“I was just excited she was here for her first game. We came out with the win to make it even better.”
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.
Demaryius Thomas played Sunday with his mother, Katina Stuckey Smith, watching from a suite at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.