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. Colts players, Robert Mathis and Cory Redding offer reflection and thanks for the roles their mothers play in their lives.
Robert 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, maybe that's too much information, but 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 three 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?"
Redding is like Mathis in that he comes from a family with brothers and sisters, and he is the only one of the bunch to leave a home area.
The Houston native joined Indianapolis in March after playing with Baltimore but no matter when his career has taken him, Redding is reminded deeply about the special significance of Mother's Day.
"It is a special day for many reasons," said Redding. "I was a surprise baby. She already had three children and life was great. She became pregnant, but she hadn't planned on it. The doctor sort of presented to her like, 'Do you want to keep him?' She said, 'I'm going to keep him.' That fact that she went through it and had four (children) and my dad left at my age of two, she raised four kids by herself being a mom and a dad."
Mary Redding worked multiple jobs in the Houston area. One job was with a computer company in a time when the telecommunications era started bustling. A second job was in a bank, where she worked for years. She did both to help her children, Lisa, Eryka, Chris and Cory.
"It was a big deal, working two jobs and trying to make ends meet and giving us the best she could give," said Redding. "It was a sacrifice for life. Knowing all those things now makes it that much more special now to help my mom and love her more for all the things she did for my brothers and sisters."
Working professionally was a necessity to make home life as comfortable as Mary could make it. While the family subsisted on love and helping each other, sometimes it was not an easy process.
"She did everything she could to make ends meet, cooking food and making it stretch for two or three days," said Redding. "She put clothes on our backs. I remember going to thrift stores, Goodwill and putting clothes on layaway. She did everything she could to make sure we had the things we needed to go to school and not lack for anything. I thought we were okay. I felt like we were a decent family. Sometimes, we were poor and could afford only the bare minimum things. That was a way of life."
As athletics started becoming a way of life for Chris and Cory, support was part of the equation when they played on the same team at North Shore High School.
"Whenever she was working, she made sure someone was in the stands," said Redding. "My brother and I played on the same high school team, so my sister would be in the stands, or a neighbor. For the most part, mom would be there. She'd show up in the second or third quarter because she worked. She would get off work and drive straight to the game."
As Redding continued maturing, particularly when his career took him from Houston to Austin and the University of Texas, he started noting all that his mother had done.
"When I went to college," said Redding was when he started seeing what Mary had done. "College opened my eyes to the world and I started looking back on how I got there and things we had done and the places we had lived. I just thought of the things she went through to make things happen for us (her kids). It put things in perspective for me."
Redding's NFL career started in 2003, and it flourished to the point he could give back to Mary, who had sacrificed so much. In essence, Cory "retired" Mary.
"When I made it to the league, I sat my mom down and said, 'You've worked hard your whole life. Here is a budget. You can live comfortably. Just know that whatever you need, I've got it.' That made me feel good to do that for my mother," said Redding. "She'll never have to work another day in her life. Her house is paid for. Her car is paid for. She is enjoying things with her (eight) grandkids, doing things with her church and all kinds of things.
"My mom sacrificed, and my way to repay her was to take the stress away of working every day. Her health was getting bad from all the years of working hard and putting herself through things. I told her to chill out and live within these means and I would be able to do things for her for a long time. It gives you a warm feeling inside. She's my mom. I can never get another one."
As for Sunday, Redding has everything covered for his mom and his wife, Priscilla.
"I call my mom every Mother's Day. I already sent the gift a while ago so she has it," said Redding. "I will call, send flowers, reflect on the day. Let her rest, really. Mom is mom. For my wife, I will get her a gift, take her out and spoil her, like always. Mother's Day is special, whether it's for my mother or my wife."