Tom Kowalski, former MLive Detroit Lions writer, inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame
When Patti Moore saw Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes and several players at her little brother Tom’s wedding in the late 1980s, she realized he wasn’t just another sports reporter.
“When we saw that we knew they respected him,” Moore said.
Tom Kowalski covered the Lions for over 30 years, providing information and insights that made him one of the leading authorities on the NFL team until his death from a sudden heart attack in 2011 at the age of 51.
Kowalski was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Friday in a ceremony at the MotorCity Hotel Casino Sound Board.
“It was his dream,” Moore said. “That’s what he wanted. That this is happening is incredible.
“We didn’t realize the impact he was having on people. When he passed away, we were receiving emails from all over the world. We were like, ‘Our Tom?’ He has always been our brother. I’m so proud of him, my whole family is. He’s up there watching it all, I’m sure.
Kowalski was hired by The Oakland Press in 1978 as a preparatory sports writer, shortly after graduating from Farmington High School. Although he did not have a college degree, his talent and work ethic promoted him to the rank of Lions in the early 1980s. He was hired by Booth Newspapers (now MLive) in the same capacity in 1997.
“Sports writing was his passion in the beginning, especially football,” Moore said.
Moore and her sister Carol Kowalski represented their brother at the MSHOF ceremony.
“He was one of the lucky ones, he was able to do whatever he wanted to do,” said Carol Kowalski. “It wasn’t work for him. He loved everything he did. I always used to say, ‘How can you write about Lions?’ He said: “Writing about Lions is a lot (harder) than writing about a winning team because anyone can write about a winner so I have to find other things to write about.” So proud of what he has done for himself.
Nicknamed “Killer” by his colleagues, Kowalski has covered a lot of losing teams. The Lions have won only one playoff game since 1957 and are one of the few teams to never make a Super Bowl.
“He always said it was a tough career and that he had to be one of the ones to come out on top,” Moore said. “Being (inducted into the MSHOF) shows he did it.”
Covering the Lions required personal sacrifice, including enjoying a traditional family Thanksgiving.
“He still had to go to the game and we couldn’t have dinner until he got there (at home),” Moore said. “So we would sit down, and we would wait, and we would wait, and sometimes it wouldn’t come until 9 or 10 o’clock, and it just came like a blast like nothing and we’re like ‘aaargh!’ But these are the things that ‘he would do because he worked so hard.
Kowalski spread to other media later in his career, heard regularly on the radio and providing analysis on Fox 2 Lions pre-game shows.
The Lions named the media room at their Allen Park training facility after Kowalski shortly after his death. In 2012, he was awarded the Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, awarded annually by the Professional Football Writers of America “for his long and distinguished reporting on professional football.”
Kowalski started a Christmas tradition at a bar in Keego Harbor, where all tips from the annual Christmas party were spent on buying gifts for underprivileged children.
After his death, friends established the Tom Kowalski Foundation (killercares.org), which benefits several children’s charities with fundraising events and raised $ 120,000 during its eighth annual Christmas Killers.
Kowalski was greeted by friends, family and football fans days after his death in a festive ceremony in the parking lot next to Cheli’s Chili Bar in Detroit.
“It was amazing,” Moore said. “People just come up to me and say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. Tom was a great guy. He was a sociable person.
–Former Detroit Lions wide receiver and Professional Football Hall of Fame member Calvin Johnson and former Detroit Pistons goaltender Chauncey Billups were inducted into the MSHOF on Friday in the professional athlete category.
Former NBA player and Detroit Country Day graduate Shane Battier, Olympic gold medalist gymnast Jordyn Wieber of DeWitt and former Central Michigan softball coach Margo Jonker were inducted into the amateur category.
Photographer Mary Schroeder, former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. and former Albion College and Okemos High School football coach Pete Schmidt completed the class.
The class was selected by current and former journalists, former state sports leaders and the public through online voting.
The Detroit Red Wings Grind Line – Kris Draper, Joe Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty – have been honored as Michigan Treasures. The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame also celebrated the Taylor North Little League World Series Championship team.
Following: Friends, fans and colleagues pay tribute to ‘Killer’