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NFL coach's tragic death a reminder beauty often lost when life imitates art
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SPORTS MEDICINE

NFL coach's tragic death a reminder beauty often lost when life imitates art

Jets Football

New York Jets passing game specialist Gregg Knapp, left, explains a drill to Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on June 2. Knapp tragically died after a bike accident on July 17.

"Heaven Can Wait" is one of my favorite movies. A romantic comedy starring — and written, directed and produced by — Warren Beatty, it was a best-picture nominee in 1978.

In a word, it was charming. Perhaps what drew me most to the production, though, was one of the main supporting characters being an athletic trainer. The late Jack Warden played Max Corkle, the head athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Rams. Corkle and Beatty's character, quarterback Joe Pendleton, are best friends.

Now late in an injury-marred career, Pendleton is healthy again — largely thanks to Corkle — and on the verge of becoming the starting quarterback for the Rams, who are favored to reach the Super Bowl.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

Against Corkle's advice, Pendleton goes for a bike ride in the hills above Los Angeles. After entering a tunnel, he meets up with a camper truck. At least his guardian angel — played by Buck Henry, who also co-directed with Beatty — thought he was going to collide with the rig and pulls Pendleton's soul from his body an instant before the mishap.

Upon his arrival at an afterlife way station, Pendleton insists a mistake has been made.

And if he had not been correct, there would have been no more movie. The remainder of the screenplay takes us through a variety of plot twists as Pendleton's guardian angel's supervisor, Mr. Jordan — played masterfully by the late James Mason, helps Pendleton fulfill his destiny.

A box office hit, as well as a critical one with three stars from Roger Ebert, the remake — "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941) — was a financial success, too. It earned $98.8M after costing $15M to make.

No wonder then that Beatty tried striking gold again with another remake in 1994. “Love Affair,” is a faithful rendering of a 1939 movie by the same name, starring Charles Boyer, and of “An Affair to Remember” (1957), starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.

While football does not play a central role in Beatty’s “Love Affair,” the game is ever-present in the periphery. Beatty’s character, Mike Gambril, is a retired Rams quarterback — the movie includes footage swiped from “Heaven Can Wait” — who went on to be an NFL backfield coach but is now trying to make it as a sportscaster. By the time the movie ends, he has returned to coaching at the small college level and is entertaining an offer from the New York Giants to be their quarterback coach or offensive coordinator.

Like his earlier film, this effort by Beatty has a certain charm and features Katherine Hepburn in her final cinematic appearance. However, the production came nowhere near striking gold. Despite three stars from Ebert, the movie flopped at the box office, pulling in only $18M to cover the $60M in production costs. Go figure.

I was reminded of both features earlier this month because their plots intersected and came to life, in a way, with deadly results. On July 17, New York Jets passing game specialist Gregg Knapp, 58, was riding his bike near his home in Danville, California, when he was struck by a car in a busy intersection. He would never regain consciousness and died five days later.

A day after Knapp’s mishap, former NBA great Ray Allen was on his daily bike ride when he noticed a car approaching from behind. Keeping his eyes to the rear, he did not see a tree branch in the roadway ahead. The next thing he knew, he was airborne. An emergency room visit ensued but Allen was more fortunate, released the same day with no more than scrapes and bruises. He credited his helmet with preventing more serious injury.

Bicycles are great vehicles to better health but their sharing busy streets with motor vehicles is an all-too-regular recipe for disaster. In the inadvertent skirmishes that are bound to take place, the motor vehicle wins every time. Government leaders ignore this reality as they continue to superimpose bike lanes on city streets.

In a segment of HBO Real Sports back in 2015, Bryant Gumbel reported that, during the previous three years, there had been a 20% increase in the number of bikers killed on American streets. “On average,” he said, “more than two a day.”

Thus, the title of his segment: “Bike Wars."

Not only are bikers injured by motorists, but pedestrians get clobbered by cyclists, too — also to deadly effect.

Meanwhile, nothing is so rotten in the state of Denmark. In 2014, according to Gumbel, there was one bike-related fatality in Copenhagen. Why? The locals and their leaders committed to commuting by bike more than 40 years ago and rather than painting bike lanes, they built them extensively with barriers to separate car from bicycle. Some routes diverge altogether, adjacent to no particular motorway.

In the United States, we call those bike paths. They criss-cross the suburbs and are used for leisure and exercise, more often on weekends. That is precisely the problem, according to two American expatriates in Copenhagen interviewed by Gumbel. They insisted Americans need routes that will take them to and from work.

No doubt, daily bike riding would make us slimmer, heart healthier and less likely to get cancer and diabetes. However, Americans aren’t likely to give up their love affair with the car any time soon. For that to happen, they would first need to live closer to where they work.

According to a 2010 study published by the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University, only 49% of Hoosiers lived less than 10 miles from where they work and nearly one quarter lived 25 miles or more from their job. Other sources have revealed similar numbers in Illinois.

Even if proximity were ideal, in this part of the country, weather would remain an issue. Riding a bike to work regularly during a Region winter simply isn’t realistic.

Regardless of one’s reason for riding a bike, though, the primary place the activity should occur is on a designated bike path, and certainly not on a busy roadway. Heaven can wait.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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