Joyce Ware looks at life as a series of surmountable challenges. She has encouraged her only child, Andre, to dream of distant goals and wondrous achievements, reminding him, time and again, "It's easy to be a nobody, but hard to be somebody. Don't ever say you can't do something."
As an eighth-grader in Dickinson, Texas, Andre, a quarterback, came home in tears after his teammates had teased him about having a weak arm. Joyce persuaded him to lift weights for several weeks. "Never be a quitter, no matter how tough times get," she said. "Hang in there."
As a freshman at Dickinson High, Andre found out that one of his junior high coaches had said that the high school team would never be successful with Andre at quarterback. "Prove him wrong," said Joyce. Andre did, and was voted first-team all-district in his junior and senior years when the Gators were 15-4-1.
Because he had directed an option offense in high school, averaging only seven passes a game his senior season, only three of about 10 schools that offered Ware a scholarship—Houston, Tulane and Tulsa—were willing to let him play quarterback. Texas and Texas A&M wanted to move him to defensive back. "Stick to your goal," Joyce told her son. "You'll be a great quarterback."
Arriving at Houston in 1986, he was found to be ineligible for football because he hadn't taken the SAT on an NCAA-approved date. The Southwest Conference later admitted it had given him, as well as a number of other conference recruits, the wrong test date. Instead of remaining at Houston on scholarship, which would have cost him a year of eligibility, Ware enrolled at nearby Alvin Community College. He would take the SAT again that fall, and reenroll at Houston in the second semester, in time to participate in spring football practice. To help pay his tuition at Alvin, Ware worked from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. as a maintenance man at the post office in nearby La Marque, where his mother was a distribution window clerk. After classes he swirled ice cream at a Dairy Queen.
"I'd be serving sundaes, and kids who'd gone off to college would harass me," says Ware. "I was embarrassed and humiliated, but gradually I quit feeling sorry for myself. My mother convinced me to learn to enjoy having people tell me I can't do something. Now it's second nature; I love to prove people wrong."
Ware, a 6'1", 208-pound junior, found plenty of believers in December, when he won the Heisman Trophy after a season of rewriting NCAA passing and total-offense records, and on Sunday the Detroit Lions showed their faith in him by making him their first pick—the seventh overall—in the NFL draft. When the telephone call from the Lions came at 11:44 a.m. CDT, the 50 relatives, friends and reporters who had crammed into Joyce's living room begged Andre to tell them which team was on the line. Another 40 people in the front yard, sitting at picnic tables and munching on barbecued ribs and chicken, pleaded for information, too. But the Lions had asked Ware not to divulge the news until they officially announced it 15 minutes later. So he let only one person in on his happy secret—his mother. When Joyce heard, she let out a scream and her eyes filled with tears.
"This is the culmination of everything we've worked for together," Andre said. "I've always been able to count on my mom when I couldn't count on anybody else. She is my heart."
Added Joyce, "This is a dream come true. I've always told him, 'Be strong, never give up, and things will work out.' "
Ware, who has outstanding arm strength and quickness, couldn't have asked for a better situation. Under coach Jack Pardee at Houston, Ware played in the run-and-shoot offense, a flashy, unconventional passing system in which the quarterback operates from a moving pocket. Detroit's Silver Stretch offense is nearly identical; the Lions' version of the run and shoot was used by Pardee and Mouse Davis, Detroit's quarterback coach, when they were together in 1984 with the USFL Houston Gamblers.