Tito Vilanova you know. And you, like me, are reeling with today’s bombshell. But Thomas Richter is a guy who, I am willing to bet, none of you know.
He was a wonderful friend who died from complications related to brain cancer. He was a cyclist and a young man who evolved from a shy, bookish guy, scrawny of frame and not all that fast, to a strong, wiry bullet.
One day, he started having severe headaches. Then, while at Thanksgiving dinner with his family, he had a seizure. They did the first of many operations that night. I went to visit him as much as I could, and the last visit, I was about to leave to catch my flight home. We looked at each other and knew, somehow, that it would be the last time we would see each other. And we hugged, and cried. And I don’t know about Tom, but I cried all the way from Boulder to Chicago.
So whenever I hear of someone battling cancer, I think of Tom. But so many of us have someone that we think of when we hear of that news, and try as we might, it becomes personal. So it is with the coach of the football team that I love so much.
Cancer is personal because it is terrifying. It’s one cell that goes rogue and suddenly, life is different. Suddenly a big, nasty battle commences for someone’s life, as the rogue cell corrupts other cells until suddenly, something that was a part of us is now a malignant mass, trying to destroy us.
Damn right it’s personal.
Tito Vilanova loves the club, loves his team and its players. He has to stop doing something that he loves so much because its demands are so great that his body, which will need all of its strength for that titanic battle, must marshal its resources.
Picking players, being second-guessed, blamed, assaulted in the press and other outlets, being called inadequate for having the temerity to not be Guardiola, all causes an astounding amount of stress, stress that I bet he would dance the mambo of joy to have the chance to do again, instead of face what he is about to face.
We fretted, we worried, and the club president, Sandro Rosell, had a presser with ZubiZa, where he delivered the news that none of us, even the ones who were most willing to hoist him on a petard of shame, wanted to hear:
“We inform you that Tito Vilanova needs further treatment which makes it impossible for him to continue as head coach.”
Apparently some test results that Vilanova received recently, made the decision for him that it would be impossible to continue as our head coach. How long did people know? Who knows. Rosell said in that interview from the other day, that “For as long as he is healthy, Tito will be our coach.” I, for one, expected that to be for a while longer, particularly after the battles of last season, the time away being treated in New York and the declarations of fitness by people within the club.
But as any of us who have dealt with people battling cancer, sometimes you feel great, but that evil little bastard is still in there, working away — and you don’t know it until someone says, in That Voice, “You should have a look at your test results,” then pulls out a chair for you. And it begins. Rosell asked for respect for Vilanova and his family, just as the club did with Abidal. And many of us will cry, just as we did with Abidal.
There is a resolve, a calmness that often accompanies cancer. Tom was happy, soothing and completely disinclined to do anything that wouldn’t bring him or the people that he loved pleasure. And I didn’t realize how comprehensive a smartass he was until one day, after we finally talked him into getting outside to get some air in his wheelchair, he informed me of a shortcut back to the house. And, as I was cantilevered behind a wheelchair, pushing Captain Wiseacre up an almost 20% grade that was indeed a “shortcut,” I noticed his shoulders heaving. I stopped the chair, looked at him, and he was weeping with laughter. “You sound like a big ass choo-choo,” he said, gasping for air. And we spent about 5 minutes on that hillside, laughing until we cried. Because those moments are all part of it.
I love that Vilanova goes out a winner, hoisting the Liga trophy after leading the club that we love to a record-setting Liga season, battling his own health issues as well as dealing with a club that had what seemed to be a biblical plague placed upon it. Abidal, Abidal again, Vilanova and now this. It almost seems as if the joy of that Treble season, that threatened to burst our hearts at the seams, has a pendulum-like karmic snap back.
But pendulums also swing the other way. This club is headed for something great. Heartache is never interminable, never forever, and we have had much to deal with. And we will deal with this.
We don’t know who the new coach will be, but it will be announced this week. As Rosell said, “This is a very difficult blow to the Club, but we have overcome many difficult setbacks.” And this is true. Support the new coach, have confidence in the team and the players who are tasked with defending the club’s honor, and believe. Above all else, believe.
Anims, Coach, and fare thee well.