get his feet back on the ground. She centered him and gave him a path forward …

“He was ecstatic about the (Review-Journal) job. He thought of it as an incredible opportunity to be at a newspaper from basically ground zero with its NFL coverage. It was a chance for him to do what he did best.”

Don Banks was among the giants at doing so.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

Don't miss the latest Raiders news. Like our Vegas Nation page
Raiders Videos
Jon Gruden Does Not Think Raiders Are Distracted - VIDEO
Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden talks about what he's looking for in the teams third preseason game Thursday in Winnipeg, also says he doesn't believe in the narrative of Hard Knocks and Antonio Brown distracting the team. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Antonio Brown Practices with Raiders in Alameda - VIDEO
Antonio Brown was once again present for the Raiders first practice of the season in Alameda and while he looked to be stretching on his own, he eventually practiced with the team after finding a helmet later on. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Antonio Brown Back With Raiders on Final Day of Training Camp - VIDEO
Wide Receiver Antonio Brown was back with the Raiders in Napa for the final day of Training Camp, just one day after General Manager Mike Mayock commented on Brown's status with the team. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vontaze Burfict talks defense, Paul Guenther details preseason strategy - VIDEO
Raiders Linebacker Vontaze Burfict describes his leadership on this years defense. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther details his preseason strategy with new players and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson talks about Derek Carr's growth. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mike Mayock comments on Antonio Brown's recurring absence from camp - VIDEO
General Manager Mike Mayock seemingly gave Antonio Brown an ultimatum after the receiver yet again disappeared from the teams training camp in Napa, CA. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Derek Carr talks receiver depth while rookie Josh Jacobs gets praise - VIDEO
After practice Raiders Quarterback Derek Carr talked about the current depth of the receiver position. Head Coach Jon Gruden and Wide Receiver Tyrell Williams had a lot of praise for rookie Running Back Josh Jacobs and his offensive versatility. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Potential grass Raiders will play on being tested out by stadium crew - Video
The Raiders have yet to decide which grass they will choose as the turf the team plays on when it comes to Las Vegas in 2020, but the testing process is already underway at Allegiant Stadium. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Vs. Cardinals Post Game Press conference
The Oakland Raiders came away with a preseason 33-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden talks to media after the game.
Raiders defense steps up in win over Cardinals - Video
The Oakland Raiders came away with a preseason 33-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Raiders beat writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Myles Simmons discuss three takeaways from the win.
Vegas Nation Mailbag August 15, 2019
The Review-Journal's Heidi Fang and Ed Graney are back for a new rendition of the Vegas Nation mailbag! Send in your Raiders questions, and they'll answer them live on the stream.
Derek Carr and Jon Gruden talk Antonio Brown Return - VIDEO
Raiders Quarterback Derek Carr talks to the media about Antonio Brown's return to Napa. Head Coach Jon Gruden talks roster cuts and Brown's appearance. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Training Camp Day 12 Wrap Up - VIDEO
Michael and Myles discuss Antonio Brown's surprise appearance at Raiders Training Camp. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Antonio Brown Full Press Conference - VIDEO
Raiders Wide Receiver Antonio Brown showed up late to Tuesday's practice in Napa, California and addressed his current situations in the Raiders press conference. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Preseason Game 1 Wrap Up - VIDEO
Heidi, Adam and Michael discuss everything that happened during the Raiders first and final preseason game in Oakland,CA (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jon Gruden talks preseason excitement, Peterman and Doss TD connection
Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden talks about the competition and excitement of preseason games. Nathan Peterman and Keelan Doss talk about their touchdown connection in Doss' hometown. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raider Fans say HBO Hard Knocks got them pumped for the season
With the Oakland Raiders being featured on HBO's Hard Knocks, the Review-Journal's Heidi Fang asked fans at training camp in Napa what they thought about the team being on the show, how their team was portrayed and their reactions to what they saw. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jon Gruden Talks Plans for Saturday's Preseason Game - VIDEO
Best of the press conference after day 2 of joint Practices with the Los Angeles Rams from Napa, CA. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Training Camp Day 11: Day 2 of Joint Practice with the Rams - VIDEO
Adam and Michael discuss everything from the final day of practice before the first preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rams talk about skirmishes with the Raiders - Video
On the second day of the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders joint practices at training camp in Napa, skirmishes broke out between the teams. Rams coach Sean McVay, cornerback Marcus Peters and defensive tackle Aaron Donald talk about what happened on the field when push came to shove. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rams QB Jared Goff gives the Raiders some advice for Hard Knocks - VIDEO
After a joint practice at the Raiders NFL training camp in Napa, Rams quarterback Jared Goff gave some advice for the Raiders who are being featured on HBO's Hard Knocks. Running back Todd Gurley spoke about the Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs and head coach Sean McVay spoke about Lamarcus Joyner and Antonio Brown. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Training Camp LA Rams first joint practice - VIDEO
The Oakland Raider had their first joint practice with the La Rams before Saturdays first NFL preseason matchup. The Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken and Adam Hill breakdown recap the days practice.
Raider The Dog - Video
Raider The Dog gave a demonstration of his suspect apprehension abilities at Raiders Training Camp after practice in Napa. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best of Sound Day 9
The best of Jon Gruden's press conference after day 9 of Raiders Training Camp from Napa, CA
Wrap Up Day 9 - VIDEO
Adam and Michael wrap up day 9 of Raiders Training Camp from Napa,CA before the first episode of HBO's Hard Knocks airs.
Allegiant celebrates naming deal with tailgate party
Allegiant Air employees celebrate with a tailgate party after the company’s naming deal with the Raiders for the new Las Vegas stadium.
Raiders Topping Ceremony of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas - Video
The Raiders held a topping ceremony in Las Vegas where the last beam to connect the last roof truss was hoisted into the stadium frame. The team also announced their naming rights partner, Allegiant Air. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Day 8 Wrap Up - VIDEO
Michael and Adam wrap up day 8 of Raiders Training Camp from Napa, CA
Day 7 Raiders Wrap Up - VIDEO
Michael and Adam wrap up an easy day 7 of Raiders Training Camp from Napa,CA
A look at the Raiders headquarters under construction in Henderson
Don Webb, chief operating officer of the LV Stadium Co., gives the Review-Journal a tour of the Raiders headquarters under construction in Henderson. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Training Camp Wrap Up Day 4 - VIDEO
Michael discusses everything that went on in day 4 of Raiders Training Camp before the players first day off.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall says the Raiders going to Las Vegas is a dream come true
A Cimarron-Memorial product who now plays linebacker for the Oakland Raiders says he'll do everything in his power to be a part of the 2020 roster that will play in his hometown of Las Vegas. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Training Camp Day 3 Wrap Up - VIDEO
Ed and Michael discuss the Raiders first practice in pads from Napa, Ca.
MGM Resorts views Las Vegas stadium as opportunity
MGM Resorts International intends to offer tailgating experiences at its resorts before and after events at Raiders stadium. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mayock discusses signing Incognito
Raiders GM Mike Mayock speaks to media regarding the team signing Richie Incognito.
THE LATEST
‘Helmetgate’ is sort of drama Raiders get with Antonio Brown

How can a guy like the Pro Bowl wide receiver, who works so hard on his craft — more committed and diligent and driven than anyone, says head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr — also be so contentious about something like which helmet he wears?

 
Raiders hoping Trent Brown lives up to massive paycheck

A Super Bowl champion with the Patriots last season and then made the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history by the Raiders, Brown at right tackle will be among those protecting quarterback Derek Carr.