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When Bob Sanders was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, his first call was to his mother in Erie, Pennsylvania. This is a story about just what mothers and Mother's Day mean to several Colts players.


A Story on the Imance of Mom for Colts Players

INDIANAPOLIS - Seconds after hearing the news, Bob Sanders was dialing.

Sanders, the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl safety, never put his telephone down after receiving the call this past December that he had been named the Associated Press' National Football League Defensive Player of the Year, the league's highest defensive honor.

He'd worked his whole life for this moment.

He'd listened to people tell him it would never happen, that he'd never get close. Now, it had happened. Big-time.

He had to tell someone, and not just any someone.

He had to tell Mom.

"I couldn't even hardly hang up the phone with them," Sanders recalled this week. "I was too busy trying to call her (his mother, Jean). I know she's proud of me. I try to do my best to succeed in life and be a positive role model and show her she did well, that she taught me well in everything I do.

"Whenever I do do good, I definitely want her to know about it."

Sanders is far from alone in the Colts' locker room. In the fall, Sanders and his Colts teammates spend most of their Sundays in pads and helmets, playing a violent physical game in front of packed stadiums on national television.

But on at least one Sunday each May, they're thoughts aren't on football.

They're thoughts are on Mom.

And this past week, as Mother's Day 2008 approached, several Colts players – Sanders, guard Ryan Lilja, running back Joseph Addai and defensive tackle Ed Johnson – took time to discuss with what their mothers meant to them.

"Me, being young, there are a lot of situations where I felt like I couldn't go on," Addai, a third-year running back who made his first Pro Bowl last season said. "Mom's like, 'There's always hope no matter what.'''

Addai won't celebrate Mother's Day with his mother, Joyce, this year. That's because she's out of the country on a trip that was his Mother's Day gift to her.

A native of Ghana, West Africa, Joyce Addai long had wanted to return there to visit.

This year, Joseph helped make it happen.

"She got the chance to get some time off from work," Addai said. "I knew she always wanted to go back there. I told her, 'Just go. I'll give you what you need to go.' Doing something for somebody else, especially someone like that, that always give you hope, you feel kind of good. . . .

"It's funny, because you think you're down to your last straw, but there's always hope with her. With her, there's always hope to keep going on. No matter how down you are, no matter how bad the situation is, the next day you can go on again."

Ed Johnson's natural mother died when he was seven. The Colts second-year defensive tackle said this week he was fortunate, because many women filled the void, in particularly his grandmother, Mary Garrett.

"Especially my grandmother," he said, smiling.

Johnson said he is taking Garrett to Alabama this weekend to visit her great aunt for Mother's Day, but Johnson said for him, the day is about more than one person.

"Losing my mom early, my grandmother had to work to take care of me and my brother, so I had a lot of women who were mother figures in my life," Johnson said. "Friends from high school, their mothers would do things for me, because they knew my situation and because they cared.

"There were a lot of moms that influenced me. I'll be calling and sending cards to a lot of people on mother's day."

Linda Lilja had a similar impact on the second of her three sons, Ryan, the Colts' starting left guard. Lilja's father died when Ryan was 14 years old. At the time, Linda Lilja was a stay-at-home mother.

"My older brother was 16," Ryan Lilja recalled this week. "My little brother was nine. She went to nursing school after he died. My little brother's hopefully going to graduate college in two years. She had to go to nursing school to get her nursing degree, then work. She had three boys and we weren't very easy to raise. The older I get, the more I appreciate her.

"You talk to her about it and she acts like it was nothing. She's a special woman."

Ryan Lilja said he will spend Mother's Day with Linda. "Her best friend lost her husband," he said. "She has four boys. One is one of my best friends. We'll do flowers, dinner. Hopefully, they don't have to lift a finger for at least one day.

"She's my hero. I tell her that, and she just shrugs it off. She's special.

Sanders can relate. Through high school few believed he would play major college football. At 5-feet-8, he was small for college, and he was considered small when he entered the NFL.

Jean Sanders' message to Bob was simple, inspiring and one he said he'll never forget.

"My mom always said I can do anything I want to do, that you shouldn't allow people in your life to tell you want you can and can't do," Sanders said. "She overcame a lot of obstacles and she made it work.

"She's my life, my heart, my soul. She's everything. She's the backbone to everything I do. She keeps me going when I'm down. I can always turn to my mom. She's always there. When I'm happy, excited, having the best time ever – she's always there. You go through heartaches. You have good times, bad times.

"You can always depend on your mom to be there, support you, in whatever it is you do."

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