After each of his four touchdowns last Sunday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott brought his right hand to his lips. He kissed his index finger. He tilted his head back. Then, Prescott looked up and pointed skyward.
To say the motion is muscle memory would simultaneously underemphasize how deeply Prescott has incorporated it into his life, and undervalue how meaningful a gesture it remains to him.
He cherishes every chance to honor his late mother, Peggy Prescott, who died of colon cancer at 52 years old on Nov. 3, 2013. Every chance to celebrate, mourn and navigate with her the milestones that have unfolded in the decade since Dak lost her.
Prescott has directed a kiss upstairs to celebrate after each of his 218 professional touchdowns, playoffs included; he pointed skyward, too, as he was carted off the field in 2020 after a gruesome compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle. When he jogs out onto the field before games? He briefly closes his eyes, kisses and points.
And when Prescott took the NFL Honors stage last February to accept the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, he was sure to “acknowledge the person who has had the biggest influence on my life: my mother, Peggy. My mother was and still is my moral compass.”
He capped the speech in the way that, by now, you might expect.
“God bless,” Prescott said as he began the skyward kiss-and-point. “Love you, mama.”
Dak Prescott concludes his NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year acceptance speech with trademark skyward kiss to his late mother, Peggy.
“Love you, Mama.” pic.twitter.com/6LrV7FI11D
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) February 10, 2023
Peggy Prescott’s final request of her youngest son was to transform the pain of her loss into the backbone of his motivation. Dak and his loved ones sometimes feel the weight of the responsibility to carry on her goals, dreams and expectations. But more often, they cling to the strength and mettle that she instilled in them, Prescott’s aunt, uncle, brother and friends told Yahoo Sports in a series of phone conversations this week.
Friday marks 10 years since Dak and his family lost their mother, sister, best friend and closest confidante to cancer. It also marks 10 years since Peggy began to continue — so palpably, so poignantly — to live on through Dak and his loved ones.
“I don’t think things happen by accident,” Dak said. “My point in that, is she said, ‘Allow me to be your story,’ and next thing you know, I’m the quarterback of the most [valuable] franchise in all of sports.
“I don’t think that’s by chance.”
Peggy Prescott's wit was as sharp as her work ethic
After 10 years telling a story in the absence of its protagonist, certain narratives unfold. Others fade to the backdrop. So who was Peggy Prescott?
Friends and family describe the Louisiana native as fierce, quick-witted, honest nearly to a fault and unendingly devoted to her three sons. She worked simultaneously at a Huddle House diner and a RaceTrac convenience store to make ends meet for Tad, Jace and Dak. Through Dak’s high school years, he and mom shared a room and a bed in their trailer park home.
“If people bother to learn [Dak’s] story and his background, sadly her story is too familiar,” Peggy’s sister, Valrie Gilbeaux, said this week by phone. “A struggling single mom trying to raise kids and all the struggles that go with it.”
But while her work-around-the-clock schedule cut into Peggy’s hours with her sons, it didn’t mute her energy. Peggy was the loud and direct mother in the football stands for her sons’ games, imploring defensive end Tad to “hit somebody” and offensive lineman Jace to “put them on their back … stop playing pitty-pat with him.” Peggy wasn’t afraid to call out her boys’ friend, Jeremy Hicks, asking, “How did you miss that tackle?” or to offer harsher feedback to Dak’s friend and receiver Trent Jacobs than coaches ever did.
“Miss Peggy would be like, ‘Trent you gotta catch the ball,’” Jacobs said. “‘Trent, you can’t drop any passes.’ It’s not that she expected perfection. She just knew what we were capable of so she expected that.”
Peggy would chastise Dak for throwing interceptions in practice — “Don’t practice that s***!” — reminding him that what he practiced would translate to games. And when a young Dak came home crying after his brothers’ older and bigger friend knocked him down in a yard game, Peggy was ready.
"If you can't run with the big dogs," Peggy told Dak, "stay on the porch."
Dak turned, ran out the door and was back on the field.
And Peggy’s expectations weren’t confined to the field nor to her biological sons. She molded her quick wit and her insistence that each person in her life chase improvement to instill lessons that continue to shape Dak’s circle today.
Jacobs remembers Peggy and Dak watching his basketball game in high school as Jacobs — who says he “used to have a temper” — got into a verbal spar with his coach. Peggy didn’t approve.
“Maybe you have something to say to the coach and maybe what you’re saying is right,” Jacobs said she told him. “But sometimes, you have to listen. You can’t just talk all the time. Everything that you say can’t be right.”
Hicks credits Peggy as the adult who taught him right from wrong after he’d grown up in not “the greatest environment … always into something.” Peggy told Hicks he couldn’t get in trouble if he wanted to hang with her sons. He says the Prescotts showed him that a family could project love rather than just fighting; that a household could be peaceful.
“If you came into her house, you ate her food, she was firm with you,” Hicks said. “That kind of molded me and changed me — because a kid will be good if they got someone to grasp onto.”
