Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos addresses the media on February 1, 2016 in San Jose, CaliforniaDemaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos addresses the media on February 1, 2016 in San Jose, California (AFP Photo/Thearon W. Henderson)
San José (United States) (AFP) - When Katina Stuckey Smith settles into her seat at the billion-dollar Levi's Stadium to watch her son Demaryius Thomas play for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday she will be making up for lost time.
Two years ago, when Thomas scored a touchdown for the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII despite playing almost the entire game with a separated shoulder, his mother was languishing in a federal prison cell in Florida.
Smith, 42, has missed almost the entirety of her son's football career. In 1999 she was jailed with Thomas's grandmother for running a crack-cocaine operation from the family home and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
She rejected a plea deal which would have seen her given a lesser sentence if she testified against her mother, who eventually received two life terms.
In fact had it not been for President Barack Obama, there is a good chance Smith may never have seen her son play.
Smith was released last year after being named among 46 people serving prison time for drug offenses whose sentences were deemed unduly harsh by the Obama administration.
Smith saw her son play live for the first time last month during the Broncos postseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers -- leaving Mile High Stadium in Denver clutching a game ball that Peyton Manning had given to Thomas specifically to give to her.
Sunday's Super Bowl extravaganza against the Carolina Panthers will be only the second time Smith has seen Thomas play in person.
"She'll be here, she'll basically be proud because of all the ups and downs we went through and still be able to come to the Super Bowl, play in the NFL coming out of a small town, she'll be very proud," Thomas told reporters at a media event here.
- 'It means the world' -
The star wide receiver admitted he was nervous about how his mother would cope with the occasion after so many years in relative isolation.
"She's probably nervous right now. It's her second time flying and then just being around all the people," Thomas said. "She hasn't been around a lot of people, especially like it'll be right now for the Super Bowl. I think she'll be fine, but it'll be a little different."
Thomas, 28, admitted he is still pinching himself that his mother, who was arrested when he was 11, is now a free woman.
"It means a lot. It's her second time coming to see me play. It kind of means the world," he said.
"Loss of words because I never thought I'd be in this situation where my mom would be able to come out and see me play. Now that she can, she's just as excited."
Smith's words of encouragement from prison after Thomas's ill-fated Super Bowl debut two years ago -- when the Broncos were demolished 43-8 by the rampant Seattle Seahawks -- were crucial in helping him bounce back.
"After the last Super Bowl, she just said 'Keep your head up. Everything's going to be okay. You're going to get another chance. Next time, you just take advantage of it and get the win,'" he revealed.
One of the first things Thomas did after his mother's release was purchase her a new home.
"I let her pick her own house in a neighborhood right now to get used to it," Thomas said.
"I don't know if she really wants to be around a lot of land with nobody around. Being gone that long and then just coming into a lot of land, I think it's kind of creepy for some people."