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"Call your mother," the hotel operator said with a chirp. "She says it's urgent." I gulped. Urgent? Mother of eight, jaded veteran of countless emergency room visits, Pat Murphy was not one to use that word loosely. As I dialed my parents' home, my thoughts ran the gamut of possible catastrophes.
And, alas, the news was not trifling: My younger brother Mark had been cut by the Detroit Lions.
A free agent, Mark had been a long shot to make the club. We, his family, knew that. Still, when the ax fell, we were shocked. In his 23 years Mark had conditioned us for athletic successes only. He is one of our family's more accomplished pugilists and its best dancer. A three-sport star at Bishop Egan High, Mark had been the scourge of the Philadelphia Catholic League. In his senior year he made all-state at both offensive tackle and defensive end.
In poured the scholarship offers. After visiting five schools (and nursing at least that many epic hangovers), he settled on Boston College. He looked forward to burnishing the Eagles' tradition of fielding great linemen. Five years later—last season—Mark was one of BC's cocaptains.
That no NFL team deigned to spend a selection on Mark in last spring's NFL draft, the family dismissed as one of those titanic oversights that would have pro scouts feeling sheepish for years to come. Mark would become a beacon of hope for free agents thereafter, we felt sure. Not to worry. Biff. Mark Murphy wasn't drafted either, and he just started in his ninth Pro Bowl.
I should have seen it coming. Toward the end of his time at the Lions' training camp, the cheerfulness Mark had exuded throughout two-a-days had given way to fatalism and black humor. As he got fewer and fewer reps in practice, and even a spot on the developmental squad faded from his grasp, our daily phone conversations went more and more like this:
AM (inanely): So, how's it going?
MM: It's hard to tell, Aus. The coaches don't say much to me. I did get pancaked by some third-string fullback this morning. The guy blindsided me—a complete zoo hit. Everyone went, "Ooooh!" like they were watching fireworks or something.
AM: Don't sugarcoat it for me, bro. If you're struggling, I want to know about that, too. You keeping your weight up?
MM: Actually, it's falling off me like dandruff. I'm eating till I sweat at every meal, and I'm under 260. Whatever you do, don't tell Dad.