INDIANAPOLIS – This Sunday is a very special day. It is Mother’s Day, an occasion many people have a chance to offer thanks and remembrance.
Mathis grew up in Atlanta as the youngest of six children of Emma Mathis. The baby of the family, he had five siblings who undoubtedly had a role in helping him, but there were no hands more nurturing than Emma’s. To Robert and all her children, Emma played a big role.
“My mom played a vital part in my life because she played both mother and father,” said Mathis. “She was and is the glue that keeps our family together.
“She was the prayer warrior. She was the workaholic. She was the counselor, the authority, the nurse. Any role that needed to be filled, she stood in there and filled it. She was everything for her children.”
The Mathis family was a large and tight unit, and the children noticed how their mom worked to provide a household and as comfortable an existence as possible.
“She made a great home for us growing up. She did the best she could,” said Mathis. “She worked hard and put herself on the back-burner for our comfort. She sacrificed for us, and we noticed.
“She used to clean houses to support us. Sometimes she would clean six, seven, eight houses a day and usually at dirt-cheat prices, just to have a job and support her kids.”
Emma was there for all her children. To each of them she had a bountiful supply of the love only a mother can provide.
“A mother’s love is unconditional and it’s exactly that – unconditional. Whatever our problems were, she took care of us,” said Mathis. “I once had a double hernia, and she took care of me. Anything I needed, she was there.
“Sometimes her face was the only one I saw for a week or two. Anyone like that, you don’t forget. You never want your mother to hurt or cry for anything, and there was plenty of that in my lifetime. You just want to do the most and the best you can to eliminate that.”
As Mathis grew up, football became a large part of his life. He attended McNair High School before earning the last scholarship available at Alabama A&M.
He was driven to make a career out of football, but it was his mother who helped him learn to deal with inevitable setbacks that come in competition.
“I used to take losing a lot harder than I do now. I still do, I don’t take it well. Coming up through high school and college, I took it very hard,” said Mathis. “Invariably, she calmed me down and let me know the next day would be a new day. I picked up the pieces, went back to work and I learned by watching and listening to her.
“You can’t spend too much time moping or complaining. She’d ask, ‘What are you going to do to make it better? You don’t have time to cry about something. Move on, get over it and get on with it.’ It was great advice.”
Though her job was strenuous physically and demanded many hours, Emma made time to see Robert play, and he noticed. She was one of a few on whom he could count.
“We would go to church. Then on Friday nights, she would go to the football games,” said Mathis. “Even going to Alabama A&M, she was there. She’s seen 52 (his jersey number at Atlanta’s McNair High School), 55 (Alabama A&M) and 98 (Colts). She’s been through the fire with me. I can’t say that about a whole lot of people. She has been that person right there.”
Football took him to Huntsville, Alabama for college, then on to Indianapolis for the NFL, making Robert the only of six children to leave the home area.
Still, he does escape his mother’s watchful eye. “I’m her only child who really left the nest, as far as leaving Georgia. She keeps her crosshairs on me to make sure I’m alright,” said Mathis.
Mathis has made multiple Pro Bowls and has played in two Super Bowls. He has established himself as one of the top players in Colts history. The underpinnings came from Emma.
“I can definitely say I got my grind from her. She gave me the heart to keep pushing and to get a job done. She’s the mom, the big boss lady. What more can you say about Emma Mathis?”