Don Banks, who grew up playing youth baseball in St. Petersburg and started a distinguished career covering the NFL at the then-St. Petersburg Times, died after covering the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton, Ohio over the weekend. He was 57.
It was his first assignment covering the NFL for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and his first byline appeared in Sunday’s newspaper.
Banks was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Canton that morning, reported the Review-Journal. Paramedics were called, but he was later pronounced dead.
“Don was one of the all-time good guys,’’ said former Times sports editor Mike Stephenson. “He was dedicated to his craft and treated everyone with respect whether they were a famous athlete, or a low-level reporter. I’m devastated for his family and friends and hold them in my thoughts.’’
Banks first broke into journalism as a sports clerk at the Times while attending the University of South Florida. His first byline appeared in the newspaper in 1982.
In 1990, he started covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his hometown newspaper After 15 years at the now-Tampa Bay Times, he eventually switched teams and newspapers, moving to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to become that paper’s Vikings beat writer.
His profile grew nationally when he was hired by Sports Illustrated in 2000, and for more than 16 years he wrote the popular “Snap Judgments’’ column every Sunday night during the NFL season. It had to be up by 7 p.m., before the Sunday night game started.
In 2016, Banks left Sports Illustrated. After a stint at The Athletic and Patriots.com, he was recently lured back to newspapers as the Review-Journal started a push to increase its NFL coverage in anticipation of the Raiders’ impending move to Las Vegas next year.
Banks is survived by his wife Alissa and sons Matthew, 28, and Micah, 21, from a previous marriage.
“He was re-energized and so invigorated by the opportunity to work (for the Review-Journal),” his wife told the Review-Journal. “He couldn’t wait to get started. It was the happiest I have seen him in quite some time.
“He was supposed to arrive home in Boston on Sunday morning. … He went very peacefully.”
“Words can’t express the depth of sadness the Review-Journal staff feels for Don’s family and friends,” executive editor Glenn Cook said in a story Sunday. “Beyond a sportswriting institution, Don was a dedicated husband and father and a class act. No NFL journalist commanded more respect. The sport has lost one of its finest storytellers.”
Friends, fellow sportswriters and other NFL figures reacted to the news of his passing on Twitter: