When the Cleveland Browns take the field on Monday night to face the New York Jets, it promises to be an emotional game.
That will in part be because of the back-and-forth between Browns’ receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Jets’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and the comments of safety Demarious Randall, but for Cleveland it will be much deeper than rivalry with or dislike of an opposing coach.
‘She is my why’
Reserve defensive tackle Chris Smith announced earlier Monday that he will play against New York, just days after the death of his girlfriend, Petara Cordero.
“I am going to play tonight because it is something, she would want me to do,” Smith said in a statement, via cleveland.com. “She would want me to keep doing what I love and stay strong. I play for her tonight. She is my why.”
Smith and Cordero welcomed their daughter, Haven, last month. Cordero and the infant traveled up to Cleveland from Charlotte last week to visit Smith, and the couple went out on Tuesday night since Browns players had an off day Wednesday.
Early Wednesday morning, one of the tire’s on Smith’s sports car blew out on a Cleveland highway, causing the car to veer; they struck the center median. The couple exited the vehicle and were standing on the shoulder of the highway when a 47-year-old female driver struck the passenger door and then Cordero.
The woman who struck Cordero told police she had been drinking, but no charges have been filed as of yet; investigators were waiting for results of the toxicology report.
Police said Smith was not impaired at the time of the accident.
‘It would be the best thing for him’
Smith, a sixth-year veteran who is reportedly beloved by teammates, returned to practice with the Browns on Saturday.
Players like Randall, who has since been ruled out for Monday’s game due to a concussion, and linebacker Christian Kirksey said they would dedicate the game to Smith; Kirksey said he wouldn’t be surprised if the entire team did.
While teammates supported Smith whether he decided to play or not, Devaroe Lawrence believed it might be good for his fellow defensive end.
“Personally, I would say it would be the best thing for him,” Lawrence said on Friday. “Just keep your mind off of things. You’re around your peers. You’re around your teammates, your family, your coaches. Guys are family, so I think it would be good for him, and I’m pretty sure he wants to.”
Cleveland rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens visited Smith at his home on Wednesday, and has watched players rally around the 27-year-old over the last few days.
“When you have a bunch of guys who are close and continuing to move in the same direction, it affects everybody because you end up caring about the person,” Kitchens said Thursday. “Funny thing happens when you start playing this game of football, you think you’re just playing and coaching, and everything is fine until life hits. Then when life hits, it is kind of a reality check.”
Last Tuesday, Smith told cleveland.com how blessed and grateful he was to have Cordero and Haven in his life and how happy he was.
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