We all have these stashed away in the hinterlands of our minds…people we met on stories. Folks who for some reason embedded their very essence into our cells for some reason unknown to us or them.
Mickey Pfleger was one such with me. I only met him a few times, although I probably ran into him many times over the years without realizing it. That’s how it is with newsies. Casual eye contact is enough to make us more than acquaintances…but to become friends, it takes only a few words.
Mickey is gone now.
I’ve known for the past week…but it didn’t hit home until I visited his facebook page today and read the many, many comments.
You see, Mickey was a news photographer – the kind who freezes time. His specialty: sports. And that’s how I came our relationship became more than a passing nod in the field. He became the focus of a story I worked on in 2000.
Mikey was working the 49ers field, snapping away and grabbing the game action, when he was pummeled by tight end Tony Gonzalez. Yeah, that sideline action can be pretty brutal…one of the hazards of the biz.
Pfleger was knocked unconscious – and that’s when the miracle began. Were it not for this somewhat minor accident, Mickey would probably never have been sent to the hospital and gotten a CT scan of his brain. And he might have discovered – too late – that he had a brain tumor.
Irony. When you expect one outcome and something else occurs.
That collision on the field and hospital visit spared his life. In his own words:
“…I really believe that things happen for a reason.
I was supposed to be knocked out by Tony Gonzalez at the football game. I was supposed to go into a seizure while I was unconscious, so that Dr. Klint of the 49ers would tell the paramedics to tell the emergency room doctors to do a CT brain scan on me. I was supposed to be taken to San Francisco General Hospital and land in the hands of Dr. Martin Holland, an incredibly talented neurosurgeon.”
After an operation to remove the tumor, Mickey went on with his life, until an aggressive cancer did what a 49ers player couldn’t – taking him out of the game last Friday.
But within each of our minds…those who knew him will always remember that sweet smile and equally sweet demeanor. A gracious man who accepted his fate and moved on. Who shared his insight and photos freely and was even grateful to yet another news crew stumbling into his life for a brief time to extract his essence. And some of it stuck.
On Mikey’s facebook page, he leaves us his philosophy:
“Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”