And Peggy’s reprimands were liable to send the family into a fit of laughter, as they appreciated her spunk.
One day at the convenience store, cheerleaders from Tad’s high school visited and Peggy conversed with the cheerleader she knew. The girl’s friend asked how she knew Peggy. The cheerleader explained Peggy was Tad and Jace’s mom.
“But they’re Black,” her friend said.
Peggy, who is white, heard them talking about her biracial sons and turned around.
“Oh my God,” she said. “They weren’t like that when they left for school this morning.”
NFL platform allows Dak to show ‘kind of person that our mom raised him to be’
Stage 4 colon cancer precipitated the final months of Peggy’s life. Dak was a sophomore at Mississippi State, his first season starting. Peggy made three games that season, her siblings estimate, but her decline complicated each. Wheelchair accommodations were necessary to counter her waning strength; nausea considerations accompanied any car ride. Food stopped tasting good. She would lose any desire to eat it.
Peggy had scheduled her chemo with Dak’s games in mind, timing her expected worst side effects to circumvent his big games. She witnessed Dak throw a touchdown, catch a touchdown and rush for two touchdowns against Troy on Sept. 21, 2013. It was after that game, Peggy's brother Phil Ebarb believes, that she told her son how little time she had left as she sat on the couch and Dak lay on her lap. Ebarb stepped into the hallway to compose himself on what he calls “the toughest night of his life,” watching this tender moment.
Dak flew home to be with his family after she died. After her funeral, he flew back to Mississippi State for practice the same afternoon.
“My mom would whip my ass if I didn’t get back to work,” Prescott told coaches who questioned his decision.
He got back to work, and never stopped working in the years that have followed.
Because he knows — like his aunt, uncle, brother and friends know — that fulfilling their potential is not only what Peggy would want but also what she would expect. Peggy loved to joke that her boys exuded athleticism because she didn’t use hers and instead saved it in reserve for them. Now, it’s almost as if the rest of her life that was in reserve — the work she had yet to accomplish, the family she had yet to support, the love she had yet to bestow and the accountability to which she had yet to hold people — seeped into each of them. The extra sources of energy and grit helped propel Dak on his unlikely path from fourth-string quarterback to fourth-round rookie starter and now to his distinction as the longest-tenured starting quarterback for any team in the NFL.
As big of a priority that football is, the platform that football has created is just as big a priority.Tad Prescott, Dak's brother
Tad thinks his work ethic activated in the wake of her loss, no longer able to rely on the woman who had always ensured all would be OK. During COVID, Tad also returned to finish his college degree to honor his mother. Peggy had actually requested that promise of Jace; but after Jace died by suicide in 2020, Tad committed to completing the promise on behalf of them both. He’s scheduled to graduate in the spring from the University of North Texas with his degree in converged broadcast media.
And then there’s Dak’s NFL platform: the platform that has allowed him to advocate for and finance colon cancer research, early screening and detection campaigns, and financial hardship resources for families facing the burden of mounting medical costs. And also the platform that has allowed him to share her values with millions of fans.
“As big of a priority that football is, the platform that football has created is just as big a priority,” Tad said. “I think what my mom meant when she said he’s gonna be special is that Walter Payton Man of the Year will forever show the world what kind of man you are.
“And what kind of person that our mom raised him to be.”
Still, Dak’s platform and the chance to transform his pain into purpose and to share his mom’s story can never truly compensate for the years they lost.
Ebarb and Gilbeaux wonder at times what their sister would say if she were still here. In the happy moments like Dak’s Man of the Year recognition and the birth of Tad’s son, they figure she’d be so proud she'd be crying more than speaking. They wonder if she’d weather the criticism of his on-field play better than her siblings do, believing she could handle any criticism of Dak’s performance after dispensing plenty of her own constructive critiques. But Ebarb and Gilbeaux know that the criticism levied at Dak sometimes turns personal, and they’re glad their sister doesn’t have to feel that pain.
“She became his story,” Ebarb says. “It was definitely a motivational factor. But I think things would have been even better if she were still here.”
Dak has felt November 3 every year since 2013. The day feels different, whether because of the pain of loss or the eeriness of nostalgia or most likely a confluence of both. While he doesn’t wait until the anniversary of his loss to remember his mom, he does take care to mark the occasion.
He posted to Instagram on Nov. 3, 2014 about the “Amazing Guardian Angel” he’d gained a year prior; the one he wished “was here today for every reason [but] I know she’s not far from my side.”
A year later, he wrote, “2 Years! Wow, The Only Reason I’ve Survived The Past Two Years is Because You Did Your Job as a Mother & Showed Me The Way Before God Called You Home!”
And on the third anniversary, during Prescott’s rookie of the year season, he penned a message.
He still lives by this message on the 10th anniversary of losing her.
“Everyday of My Life I Live to Show your Work & Say Thank You!” he wrote. “It’s not just Remembering, more importantly it’s Honoring.”