A Somber Day at Redskins Park
Jim Zorn learned within a 30-minute span this morning that offensive line coach Joe Bugel had lost his daughter, Holly, 36, to cancer, and that Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame lineman whom Zorn played against for years, had suddenly died from cancer.
The Redskins found out about Holly's death during meetings. Zorn received a call and had to get Bugel out of a meeting with the offensive line, telling him his wife, Brenda, was on the phone.
The Redskins had a lengthy team prayer before the start of practice and afterwards Bugel was on a plane to Arizona to be with his family. Zorn said it is possible that Bugel will be back for Saturday's preseason game in Carolina - perhaps preferring to immerse himself in his work during this time of great pain - and will have the freedom to take as much, or as little, time as he needs. Owner Daniel Snyder had given Bugel use of his plane to fly back and be with Holly whenever possible, including for much of last week, and he used it to return to the family home in Arizona today.
"Win or lose it'll be somber after that football game," Zorn said. "But also they will take pride in doing a good job without Joe there, and if he does happen to come back, they'll work hard for him as well. It's just very, very difficult, but I think his wife and Holly his daughter, bless her heart, I think they both realize this is his passion, and they've figured this out. ... It was surprising that he would come out and be on the football field, but the way he explained it was this was where he needed to be in order to lose himself a little bit in the familiar surroundings. I think that was one of the things that he touched on when he came out here. These were very family surroundings to him and this is where he felt most comfortable."
This was a somber day, the final real work day ahead of Saturday's preseason game, with players and coaches sharing memories of the departed. Such feelings have not been unusual of late, as the Redskins family has dealt with a slew of tragedies in over the past two years, including Sean Taylor's death, the passing of longtime scout Mike Faulkiner from cancer, the sudden death of former Redskins linebacker and team leader Kevin Mitchell, and the sudden death of team nutritionist Ann Litt. Snyder's wife, Tonya, was diagnosed with breast cancer this year, former Coach Joe Gibbs's grandson, Taylor, was diagnosed with leukemia last year as a two-year-old. Although Taylor Gibbs' leukemia is in remission, but Gibbs told Jason Reid a few minutes ago on the phone that the family had a scare last week, with Taylor getting what turned out to be an unrelated viral infection. Corner Shawn Springs's father Ron, a former star player for the Cowboys, has been in a coma for a year, with little chance of survival, after entering the hospital for a minor procedure, and Springs's stepmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In the last two weeks as well, tight end Todd Yoder's grandmother died (he was very close to her) and safety Vernon Fox lost one of his best friends.
"Around this team and I think around all other NFL teams, there's real life happening," Zorn said. "We're dealing with those kinds of issues in our daily lives, and there other things that haven't come out that are happening around our guy's families ... And we have to live in the reality. So I'm not one to try to shy away from that and not talk about it, because it's a lot easier to deal with it if you tyr to get an essence of it. I think being open with our payers we'll know how to come alongside them and handle these situations."
Center Casey Rabach said: "Whether it Sean's murder last year, or Vernon Fox losing a dear friend early in camp and now Coach Buges losing a daughter, this is not just a football team, this is a family. When one's person heart is hurting is affect everybody on this team, especially with us offensive linemen having such a close relationship with Buges."
Players and coaches said that Bugel took great pride in how hard his daughter fought this rare and aggressive form of bone cancer, and they spoke with him on a daily basis about her struggle. Zorn said he understanding was that ceremonies for Holly Bugel would be held in Arizona this week - where she died - and everything would be "quick" and limited to the family only.
"We try to do what it is that he'd want us to do, which is prepare and play. I don't think there's anything you can say to anybody to make the loss of a child any easier. They've knows she's been sick for some time, but my guess is that you can think you're prepared mentally for something like this to happen, and then find out you're totally not. My heart breaks for him, It's got to be the most unnatural thing in the world to bury your child. You just wish him peace of mind and that he gets together with his family and that their hearts heal quickly, because there's really nothing else you can do."
Upshaw's passing struck Zorn deeply. The men didn't get along so well in their playing days - Zorn's upstart Seattle Seahawks formed a gritty rivalry with Oakland, at a time the AFC West's dominant team - but he respected Upshaw.
"When I saw the message come across my desk [about Upshaw's passing]," Zorn said, "I just stopped immediately and thought about all the times we played against each other. We didn't like each other when we played against each other, but he was a tremendous athlete and a tremendous leader.
"Not only a tremendous inspiration for the Raiders - did I mention that we didn't like the Raiders? - but just his leadership in the NFLPA and the amount of history that he was involved in changing in the NFL was dramatic to say the least ... He was very vocal and very staunch in the stand that the players took early in the '82 strike and the '87 strike, and then to kind of find a working relationship with the NFL owners as well, was I think very dramatic as well. So he made a very deep mark in the history of the NFL, and he'll be greatly missed."
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