The father and the youngest son were left alone in the house in Coral Gables, Fla. The two older sons were off to college, Scott to Virginia and Jeff to North Carolina. The wife and mother was gone, Judy Griese dead of breast cancer. The father and the youngest son were left with each other.
Bob and Brian Griese had to make the best of the situation. There was no choice. "We became closer because we had to," the father, Bob, says. "There were just the two of us. I was the one who made breakfast. I was the one who drove him to school. I was the one who went to his games. I was the one who was around."
"I was the one he could talk to," the son, Brian, says. "He didn't have a friend, a companion, anymore. It was a hard time for him. I had to be two people, be there for him at home, then go to school and be someone else, figure out who I was."
It was the fall of 1988. Judy Griese had died in February and Jeff had left for college. The son was 13. The father was already a football immortal. He had quarterbackcd the Miami Dolphins from 1967 through '80, had won two Super Bowls—the first of which was the culmination of Miami's 17-0 season in '72. The Hall of Fame beckoned.
The son was too young to remember the father's Dolphins days. He was five when the father retired, and so his football experiences with the father were college football experiences. The father had moved along to broadcasting, working as ABC's top color analyst with Keith Jackson on the network's featured college game of the week. The son would take some trips with the father, sit in the booth, pick up hot dogs and Cokes for the announcers, and chart plays. "The whole thing was great," the son says. "Flying on the plane. Staying at the hotel. The games."
The older boys had played at Christopher Columbus High in Miami, and each had played in college as a walk-on, but neither had tried quarterback. Both played defense. It was the youngest son, the one who hadn't witnessed the father's football career, who decided to become a quarterback.
"He's the type of kid who'll say, 'I'll be a better quarterback than you were,' " the father says. "That's how he is. He's bigger than any of us. Notice I didn't say faster, but bigger. He was a high-level tennis player as a kid. He's a six-handicap golfer. He played basketball and baseball. He's the athlete."
At Columbus High the son developed into a solid quarterback. The father helped at practices when the coaches asked him to. and he tried to see the son play as much as possible. Because Columbus played on Wednesdays or Thursdays, not just on the traditional schoolboy dates of Friday or Saturday, the father didn't miss as many games as he would have, given his schedule at ABC, which required him to leave each Friday morning for that weekend's game. "I could be there for the games," the father says, "be there at the end. I think that's important for a kid, to have someone there at the end of the game. If I couldn't make it, I always made sure someone was there to meet with him."
By the end of his senior season the son had broken the school record for career passing yardage and had been noticed by college scouts. Texas wanted him, as did Purdue—the school the father led to its only Rose Bowl appearance, in 1967. The son wasn't sure what to do. The father offered an alternative: Pick a school and join the football team as a walk-on. The father would pay the tuition. The son picked Michigan.
"It was late, and Michigan really didn't have any scholarships left," the father says. "[Coach] Gary Moeller came to the house to visit and said he was interested, but the last two scholarships already had been offered to two defensive linemen from Texas. He said Brian could walk on, and if he did well, something would open up."