Sadly, Demaryius Thomas literally grew up in a crack house. Demaryius was 12 when his mom went to prison, so she missed all of his high school, college and professional games and his successful NFL development.
The last time the Denver Broncos played in the Super Bowl, the mother of Demaryius Thomas did not watch from the stands or from home. Katina Smith and her mother, that’s right – her own mother, Demaryius’s grandmother, were incarcerated and wore jerseys that they had crafted from strips of tape as they watched the game on their prison TV. Katina had been serving 24 years in prison on drug trafficking charges after she turned down a plea deal back in 2000 refusing to testify against her mother, Minnie Pearl Thomas, who is serving life. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Katina Smith was released five years early from that minimum-security prison in Florida last summer. Her sentence was commuted in 2015 by President Obama as part of Obama’s push to reduce the prison population of non-violent drug offenders.
After the Super Bowl two years ago, GM John Elway said, ”If we all played like he (Thomas) did, we’d have won.” Thomas’ mother called him after the game. ”She said keep your head up, you’ll get another chance,” Thomas recounted. ”And we got another chance right now. I never thought she would be coming to see me play in the Super Bowl, though. It’s like a dream. It’s a blessing. I’m excited. She’s excited. We’re all excited.”
Back to the present, Thomas caught just two passes for 12 yards in the 2016 AFC Championship game against the Patriots and he had four receptions for 40 yards against Pittsburgh a week earlier – the first time his mother had ever seen him play a football game in person.
After Peyton Manning took a knee in victory formation against the Steelers, he handled the football to Thomas and asked him to give it to his mother. ”She had a ball,” Thomas said. ”She’s still talking about it.” Wow. What a story. And it doesn’t end there. Demaryius loves and is very much concerned about his mom.
“She’s getting used to things a lot faster than I expected,” the star receiver said. ”Oh, she knows how to text now. She uses emojis and all that, Facetime and all that. She caught up quick. The funny thing is she still turns off her phone to charge it.” Thomas still worries about his mother as she navigates modern life outside the lockup. Smith just learned how to drive again, as she is no longer confined to that 20-by-20-foot concrete cell, but sensory overload sometimes imprisons her now.
“I know it’s not easy for her,” Thomas said. ”She gets panic attacks sometimes. I understand that. She’s been gone a long time. I do worry about her. I told her she’d be fine. That’s why I’m going to try to keep her in the hotel most of the time up until the game because she was in a long time.”
That was then, and this is now. Demaryius’ mom made mistakes had missteps and it affected her son. But his mom’s absence did not annul or absolve his ambitions. He had a good support system in his aunt and uncle who took him in. They gave him strict structure and dogged discipline. And Demaryius has emerged as an All Pro Receiver despite starting out as another all out statistic.
And of all the storylines in this special Super Bowl 50, this one about the bond that binds a mother and her son, “Bay Bay’s Mom” and Denver’s DT, is as wholesome and as heartwarming as they come.