Sad Mother's Day for Jets rookie Griffin

Robert T. Griffin II, a rookie offensive lineman

Robert T. Griffin II, a rookie offensive lineman with the Jets, has a tattoo of his late mom on his left arm. (Credit: Newsday/Kimberley A. Martin)

With one hand, Robert Griffin swept away a few dark-brown dreadlocks hanging in front of his red-rimmed eyes, then spun around slowly on his stool.

The Jets rookie stretched his long arm inside his locker and delicately picked up a white plastic bracelet with two iridescent magnets.

Griffin then held up the keepsake with unbearable pain in his eyes.

"I wear this band everywhere I go," he said of the elastic power-balance bracelet. "I just don't wear it in practice because I don't want it to break.''

He paused, then said softly: "If it breaks, my heart's going to break. I gave it to her. And when she left me, I took it off of her."

Sundayis the first of many Mother's Days that Robert Griffin will spend without his. And the pain of losing her is as fresh now as it was five months ago.

With a heavy heart, the Baylor right guard played in the Bears' 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington on Dec. 29 -- eight days after his mother passed away.

The next morning, he attended her funeral.

Brenda Jean Moore-Griffin was just 48 years old when she died of liver cancer.

His world crushed, Griffin -- not to be confused with Robert Griffin III, his Heisman Trophy-winning Baylor teammate -- turned to the one person who could help ease his pain: teammate Terrance Ganaway.

Ganaway's story is strikingly, and sadly, similar to Griffin's. A year before he enrolled at Baylor, he lost his mother to kidney cancer. Charlor Mae Ganaway died at home on July 1, 2008, at the age of 48.

"It sprung up on us and boom," Ganaway said, snapping his fingers. "It was all over."

As luck, fate or a higher power would have it, the Jets selected both Ganaway and Griffin 202nd and 203rd overall, respectively, in this year's NFL draft. Their bond is more than just a friendship forged through Griffin blocks on big Ganaway runs. The pair emerged as more than just teammates after successful seasons at Baylor -- and their bond already has helped their transitions to the NFL.

"I love him to death," said Griffin, whose sleeveless steel-gray T-shirt revealed one of his many tattoos: a pair of hands clasped over a cross with "Brenda" written in cursive underneath on his left arm. "I'm so glad that God put him in this situation with me."

Griffin, 22, turned off his phone when he learned of his mother's passing. For the entire day he refused to talk to anyone. But when he emerged from his fog, Ganaway was the first person he called.

"I didn't go to my head coach, I didn't go to friends," the 6-6, 335-pound Griffin said. "I went to Terrance."

Ganaway, of course, spoke from the heart and from experience. After his freshman season at the University of Houston in 2007, he quit football to be near his family in DeKalb, Texas. He enrolled at Texarkana College and worked at a law firm to help support his family. He returned to football in 2009, choosing to join a Baylor team led by Art Briles, his old head coach at Houston.

Mature beyond his 23 years, the running back -- who rushed for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl -- comforted Griffin as best he could.

"The easiest thing in life is to give up when something gets hard," said Ganaway, who got married less than a month ago. "I just told him to keep fighting. Your mom raised a great son and she's going to teach you a lot of things after she's gone, more than you'll ever know. My mom is still teaching me and I know his mom is still with him. I told him I would be a brother to him and just encourage him along the way."

Briles allowed Griffin to stay with his family for a few days in Euless, Texas, while Baylor traveled to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl -- a gesture for which the guard still can't express enough thanks. But in that moment, "you don't even think about football," Briles said.

He would know. Briles was Griffin's age when his parents and aunt died in a car crash on their way to see him play at the University of Houston in 1976.

"It's an inner pain that never leaves," the coach said, "but what you have to do is create positives out of it. Remember the smiles, remember the hugs, remember that she's always with you spiritually."

The morning after the Alamo Bowl, Griffin attended his mother's funeral. By then, the emotional high of the Bears' first victory in a bowl game since 1992 had given way to the sinking reality that his mother -- who worked three jobs to provide for him and his older sister, Varmelia Moore -- was gone.

Both Griffin and his sister felt compelled to pay tribute to her during her service at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

"To hear him say 'I played that game for my mom and for my family,' it was really touching," said their maternal aunt, Annie Neblett, who added that Griffin shares his mother's gentle and giving nature. "He just let everybody know how hard his mom really worked for him."

Both Griffin and Ganaway lamented that their mothers cannot witness their NFL journeys in person. But their mothers' legacies live on in them, they said, through their actions on and off the field.

"The best qualities you see in me is what my mom was: strong, caring and selfless," said Ganaway, who is one of 11 children and the nephew of former NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. "[She was] just a go-getter. There was nothing that she couldn't achieve."

The pride Briles has for Griffin and Ganaway is evident in his words. He praised their athletic accomplishments and their mental fortitude, adding that Griffin and Ganaway "found reasons to excel rather than excuses to fail." And the coach has no doubt that being together on the Jets will help them both professionally.

"They're going to feed off each other, and that's a tremendous boost and benefit for both of them," Briles said. " . . . Both of these guys have a story, and they're both making their own way in the world with the right focus in mind."

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