A few football players were playing with heavy hearts last weekend following the deaths of their grandmothers. But amazingly, they each had huge performances that helped their teams win crucial games.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o suffered an unthinkable stretch last week: His grandmother died on Tuesday and his girlfriend passed away one day later. Yet he found it within himself to suit up for Notre Dame in its contest at Michigan State on Saturday night. And Te'o had an incredible game, totalling 12 tackles and leading the Fighting Irish to a stunning 20-3 upset of the Spartans.
"It was hard,'' Te'o said. "I lost two women that I truly loved. But I had my family around me, I had my football family around me, I had my girlfriend's family around me. At the end of the day, families are forever."
The next day, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz also put on his pads under similar circumstances. Cruz's grandmother had died Monday, and like Te'o, he decided to play. Cruz proved crucial in the Giants' come-from-behind win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The third-year wide-receiver recorded an 80-yard-touchdown reception in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 11 catches for 179 yards.
After his touchdown reception, Cruz did his signature salsa dance. But this time it was different.
"Once I got to the 3 [yard line], I knew it was time to honor her and I knew she was with me," Cruz said. "And it was almost like the place kind of went silent and I was just there dancing with her. It was a good moment."
Cruz wasn't the only New York wide receiver playing with his grandmother on his mind. Hakeem Nicks' grandmother was in the stands at MetLife Stadium to watch Nicks play for the first time as a professional. Like Cruz, Nicks had an enormous game. He caught 10 balls for 199 yards and a touchdown. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time in NFL history that two receivers on the same team caught at least 10 passes for 175 yards in the same game.
Chris Johnson also played through pain Sunday, as his great-grandmother died just hours before he and the Tennessee Titans took the field in San Diego. The Titans lost, and Johnson totalled 17 yards on eight carries.