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The Rookie Mom: Finding laughter amid a week of loss and lessons learned

When your kid becomes a professional football player, you don’t lose your fan hat. That was clearer than ever when Eli Apple and the Giants suffered their first loss of the year.

Since my junior year of high school, I've been a football fan. My first introduction to football was the ’85 Bears, thanks mostly to the “Super Bowl Shuffle”. In 2005, I became a college football fan, and my Saturdays since have been all about it. I’ve watched everything from Vince Young being epic to Coach Tressel and the Buckeyes becoming national champs.

For years I’ve experienced football, first as a fan, then as a mom of two high school players, then a college player. Now I get to experience football on a different level, living vicariously through my son in the pros. My insider access and perspective has been enlightening and far supersede what I thought I knew about football as a fan.

When your kid becomes a pro, you don’t replace your fan hat with a parental hat or replace that with an insider perspective. You combine all three for a full appreciation and understanding of the game on the field and off. During a difficult loss at home Sunday to the Redskins in which, though we didn’t have our best game, we had an opportunity to walk away with the win, Eli pulled his hamstring after a special teams play and had to sit out the rest of the game. I was sad for him because I know how much he wanted to be in that game. He practices hard and studies and watches film constantly. This was the division rivalry game you want to play in, but to be great one day you have to stay healthy, and to stay healthy you have to listen to your body. I believe everything in life is a learning opportunity as this was for Eli as he stood on the sideline supporting his teammates. I watched him looking intently engaged with an ice pack wrapped around his leg. It’s a look I’ve seen many times before.

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When Eli would come home from college, he would go to his old youth football games and stand with the coaches on the sideline. When there was a break in the action, Eli Apple the college football player at the Ohio State would be the one running on the field to give the little Junior Vikings water. Eli was a proud water boy to little youth football players who dream of being where he is. Eli never forgets where he came from and knows what it was like being where these kids are. He always tries to be to those kids what he wished guys in his position would’ve have been to him at that age. Though Eli doesn’t like public speaking much, he speaks with those kids and shares with them insights he would’ve liked to hear at their age. Eli just always had to be around the game. Though his hammy kept him out of this one, he was still right there, standing next to Ben McAdoo and watching and taking mental notes.

Before the loss, we had our first Team Apple family tailgate. I get invited to really great tailgates but I like creating our own game-day traditions. It makes game day more like family day and thus less overwhelming. Allison Brown, a fellow Buckeye mom (her son is WR Noah Brown) and great friend, came to the game. A longtime Giants fan, it was great to have her with us, and it naturally felt like old times.

I finally got to watch a game with the really funny, energetic and emotional Heather Van Norman, also known as Odell Beckham Jr.’s mom and manager. I learned that when you’re a mom and manager, your game experience is a bit different. Watching her watch Odell was pure joy and pain, sunshine and rain. The frustration and the celebration and the frustration. My son plays defense, and defense guys get none of the glory. They're not used to getting media or marketing attention. Honestly they don’t look for it. Von Miller, who is currently in the imaginary Defense Guy Getting Some Attention And Ad Love Hall of Fame, is a rare exception. Even during this draft process, there were marketing events where only offense guys were invited, with the exception of Joey Bosa. It’s just the way it is.

Watching the game with Van Norman (right) as Odell Beckham Jr. played under a bright spotlight provided a new perspective on supporting Eli.

Watching the game with Van Norman (right) as Odell Beckham Jr. played under a bright spotlight provided a new perspective on supporting Eli.

So sitting next to the mom of the most famous guy on our team was quite an experience. Heather manages being a mom and a manager quite well, and she’s quite personable to fans. During training camp, a kid about 10 years old found out she was Odell's mom and the boy nearly passed out in excitement. I tried to convince her that she could charge fans $25 each to touch her stomach, the place Odell Beckham Jr. called home for nine months.

On game days, though, if you want Heather Van Norman to take a picture with you while the offense is on the field, you’ll have to wait. She’s mom first; everything else is secondary. Good football moms come to see their sons ball, and Heather was here for the game. She lit up when Odell caught his 200th reception in 30 games, the fewest games ever needed to get to such a milestone, and expressed frustration watching our offense miss key opportunities. I kept encouraging Heather to be hopeful. But the loss was a tough one all around. We didn't get the win but hope is not lost.

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Black Eli doesn’t say much and he says less after a loss. He didn’t lose much in college at Ohio State—just one loss his redshirt year and one loss in two years as a starter. This loss allowed me a glimpse into Eli’s pro perspectives and the brotherhood of the Giants locker room. But just a glimpse. As Eli always says, “What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.” I’m like dude, you ain’t in Vegas.

The game had ended with an interception thrown by White Eli. As we drove back to Black Eli’s condo, I was reading out loud excerpts of White Eli’s postgame press conference. Wearing my fan hat, I asked Black Eli, “Do you wish White Eli had more fire in his personality, especially after a tough loss?” “We [his teammates] know who Eli [Manning] is. Doesn’t matter how he talks to the media. We know what he says to us. That’s all that matters.” We’ve always taught him that a team wins together and they lose together. To get better, they must stick together. Fans are given a perspective of players through media lenses and words. Players know their teammates in more intricate ways, and good teammates support each other on and off the field.

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I saw this support firsthand on Monday night as Rashad Jennings held a comedy night at Gotham Comedy Club to raise funds for his foundation. Many of his teammates were there to lend support, including Black Eli, JPP, Orleans Darkwa, Paul Perkins and a few others whose names escape me because I’m old. Rashad has been one of my favorite Giants since I first met him at a pre-ESPYs event. He was personable and straight forward. Monday night he shared his story of growing up obese with health and learning issues, as his foundation raised money to promote health, fitness and reading in schools. The emcee Bruce Beck introduced other celebrities in the room, which is how I found out my TV dad, John Amos, also known as James Evans the father from hit TV sitcom Good Times, was in the building!

My biological father abandoned our family when I was about two weeks old. So as I kid when I came to America, I made Michael Landon and John Amos my dads because you need a black and white dad like a black and white Eli. I introduced myself to Mr. Amos as his daughter and told him he had to meet one of his grandsons when I introduced him to Eli. It all seemed so normal to me. Here at this comedy event a day after a loss, we’re all able to smile and I got to meet my favorite TV dad from a show about making the most out of bad times. Good Times, ain’t we lucky we got them.