- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Peggy Turk, the widow, was not moved by the team's moment of silence before the game Sunday.

Her husband, Dan, passed away at their home in Ashburn, Va., Saturday night after putting up the brave fight since the cancer was discovered last April.

"I don't want to read how they care now," Peggy says. "Where were they when it mattered, when it would have meant something to my husband, when a visit by his ex-teammates would have picked up his spirits? They didn't care, and that's fine, but don't tell me they care now, just because their comments might look good in the newspapers."

Peggy does not understand. They supposedly were Dan's friends, many of them anyway, bonded by the brotherhood of the gridiron. They were like family. Didn't they know what her husband was up against? Of course they knew. Didn't they know there are bigger things in life than the outcome of a football game? They pretended to know. Dan was a husband, a father, a 38-year-old man, young, really, except by NFL standards, fighting the loneliest battle of his life.

Cory Raymer would stop by the house to check on Dan. He was the one member of the team who would do that. They would swap stories. They would laugh. Dan appreciated that.

Charley Casserly, who was dumped by the team after last season, called the Turk household last summer. If there's anything you need, he told the Turks, just let him know. That meant something to Dan and Peggy, too. That showed class.

"That organization has had no class since Dan Snyder took over," Peggy says. "There's a thing called human decency, and that organization showed none.

"You can walk to the practice facility from our home. We're just off Waxpool Road. It would have taken nothing for any of them to stop by our home and visit with Dan. But not one gesture. Nothing. Not a card. Not a signed football. It's sickening. But now they care. Tell me how I'm supposed to feel about that. There are a lot of so-called Christian men on that football team, and not one of them ever called our home. But now they care. Right."

It was no secret, Dan's condition. He came down with a cough last December. He did not think much about it in the beginning. It was just a cough. He was a professional football player, as tough as they come, and he thought the cough would go away, as coughs normally do. But as the months passed, the cough grew progressively worse.

Go see a doctor, Peggy would say. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Dan would say. He was a football man, and a football man can lick a silly, old cough.

But this was no ordinary cough, and there were other things, too, small things, and finally, in April, he went to see a doctor. He was sick. That much was certain. How sick soon became apparent after he underwent a battery of tests at the hospital.

An eight-inch tumor, malignant, was attached to his heart. He had other tumors in his chest as well, one the size of a softball. Doctors wondered how he had made it through the season in that condition. The bad snap against Tampa Bay? You have to be kidding. What was he even doing on a football field in his condition? That he persevered was a testament to his resolve.

He didn't tell anyone about the changes his body was undergoing. Sometimes his heart would race in the games. That never had happened to him in the past. Sometimes he would get lightheaded, as if he were about to black out. That was the work of the eight-inch tumor by his heart.

He didn't complain. That's how professional football players are conditioned. They are taught to play through the bumps and bruises, to ignore their body's warning signs. Here's a pill, there's a shot. Your team needs you.

So Dan ignored his body the way he had ignored it all his life. Maybe it was age, he thought. Maybe this is how you feel after 15 seasons in the NFL, after you have spent a lifetime donating pieces of your body to the cause, starting back in high school in Milwaukee.

Maybe this was the price of being in the trenches all those years. He didn't know. He wasn't a doctor, only a football player nearing the end of a long and productive career, and what a career it had been. What a time.

He went to Drake, then transferred to Wisconsin, where he became an all-Big Ten center. He joined the Steelers in 1985 as a fourth-round pick, was traded to the Buccaneers in 1987 and signed with the Raiders as a free agent in 1989. He landed in Washington in 1997, uniting with his younger brother, Matt, a Pro Bowl punter. That was something special, the long snapper and punter being brothers. They really were family. They were not the contrived kind peddled by teams, like the local one, for public consumption. Some family, Peggy thought.

Peggy was with her husband to the end. She sat with him, cared for him, talked to him and held him. She saw this 6-foot-4, 290-pound man, once so strong and seemingly invincible, wither away.

You love someone so much. How do you cope? You cling to your faith and try to stay strong. That was what Dan expected. Be strong. Be there for our 7-year-old daughter Sara. He wanted no pity, just the strength to beat this awful disease.

Peggy would sift through the insurance papers each week and then get on the phone with the insurance company to crunch the numbers. The paperwork was her only link to the team. Someone with the team would highlight in magic marker the Turks' portion of the payments. That felt wrong to Peggy. Maybe she was being petty, but as she saw it, someone with the team was taking the time to go through the bills.

So, in a way, she thought, that was the team's form of communication with Dan. To the team, he was a name and a series of numbers on an insurance claim. He was a business item. To Peggy, it was personal; it cut deep.

"They could take the time to do that but not take the time to acknowledge him as a human being," Peggy says. "I know I sound bitter because I am bitter. I lived it. Do they know how much it would have meant to Dan if they had let him know they were behind him, or were they too busy feeling sorry for themselves because they lost a few games? I saw what my husband went through, and I saw how it hurt him.

"My neighbors and friends in Ashburn, God bless them. I want to thank them. And Cory. Al Davis would check up on us. A few of Dan's ex-teammates flew across the country to spend time with him. But the players next door, two minutes from our home, they were too busy. They didn't care.

"Dan played here three seasons. How hard would it have been for Norv Turner to pick up the phone? Terry Robiskie, he was with the Raiders in Dan's five seasons there. Did he call? No."

Peggy, in her grief, does not care to understand what it takes to compete in the NFL. The season did not go as planned for the team, and perhaps Dan was perceived to be a potential "distraction."

In the larger context, the big picture, one man's life-and-death struggle was nothing compared to the disappointment being felt by the Boy Owner, the coaches and players. My God, they went 8-8, and the sun barely managed to rise from the east after each loss.

Peggy will get through this. She has said what she has said, and she feels her words to the bone. She has reveled in football's passion, experiencing the joys and heartaches along the way, but her final journey with Dan was deeper than a game. It was real life.

We all end up there, one way or the other, and that is a test of character, too, the real test to Peggy, and one the team did not pass.

Dan was brave to the end, she says, and she tried to be brave with him.

He passed away in their home with a smile on his face.

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