Dan Vickerman was the guy you wanted next to you.
Hard as nails, uncompromising and a proven winner. When "Vicks" played for your team, your team mostly got up.
He was that guy. Though he rarely ran onto a field first, Vickerman was a true leader of men. He threw himself into every contest with such commitment, teammates were carried too, often without choice.
But like many of the truly tough men in sport, Vickerman was anything but off the field. He was a quiet, humble guy with a parched-dry wit and a lens on life that saw him give up a Wallabies career while in his prime to study for three years at Cambridge.
Indeed, such was Vickerman's genial normality, the only thing that gave him away as a footballer was his need to stoop under door frames. Vickerman was 204cm tall but never looked down on anyone.
Vickerman will be fondly remembered by all that knew him, whether they be ex-teammates, friends, work colleagues or the hundreds of thousands of fans who breathed easier seeing the big unit trot out in Wallabies, NSW or Brumbies colours.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Vickerman moved to Australia in his late teens to pursue studies and a football career. He was a promising footballer but when asked later why he didn't get booed as a Wallaby by Springbok fans like Clyde Rathbone did, Vickerman said: "He's just a better player and they are a bit more dirty that they lost him than me".
That was in 2005. A few weeks earlier Wallabies coach Eddie Jones had called Vickerman "the best player in Super Rugby."
Jones was Vickerman's first big fan. He signed him to the Brumbies in 2001, and gave him a Test debut in 2002. He played in the Wallabies' World Cup squad by the end of 2004 - after he'd moved to NSW - Vickerman was a first-choice Wallaby lock.
With Vickerman on board and running the line out, NSW's forward pack powered them through a successful era.
"There were certain guys that you look around the changeroom and you see and you are thankful that are you running out alongside them, and Vicks was one of those guys," ex-Waratahs skipper Phil Waugh said.
"When you saw him there in the same playing strip as you, you had full confidence knowing he was behind you."
The Waratahs made two Super Rugby finals in the next five seasons, and Vickerman played almost every Test for the Wallabies until the middle of 2008 when suddenly ... he walked away.
At the height of his earning power, the then-26-year-old decided to hit the books. Vickerman was accepted into Cambridge University to read a three-year degree in Land Economy.
The happiest people upon hearing that news were his rivals.
"It was an opportunity that presented itself and going to one of the Oxbridge universities, you don't want to look back on those types of experiences and say, 'Geez, I wish I had of done that while I had the chance'," Vickerman told the Daily Telegraph last year
He captained Cambridge to a win in the Varsity match over Oxford in 2009 and the footy bug never fully went away.
Vickerman kept training in his local park through the dark London winters and midway through 2011 after returning home, was convinced to dig the boots out again. After only a few games for the Waratahs, Robbie Deans gleefully rushed Vickerman back into his Wallabies team.
A month later, Australia beat New Zealand in Brisbane to win the Tri-Nations.
Talking to an Australian official post-game, one All Black said of Vickerman: "Mate, why did you have to bring him back?"
Vickerman played his 63rd and last Test in the World Cup semi-final in New Zealand before leg injuries forced him into retirement in 2012.
Life after footy saw Vickerman living in Sydney, bending though the doorways of CBD offices in the property world, and being a loving husband and doting dad.
The sadness that has now fallen befits a life of enormous value, and the loss of a good man.
"He was a quiet guy, with a massive heart," Waugh said. "All of us are going to miss him dearly."
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