I have never doubted for one minute that when athletes say, "Hi, Mom!" from the bench, or after a victory, it's far more than a cliche. It comes from the heart, and for many of those players, it's an acknowledgement of the one person who helped them the most through their journeys to the top. While I was far too athletically inept to reach the highest bar in any major (or minor) sport, I know where those guys are coming from.
As the only child of a single mother, I can't tell you the number of times I've spoken with football players over the last decade about this. So many young men of my generation and after grew up with their mothers as the primary guiding light. Father figures would have to come from other places after the actual fathers bailed for any number of reasons. When the subject of "Mom" comes up, the toughest glass-eating linebacker will go soft. You'll hear a quieter voice, and you'll occasionally see tears. There is no repayment large enough to compensate those amazing women for the things they did -- very often under ridiculously trying circumstances. And the biggest guys know it best.
My mother, Ann Farrar, was a singer, and a great one. She sang with the Metropolitan Opera, and the Roger Wagner Chorale. It was during her time with the Met that she "won" my dad in a card game. They were together just long enough to have me. Then, Mom wanted to return to the states, and Dad wanted to remain in Europe. And that was that. The cord was cut, and we never heard from my father again.
Like so many of those football players, I was guided by a mother who had to make do. It wasn't always easy, to say the least, but we always got by. And she always made sure I didn't lack what I needed. My embryonic (and ultimately disastrous) football aspirations? Bam. The uniform showed up somehow. I wanted to write about the game? Bam. Any other half-baked scheme of mine? Bam. Whatever I needed, I somehow got.
Through my time as a football guy, my Mom -- who preferred tennis when she was a young girl -- became a football fanatic. Not only did she watch the games, she peppered me with questions. Why is this happening? Why is that happening? In recent years, I'd bet she could identify a zone blitz better than half the guys on TV.
Clearly, she didn't go to all that trouble because football was so very fascinating to her. She wanted to know and share what I was doing, especially when I somehow managed to climb the ladder in this business.
Football was among the last and best things we shared. The last time we watched television together, it was the most recent AFC and NFC championship games in her hospital room. I was perfectly happy to turn the games off and let her rest, but she insisted. "Bring your laptop," she told me the day before. "You'll need to write about these things."
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, I got the call.
After months of failing health, my beautiful and brilliant mother had passed away. I got the call at 4:30 a.m. ET from a hotel room in Indianapolis, where I was covering the Super Bowl for this very website. When I left Seattle a few days before, I knew it might be the last time I would see her. I had asked friends to drop by with little messages from me so she'd know I was there with her as much as I could be, but that was only after I had told her I don't know how many times that I would scrap the whole trip to stay with her if that's what she preferred.
What she told me every time -- and among her last words to me: "Get your ass on that plane."
True to form, to her very last day. I got my ass on that plane at least knowing that after so many false starts in my own life, she'd seen me reach a level I'd never reached before -- that all her support and encouragement had finally paid off.
I wrote a letter to her, which I read to her on our last day together. I wanted to say how grateful I was for her strength, her compassion, her endless love and support. I tried to express my knowledge that everything good in me came from her. I tried to tell her how much it meant to me that she had been my very best friend for so many years, but I do not possess the talent to speak those enormous and infinite things into the air. One suspects that had I hired the best writers in history to put that letter together, they would have fallen short as well.
For some things, there simply are no words.
I would like to impart some advice to everyone reading this today: If your Mom is still here, give her a call. Go to see her. No matter what your last words to her were, or hers to you. No matter whether you think she doesn't understand you (she does -- much more than you could ever possibly know). No matter what.
Get over there, or pick up the phone, and start it off this way: "Hi, Mom!"
Because when there's no reply, the silence is deafening beyond all imagination. No matter how big you are.