Role models are hidden in our everyday lives and neighborhoods. You just have to find them. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Margaret Stafford, mother of Detroit Lions quarterback, Matthew. As I journey further down the football mom tunnel, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up some tips from the best. Margaret did not disappoint. After all, she is a pro now, too!
Margaret was an incredibly busy sports mom with two athletic and active kids. Matthew's older sister, Page, was just as athletic and active as her future All-Star brother. Margaret's eyes got a bit misty when she reminisced about getting her kids to all their sports (soccer, baseball, T-Ball, football and volleyball). Page was an ace volleyball player in high school. We both agreed that volleyball is almost the perfect sport: played indoors with short games! The fact that the Stafford kids played a lot of their sports at the local YMCA for fun and with their neighborhood friends shows just what kind of sports mom Margaret was.
When I asked her if there was a single moment when the family realized that Matthew had a true athletic gift for football, Margaret paused before saying that she didn't remember any one defining moment. She did remember that there were several that suggested big things to come, among them a 7th grade football game where she overheard a policeman comment about the quarterback's great arm, and the day when the high school football coach came to ask Matthew when he was in 8th grade about what he hoped to accomplish during his high school football career. The future star said his goal was to be the starting quarterback for the varsity and win a state championship. The coach said that those were his goals, too, and hinted to Matthew that he might be starting sooner than he realized! As it turned out, Matthew and his coach both accomplished those goals: Matthew started for the varsity as a sophomore and, in his senior year, led the team to a state championship.
I understand now why Margaret was so humble about her son's obvious gifts as an athlete. As it happens, the neighborhood where we live has been home to a lot of competitive and talented scholars and athletes, among them Los Angeles Dodger pitcher, and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw. Clayton grew up not far from Matthew. Born just a little more than a month after Matt, the two talented athletes played on many teams together, including an elementary school soccer team called the Blue Bombers, and were good friends, competitors, and teammates through high school. With the achievement bar for the Highland Park High School Class of 2006 set so high that it could boast among its members a future NFL number one overall draft pick (Matt) and a future MLB number seven overall draft pick (Clayton), no wonder Matthew never got a swelled head!
But how did Margaret keep her son grounded after he became a star at the University of Georgia and in the National Football League, I wondered? Her response was immediate and spoke volumes about her and her incredible family: by teaching him to be confident, but not to feel entitled. She did not want the experience to define him or his sister Page as people. With his neighbors, and the rest of the nation, watching, Matthew has matured as an NFL quarterback and as a person, but it his quiet, humble confidence that continues to define him, both on and off the field. As I wrote about several seasons ago, when Matthew gave my then 11-year-old son a towel after the Lions beat the Cowboys in 2011, he continues to be generous and charitable off, and a fierce competitor on, the field.
Of course, Margaret has had many happy moments as a sports mom to both her children. I am sure that Matthew being the first player picked in the NFL draft is high on that list. Her scariest moment? It came in Matthew's second year with the Lions when he suffered his first major sports injury, a severe shoulder injury. Quarterbacks are always at risk of concussions, fractures, and wear and tear, but Margaret said she was never worried that Matthew would be injured during high school or his playing days at the University of Georgia. It was not until Matthew reached the NFL that Margaret began to worry.
I was incredulous, because I am always a wreck during my son's football games. How could she have stayed so calm? I guess I need to work more on the confidence part of her credo! As a mom of a professional athlete, it was very difficult for Margaret to see Matthew injured, and endure a lengthy rehabilitation after shoulder surgery. Although he is a grown man, Margaret, like any mom, wanted to take care of her boy, and made many a trip between Dallas and Detroit as he healed and returned to the playing field the next season.
Although Matthew, thankfully, has never suffered a diagnosed concussion, Margaret is a strong advocate for the NFL's new penalties against players targeting the head in tackles, one of the measures the league has implemented in an effort to make the game safer for ALL players, most of all the QB's. I think all football moms find common ground in working towards that goal.
Having fun, accomplishing goals
Living in Dallas, Margaret is not able to get to see all of Matt's NFL games in person, but she tries to go to as many home games in Detroit as she can, and watches his away games on the NFL Network with family and friends.
I ended my great hour with Margaret with an open-ended question: what words of wisdom she would like to pass along to the next generation of sports parents? Margaret's advice was very clear: always listen to your child; make sure they are enjoying what they are doing - whatever the sport, or activity, or instrument; and always support them, no matter what. Matthew wanted his mom to have fun at the games and enjoy the competition, not critique the performance when it was over. I follow this advice with my own son. No matter what, I always tell him he had a great game, and how much I liked just watching him play and having fun. The megawatt smiles I get in response are priceless. As Margaret told me, sports should be fun and a place to learn some life lessons along the way about teamwork, commitment, and setting, and hopefully, accomplishing goals.
My time with Margaret was well spent, and I appreciated how gracious she was to share her time and wisdom with me. To me, she is more than a sports mom mentor; she is a mom mentor. Like any mom, she devoted a lot of time to her children. They have both turned into successful and accomplished adults, and she is enjoying the rewards of her hard work.
All I can say is, "Well done!"