NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The first person to explain a pro-set offense to me was not my father nor my brother nor one of my Monday night football buddies. It was someone a bit tougher, a little stronger, someone with a far superior sports mind. If you want to debate Michael Jordan’s comeback, discuss the University of Alabama’s NCAA investigation or reminisce of Major League Baseball dynasties past, take a road trip to Clanton, Ala., and ask for my mother.
Her name is Mary Ann Michael. She’ll be the one seated on the porch swing with a cat on her lap and a smile on her face. And if she’s not sitting, she’ll be standing, probably at the kitchen counter pouring you the sweetest glass of southern iced tea you’ve ever had. Take a sip, relax, but don’t forget why you came. Remember: This woman can explain a pro-set offense with the same accuracy and articulation with which she imparts her famous hash brown casserole recipe. Four cups of cheese shredded to a fine consistency. Two running backs split into a “T” formation. Two pounds of sliced potatoes. Two receivers. One teaspoon of garlic powder. One tight end.
I may be the sportswriter of the family, but my mother is the sports guru. She grew up back in the day when high schools girls were encouraged to go out for cheerleader, twirl batons, run for club secretary. My mother, as beautiful and coordinated as any bouncing rah-rah in a short skirt, wanted to play basketball. Although she never tried out for the team, her passion for sports never subsided. With three older brothers, all of whom were phenomenal athletes, my mother attended numerous track meets, football games and basketball tournaments.
And today, it’s more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle. Flashing back, I can still picture her — folding towels, watching the Washington Capitals; slicing watermelon, watching the Chicago Cubs; talking on the phone, flipping back and forth between the U.S. Open and SportsCenter. These days, the most heated debate between my parents involves the TV. If it were up to my father? “Larry King Live.” My mother? The Atlanta Braves. Mom and Pops usually compromise. After all, remote control rage is a silly emotion when you have real issues on your plate.
Want to talk sports? As I said, talk to my mother. Want to talk perspective? Have another glass of iced tea. Because surviving three bouts of cancer ain’t a short story.
First diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, she was out the door in the morning before I’d poured my first glass of orange juice. Radiation. Work. Sleep. The treatment made her tired but she still worked 40 hours a week in addition to her hospital commute.
Six weeks of radiation and, phew, it was over. It had to be. Or so we thought. Five years later, the beast returned. Once again, my mother was a warrior. She cried out to God, voiced her fears, dried her tears then vowed to beat it. Although the cancer was microscopic and just on one side, the same as before, my mother, 43, decided to have both breasts removed. When she awoke from the 12-hour surgery, she immediately asked for the TV to be turned on. It was the summer of 1996, the Olympic Games were in Atlanta, and my mother, of course, wanted to watch the opening ceremonies. A dozen hours under the knife and there she was, in a fog of painkillers, surrounded by IV drips, wrapped up in tubes and ready for a parade.
No surprise there. The woman is a cancer survivor. She enjoys the little things because she’s dealt with the Big Thing.
And three months ago, she was back at the doctor, dealing with the big, the small and the deadly. This time? Lymphoma: treatable but not curable. My mother: dejected but not defeated. The good news: the cancerous lymph node was removed and no other sign of abnormal cell growth has since been detected.
“When you go through something like this, when you battle an illness,” she said, “you experience God’s grace in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. I’m thankful for the cancer because it’s allowed me to see what is truly important.”
And I’m thankful for my mother, that she raised me on faith, raised me on love, and yes, raised me on a healthy diet of football, baseball and basketball. Because raised on anything less, I wouldn’t be writing this column.
Michael is the lead sportswriter for BPSports, at www.bpsports.net .