"I've received some mail about all of this," the son says. "The letters have been very nice. Thoughtful. A lot of the people tell me about the problems they have had with their own parents, about the way the problems have been resolved. I guess the common thread is, you only have one set of parents in this world, and you don't want to lose them, you don't want to wait until it's too late. I understand what they're saying. I appreciate that."
He is articulate and pleasant. His face, his frame, are the father's face and frame drawn in caricature, all the muscles and the predominant chin extended even farther. He says the muscle in his right arm hasn't come back to form, although the strength and flexibility have, but when he flexes the muscle, it is the size of a softball. The one on his other arm is the size of a cantaloupe.
He, too, talks about the situations of everyday domestic life. When he chose to move from Dallas to San Francisco for the big contract, everyone was uprooted. His stepdaughter, Brittney, is eight years old, virtually the same age he was when he and his father moved from the old neighborhood into their new house. She had the same concerns, leaving one school and going to another. He understood. The wife is from Dallas, and she was leaving her relatives and friends. California? He rented a house in the foothills outside Santa Clara, where the 49ers train, but when the wife and the stepdaughter became homesick for Texas and wanted to move back, he said that was fine. He is the traveling businessman now, away for an extended trip, getting home whenever possible.
The newest addition to the family is daughter Sabrina. She is nine months old. She is not walking, of course, but she crawls and has found her voice. She is "a holy terror" when she screams, he says. It is his first experience with a baby, checking out each new thing she does, and it is hard being apart from her now. No, his father has not seen her. Angela is also pregnant again. "Having Sabrina was just about the greatest thing I ever did," the son says. "Outside of getting married."
The pressure of having a famous father is long gone. Two Super Bowl rings and a trip to the Pro Bowl and the five-year contract took care of that. The announcers don't even mention the Junior part of his name much anymore. He simply is Ken Norton. His arrival with the Niners was rocky at first—the defense almost totally rebuilt with new and expensive talent, everyone expecting an immediate return on the investment—but as the season has progressed, he has done all the things he was hired to do, all the things he did in Dallas. Maybe more. There is a very good chance that he will go back to the Super Bowl, this time with the Niners. How good would that be? Three Super Bowls in three years? He could be the best inside linebacker in the NFL.
His favorite football memory so far is his first Super Bowl, three years ago. It was a game that could have been drawn up in his imagination. The Cowboys did everything right. The Buffalo Bills did everything wrong. He did everything right. He had 10 tackles, knocked Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly out of the game with sprained knee ligaments on a blitz and picked up a fumble and ran nine yards for a touchdown. He seemed to be everywhere. In the second quarter, third-and-goal, he made the best play he has ever made. Buffalo running back Kenneth Davis was headed straight for the end zone. The son headed straight for Kenneth Davis. The rest of the people on the field were stripped away. He lowered and charged and made the tackle he had always dreamed of making. The form was perfect. The result was perfect: Davis dropped short of the goal line. The Cowboys proceeded with their 52-17 rout. "That will always be my dream tackle," the son says. "When I think about the tackle I want to make, that's it."
There is irony here. That was the game at the Rose Bowl. That was the game the father watched on television. That was at the end of the week when the disagreement became public, when everybody found out. That was the week the father cried. That was the best game the son ever played. "I had known what was happening for a long time," the son says in an even voice. "It was new to everyone else, but it wasn't new to me. I wasn't going to let anything spoil that Super Bowl."
The story still should be so easy. What has to happen? A handshake? A Thanksgiving dinner? Is there any doubt the father loves the son? Is there any doubt the son loves the father? Someone should intervene. Some circumstance should occur. It all should be so easy.
The first meeting in more than three years took place in September. The setting was not great. The father took Kenisha and KeneJon to the game when the Niners came to Anaheim to play the Los Angeles Rams. He had taken them to the Super Bowl last year in Atlanta, where they sat in the son's seats, but the father sat in seats given to him by NBC. He had wondered why NBC was so kind, but at least three times during the game he looked at the scoreboard monitor and saw his own face. He and his son were subplots in the big game. The entire country saw both of them. They never saw each other.
The Niner-Ram game was different. This time everyone sat in the son's seats. When the game, a 34-19 San Francisco win, was finished, everyone went down to that busy family area where members of the visiting team get on a bus for the airport. This was where the meeting took place.