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When a Trash Talking Football Pool Is Used To Heal, By Chris Moreno
To an outsider, the Fall 2015 NFL Survivor Pool looked rough around the edges in every way – a group of smack-talking, winner-take-all disposed football fans from across the country emailing their weekly picks and keeping their eye on the prize. But those inside the circle knew that like its founder, Chuck Walkey, nothing could be further from the truth.
Chuck Walkey was described by those who knew him as the most genuine, down-to-earth, friendly, approachable person they had ever known. Sporting boyish good looks even into his 50s, an infectious and childlike curiosity, and an enthusiasm that spanned everything from golf (in which he had a single digit handicap) to music, education, cooking, politics, and most of all, his relationship with family and friends. Chuck inhaled life.
Despite being raised in affluent Duxbury, Massachusetts and receiving three advanced degrees, Chuck had no airs about him and was sincere almost to a fault. He treated the cab driver or caddie exactly the same way as the corporate CEO or his dearest friends. His patience was legendary and his good nature was the real thing. Think Jimmy Fallon, but with zero singing talent.
Chuck was passionate about his favorite Boston sports teams – the Red Sox, the Bruins and the Patriots – and from time to time he would revel in some good old fashioned trash talk with friends, acquaintances or even complete strangers. Chuck’s version of “trash talk,” however, was always accompanied by a twinkle in his eye. Far from being vicious or mean-spirited, it seemed more to communicate “Hey! Isn’t this fun? We can trash each other’s favorite teams and still be friends. How lucky are we?”
And so it was with this spirit of smack talk that many of his best friends embraced Chuck’s “Survivor” Pool. And the term “survivor” was lost on no one. For Chuck also had one last characteristic – an aggressive cancer called Multiple Myeloma (MM), which is formed by malignant plasma cells. MM is the same cancer currently being fought by retired NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.
On September 28, 2015, six weeks before he died, Chuck sent out an email to his friends and family across the country announcing that he was forming the football pool. It cost just $20.00 to join and half the proceeds would go to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a cause “near and dear to me,” Chuck explained. The other half would go to the winner.
The other rules were simple:
Each week, participants could choose one team to win – no point spread. No one could choose any team more than once. Winners would “survive” and losers were – according to Chuck – “done.”
Personally, I knew the pool was going to prove to be a lot of fun as soon as I saw some of the entry names appearing in the spreadsheet that Chuck shared each week, including “Cardinals Suck,” “P*ss on Carolina” and “Mets Own NY” (yes, this was a football pool but the Mets were in the World Series).
At the end of the first week of the pool, which was actually Week 4 of the NFL schedule, Chuck sent out an email to all of us along with “detail” and “summary” spreadsheets so we could follow along and see exactly where we each stood in the pool.
After one week, 105 of the original 135 entries had “survived.”
One participant sent a group e-mail suggesting that, “perhaps the Ryan Family would be more comfortable in a Volleyball Survivor Pool, rather than a Football Pool.”
That email was met by this retort: “I believe you are disparaging the female contingent of the Ryan family. There has to be a decent attorney on this thread that I can consult with, right?
Chuck’s wife Deedee is an attorney.
Clearly it was “game on.” Perhaps deliberately, Chuck’s Survivor Pool was serving to reconnect old friends from his past and rekindle old regional rivalries between friends from college and throughout his life.
On October 22, along with the pool standings and spreadsheets, the group received the following update from Chuck:
“Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay. Been in and out of doctors’ visits all week. Everything’s fine.
Obviously things were not fine, but this was typical Chuck; deferring attention from himself and keeping things positive in the face of tragedy. Chuck would die just three weeks later.
A couple of days prior to Chuck’s passing, we all received the following email:
“Greetings all, Assistant Commissioner Deedee here. Attached are the latest pool updates. Get your pick in early – if you are picking the Thursday game I need the pick soon. Only 24 people left. The Saints took out a lot of you this week, including me!”
The pool was clearly continuing without missing a beat – just as Chuck would have wanted it. He had single handedly brought together his friends and family from all over the country to enjoy each other’s company and swap a bit of smack while honoring the memory of this wonderful person who held such a treasured spot in all our hearts.
Week 11 whittled the survivors down to just two: Brian Heelan, a trash-talking friend of Chuck’s from their days at Wake Forest University and Chuck’s mom, Joan Walkey.
Both Brian and Mrs. Walkey survived Week 11 so it was on to Week 12 in the NFL
The New England Patriots were facing the Philadelphia Eagles at home and were heavily favored. Brian, having not used his “Patriots” pick thus far as he hated them and let everyone know it, sent the following email to the group:
“I take no pleasure in choosing Chuck’s beloved team to finally bring the hammer down on Mamma Walkey this week.”
Brian had chosen Chuck’s favorite and heavily favored team to finish off Chuck’s own Mom – brutal.
Prior to his death, Chuck had met with some friends and as he walked out the door, he turned and said prophetically, “and by the way, the winner of the pool better have the last name ‘Walkey.’”
That result, regardless of whether our dear departed friend demanded it or not, now seemed highly unlikely.
Then, as if through some divine Chuck Walkey intervention, a funny thing happened.
The Eagles upset the Patriots, handing New England an extremely rare home loss and thus making Chuck’s mom Joan Walkey the winner of the Survivor Pool.
Of course, Mrs. Walkey donated her “winnings” to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. When added to the 50% that was already dedicated to the foundation, the total donation was over $10,000.
Chuck had created this “survivor” football pool to bring old friends together, to perhaps teach us what is important in life and to raise money “to fight this horrible disease,” as Chuck’s Mom wrote to us all in an email after the pool ended.
But what of the trash talk?
Part of the joy of being a sports fan is to talk some smack about our favorite team’s rivals. It is a rite of passage. An American past time.
Of course none of these rival teams really do “suck.” They are all blessed with amazing athletes who perform at a level us sports fans can only imagine. The organizations also give generously to various charities each year.
But cancer… cancer really does suck.
The idea that this disease could take such a wonderful human being from loved ones left here on Earth is nothing short of criminal.
In these uncertain times of polarized politics and so much hatred being spewed around the world, perhaps we can embrace the one thing that we all agree on – cancer sucks.
If you enjoyed reading about Chuck’s life and the pool, perhaps you could find it in your heart during this Holiday Season to give a few bucks to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) in Chuck’s memory.
Feel free to include a “Cancer Sucks” note as a loving tribute to our friend.
Donations can be made to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation by following this link:
Read more about Chuck Walkey’s life here: