Drew DeBerg attends Bucs games with his mother and sister. Never mind his seat location. The boy stands all afternoon. Later in the evening, when his father tucks him in, Drew begs for a sports story. He usually wants to hear one about the Bucs' offensive linemen. "You're bigger than Ron Heller, aren't you, Dad," says Drew, referring to Tampa Bay's 6'6", 280-pound tackle. DeBerg laughs. "Drew's at the stage where he thinks I'm larger than life," he says. "He'll probably grow out of it."
Bedtime with Drew reminds DeBerg of those backyard talks with Gramps, the invincible man with a seemingly infinite supply of inspiring tales. When DeBerg became a quarterback in the NFL, Gramps religiously wore the cap of his grandson's team. After each game, DeBerg phoned Gramps with the play by play. Often he would send Gramps a videotape of the game.
"Don't worry," Gramps would say. "You'll get 'em next time, Steve."
Gramps kept an autographed picture of DeBerg next to the front door of his home in Anaheim, where every visitor would see it. In the photo, DeBerg is in a Bronco uniform, his arm cocked, ready to throw. The inscription reads: "To the greatest grandfather who ever lived. I just hope I have a grandson who thinks as much of me as I think of you. Love, Steve."
Until this year, Gramps made it to two Tampa Bay games a season. In 1984, at age 81, he entered a beer-chugging contest with 10 to 15 Bucs. He won. "Grandma was mad at me," DeBerg says. "Gramps was hung over for two weeks. I was so proud of him that night."
Last summer Gramps became ill. "Every part of his body just seemed to give out at once," says Marcia. In September he checked into a hospital. DeBerg phoned a couple of times each week, but he couldn't bring himself to visit. "I was scared to see Gramps in that condition," he says. Archie Mitchell—Gramps—died on Oct. 10. He was 84.
"He had a hard time keeping his train of thought, except when he talked to me," says DeBerg. "We always had perfectly normal conversations. We'd talk about the good old days. I'd tell him about this season—how it was my best ever. He understood every word."