“I was just ex­cited she was here for her first game. We came out with the win to make it even bet­ter.”

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala@den­ver­post.com or @Nick­iJhab­vala

For five months, Bron­cos star De­mary­ius Thomas shielded his emo­tions, know­ing a re­union he had waited more than 16 years to ex­pe­ri­ence would soon ar­rive, along with a swarm of on­look­ers, and cu­ri­ous re­porters and fans.

He would smile when asked about her, but not too much.

He would drop his head sheep­ishly when asked if he en­vi­sioned the mo­ment when they would em­brace af­ter his first game play­ing in front of her. But his ex­pres­sion would soon re­vert to a fo­cused stare.

The ex­cite­ment was wel­come, but the ques­tion­ing soon be­came over­whelm­ing.

But on Sun­day, his guard came down. A smile he had tried to sup­press re­fused to fade.

For the first time ever, his mother, Katina Stuckey Smith, was able to see him play foot­ball in per­son — a divi­sional play­off vic­tory over the Steel­ers, no less.

“It was great. ... I was just ex­cited she was here for her first game,” Thomas said. “We came out with the win to make it even bet­ter.”

In 1999, when Thomas was 11, Smith was ar­rested for op­er­at­ing a co­caine ring with Thomas’ grand­mother, Min­nie Pearl Smith, out of their house in Ge­or­gia. For 15 years in­side a fed­eral cor­rec­tional in­sti­tute in Tal­la­has­see, Fla., Katina Smith, whose orig­i­nal sen­tence of more than 24 years was later re­duced to 20, could only cheer from afar, don­ning gray prison garb as she watched her son on a prison tele­vi­sion.

But last July, just days be­fore Thomas signed a fiveyear, $70 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion with the Bron­cos, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced Smith would be go­ing home early. She was one of 46 non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers to have their sen­tences com­muted early.

Af­ter spend­ing more than three months in a half­way house, Smith went home the night of Nov. 9. Her travel was re­stricted for 60 days after­ward, though, end­ing her shot at see­ing her son play in per­son be­fore the reg­u­lar sea­son ended. But her chance to see him when it counted more was still very much alive.

Satur­day, Smith flew to Den­ver with Thomas’ father and aunt to re­unite with her son for the first time since their tear-filled good­bye more than 16 years ago.

“It was good,” Thomas said, still with a grin. “First thing she started do­ing was look­ing around the house, try­ing to clean up stuff.”

Sun­day, Smith sat in a suite on the club level of Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High, this time in a new uni­form — a cus­tom­ized, sparkling No. 88 jersey that read “Bay Bay’s Mama” on the back — as she watched her son catch four passes for 40 yards in Den­ver’s 23-16 vic­tory.

She watched as the Bron­cos strug­gled early, but came through late.

She watched as De­mary­ius all but sealed the Bron­cos’ vic­tory with his two­point con­ver­sion in the fourth quar­ter.

And she watched as he passed Rod Smith, to sit atop the Bron­cos’ record book with 50 ca­reer play­off catches. She watched it all — live. Mom was present, but the added pres­sure was not.

“Only be­cause I didn’t re­ally know where she was,” Thomas said. “I knew what suite she was in, but I couldn’t re­ally see so it couldn’t re­ally bother me.”

Min­utes af­ter the game, she saun­tered down to the bow­els of Sports Au­thor­ity Field for the re­union which the two had waited for so long.

Af­ter the game, quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning handed Thomas the game ball, a gift to pass on to his mother. As Thomas opened the doors of the locker room, foot­ball in hand, Smith grabbed her son for a hug be­fore pos­ing for pic­tures with team­mates and their fam­i­lies.

The em­brace drew a roar of cheers, and smiles.

But none big­ger than the one on Thomas’ face.

AAron On­tiveroz, The Den­ver Post

De­mary­ius Thomas played Sun­day with his mother, Katina Stuckey Smith, watch­ing from a suite at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High.

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