Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

For Wess and Daryl: Mourning the Friends We’ve Never Met

Posted on 8 February 2021 by Mitchell Marshall

Chris Wesseling and Daryl Grove were sports writers and podcast hosts. So it might sound a bit silly to have been moved to tears time after time as I read what so many across the world had to say about their lives when cancer took them away.

I’ve only ever heard them through my headphones, but they were the voices of the friends I’d toil away countless nights with at the pub.

On Saturday when the tweet came across about Wess it was deja vu as the crushing emotions struck just as in October when we mourned Daryl.

An American and an Englishman who each brought the joy of their respective brands of ‘football’ across the Atlantic. Too kind. Too young. Too talented to be gone so soon.

Their passing has affected so many, solidifying what incredible people, presenters, and friends they were.

I am not qualified to eulogize these men and the countless tweets that describe the light they brought to this world are more than I could hope to convey; but I want to give a glimpse at their stories and maybe share that light with those who don’t know them yet.

It starts with two podcasts: Around the NFL and The Total Soccer Show were underdog shows built on the chemistry of voices that you wanted to spend time with week after week no matter the subject.

Around the NFL

If you’ve ever tuned in to Sky Sports coverage of the NFL you’ve probably heard Niel Reynolds bring in the “Room Full of Heroes”. AKA four NFL.com writers who started the Around the NFL podcast (ATN).

For a long time that podcast was not technically part of the job for Wess, Dan Hanzus, Gregg Rosenthal and Marc Sessler. They had to sneak away to record and their bosses, often called Shadowy League Figures, required one of them to be at the news desk at all times. Although, in the beginning, the heroes were never quite sure if the NFL knew they existed at all.

The show eventually became too big to ignore landing the heroes time on television and bringing them into the limelight they never asked for. That is probably what made it so magical.

They specifically built a great following here in the UK doing sold out live shows during the last three editions of The London Games. Wess called that embrace one of the most rewarding opportunities of his career.

Chris Wesseling, 46

First diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May of 2017, Wess eventually went into remission before the disease took hold again in 2020.

In the short span of time he married his wife Lakisha (a Digital Content Editor for the NFL) and in May 2020 had a son, Linc.

He was a well-read former postman from Cincinnati known for his wit and clever references from outside of sports. He came to NFL.com from Rotoworld, a pioneer in NFL writing on analytics and fantasy.

All through chemotherapy treatment he appeared on ATN as much as he could and was vehemently outspoken about his hatred of cancer and his support for all of those afflicted with it.

His final podcast appearance was 18 January 2021, the next day he went to the hospital and never came out.

Since Lakisha posted about his passing on 6 February 2021, the tributes have flooded in non-stop. It has been incredible the amount of lives he has affected in the world.

His openness about his fight and his evident bond with his three co-hosts makes me realise ‘just talking football’ can quickly become family. Hear his friends reflect on his genius, his writing, and his stubbornness here.

The Total Soccer Show

A Wolves fan and the ultimate optimist hailing from the West Midlands, Daryl co-hosted the Total Soccer Show (TSS) in one form or another with Taylor Rockwell from 2009 until his fight with cancer ended in October 2020.

A few times each week two best friends let us all in on their conversations about the latest happenings in the world of football.

They discussed everything from Champions League to The US men’s national team and anything in between, thousands of podcasts exist to talk about that same subject, but none with a spirit like theirs.

TSS began as a half hour radio show on Thursday afternoons and blossomed into a five-episode-a-week podcast with enough listeners to become a full-time job.

Daryl Grove, 40

In January of 2019 Daryl was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Like Wesseling he continued to podcast as much as possible and felt like he could beat it every step of the way.

Last October I refreshed my podcast feeds to see a new six minute episode titled “Goodbye, to Our Friend.” I have no idea how Taylor recorded that audio, breaking the news to tens of thousands of fans of the show.

Daryl had met his American wife Shannon at university in Dublin before they settled in Richmond, Virginia.

At first feeling like an outsider, he met Rockwell playing amateur football in the Central Virginia Soccer Association. The sports community became his haven and he never looked back.

The podcast was known for a novel idea, the hosts never shouted at one another or sought out disagreement. Daryl started every episode by saying ‘Hello and welcome!’ with more English cheer than I have heard in the last six months in London.

After a guest would leave or simply while closing the show with Taylor, Daryl would always say ‘Thank you for talking to me today’ and you could tell he truly meant it.

From Wolverhampton and London to MLS and US Soccer, the football community paid homage to one of the best we could’ve called a friend. The GoFundMe page for his family has raised nearly $167,000.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of Daryl’s legacy, read more here.

You didn’t even know them

Actually. That is the beauty of it. I think I really did.

Many non-sports fans will tell you emotional investment in games on the television is a silly endeavour.

Why are you yelling at a screen when they can’t hear you?

Why are you laughing so hard at a podcast with people who don’t know you exist?

That is the relationship of the podcast medium. Authentic people who share your passion for the game and know the heart-pounding of a true fan can become part of your experience just like watching a match with your brother.

I would’ve loved to meet Wess at a live show last October, before Covid ruined the NFL International series.

As I cover the American footballers in Europe, I would’ve had no greater honor than being welcomed onto the Total Soccer Show.

I won’t get to meet these guys and that is a damn shame.

But I got to spend hundreds of hours being educated, inspired, and entertained by them.

If we can cherish people who affect us like that, we are the lucky ones.

Fuck cancer.