- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

They came seeking comfort in Dan Turk's memory at the Church of Christ in Great Falls yesterday.

He was too young to go, too full of life, just 11 months removed from his last game in the NFL, and the fragility of it all, of life, was tugging on them in a hard way.

He was a husband and father, and he had so much to do in the years ahead, so much promise to fulfill, a new life to build until a cruel companion, cancer, joined him in April.

They wanted to understand. They wanted to come to terms with it in some small way, difficult as this was against the thoughts of won't be. He won't grow old with his wife, Peggy. He won't see his 7-year-old daughter, Sara, graduate from high school. Why him? Why now in his 38th year? Couldn't it wait?

It was said Dan learned to find pleasure in the small things in his final months. Once, after returning home from the hospital following an intensive round of chemotherapy, he thought it was pretty special to watch his daughter eat oatmeal.

Dale Gifford, the pastor who came to know Turk while he was with the Raiders in California, said Turk met death with the same gusto and fervor he displayed in the NFL cathedrals across the country.

"Bring it on," Turk said in his final days as death waited outside the door to his room.

Then they prayed together.

Even as his body betrayed him, Turk was feisty, scrapping to the end, befitting for a player nicknamed the "Scrapper" in his schoolboy days.

Turk was the skinny kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Milwaukee, who became the dominant male figure in the family after the father left the household. He was only 9 years old at the time, yet he was the source of strength and inspiration for his two brothers, Tony and Matt.

"He was my brother," Tony said. "He also was my hero."

Dan encouraged Matt to pursue his NFL dreams. He might have been the only person who believed that Matt could make a living as a punter in the NFL. They would practice day after day, with Dan snapping the ball and Matt punting it.

Matt held odd jobs in those days. He was a bartender, a roofer and a mover. He was chasing a long shot after two failed attempts to make the NFL, first with the Packers and then the Rams, trying to perfect the skill that had served him well at the little-known University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Maybe it was time to become a teacher, he thought. No, the older brother would say. Keep practicing. The older brother believed as no one else believed, and eventually the belief resulted in three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl for Matt.

Dan had that way about him. Stand up to the challenge, he would say. Push. Now push harder. That is what he did.

"He was always telling me to stick up for myself," Shar Pourdanesh said. "I called him the instigator. I'd get done talking to him and charge into Norv Turner's office."

Dan was the 6-foot-4 skinny kid who built himself into a 290-pound offensive lineman. He lifted weights with an unthinkable amount of purpose, and if the truth be known, he hated to lift weights.

That was one of the small pleasures he could embrace in life after football. He never would have to hoist another barbell, never have to bench another weight, never have to be stronger than the other guy.

He was not the most gifted lineman in the NFL. He wasn't even the best football player in his family. That distinction went to Tony, older by 11 months, who, in his words, lacked his brother's clarity and convictions.

Dan and Tony would toss the football back and forth in the bedroom they shared as youths while plotting their futures in professional football.

"We were as close as close gets," Tony said.

There was that time, back at James Madison High School in Milwaukee, when Dan left the game with a separated shoulder and Tony caught the game-winning two-point conversion pass in triple overtime. That one was for him, Tony said.

So they had their memories of Dan, and they had pieces of his spirit. They hugged and cried and did their best to cope, family and friends alike.

He was too young and now forever young.

A framed photograph of Dan in his Raiders uniform stood at the bottom of the podium.

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