NFL Football Families airs on NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, November 24. NFL Network anchor Rhett Lewis is an executive producer.
I've been in one fight in my life.
It was October 8, 1989, and I was in first grade. It was the Monday after another Sunday Saints loss. My Dad, the Saints' head athletic trainer for 31 years had just gotten back from Candlestick Park, where the Saints had been leading the 49ers late in the fourth quarter until Joe Montana found John Taylor for a touchdown to complete the comeback victory. The Saints, losers of four straight, fell to 1-5. So, I went to school that Monday morning and was almost immediately confronted by a second grader who let me know how stupid I was for thinking the Saints would win, how much they stunk and how much my dad did, too, because he worked for them. It would be a familiar refrain as I got older, but on that day, I just wasn't going to take it. And, I didn't. Optimistically, I would score the fight as a draw, but to me it was a rare Monday victory for the Saints.
I grew up in a national football family. Even though my dad is now retired after 41 NFL seasons, we are still a national football family. My sister, Morgan Kleinschmidt, is a community relations coordinator for the Houston Texans and I've spent the last 12 years covering the league for multiple media outlets. Growing up, the term "die-hard fan" didn't do us justice. My family was woven into the figure eight of every ankle my dad taped. We relied on the Saints (and later, the Redskins and Lions) -- on the wins. Some of my fondest memories have come in sharing those wins with my dad, but the celebrations are fleeting and the losses often linger. It's from end to end on that emotional spectrum where you see the true investment and support of every national football family.
My story is just a tiny piece of what it means to live the national football family lifestyle. For every instance of heartbreak you may see the many instances of hilarity like Vince Wilfork barbecuing to the dulcet tones of Lil' Troy's "Wanna be a baller" or Tom Brady dressing up as a turkey, jumping out of a pile of leaves and scaring the heck out of his kids. Reflecting on my experiences and those that I've seen covering the NFL over the last decade-plus, I saw more clearly the unique challenges, triumphs and circumstances of football lifers and their families. In those recollections the idea to tell their stories was born.
Few knew my football family experience better than Jeffrey Glaser, a great friend of mine since kindergarten and also an executive producer on this project. Jeff and I actually formed a little football family of our own as teammates from fifth grade until 12th grade. I took my thoughts to Jeff and his background in Film & TV helped bring an idea to life -- the idea that every family has a story and the idea that in this great league, families don't have to be bound by blood. Thanks to the expertise of our partners at DLP Media Group, the vision for National Football Families is perfectly captured through four "extended" families.
National Football Families will bring you the support system Alex Smith has provided to foster students in the Kansas City area just as he did in California while he was with the 49ers. You'll see the investment -- both emotional and financial -- that Panthers running back Fozzy Whitaker provided to a high school football team in his hometown of Houston following Hurricane Harvey. The Romig family will show you the power of a family bonded in dedication to the New Orleans Saints. Two generations and decades of loyal service to a team that is the heartbeat of the Crescent City.
The star on the side of the Dallas Cowboys helmet shines bright and with the constant spotlight comes the power of nationwide acclaim. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has long used that "star power" to shower his franchise's fans with unparalleled compassion. For years Jones has penned personal letters to Cowboys supporters everywhere in times of tragedy and heartache. Binding these stories together is the one overriding quality for every family -- love. Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett weaves the love in each of these National Football Families together throughout this hour-long special with an original poem proving that football really is family.
To sum up the intersection of my personal experience and this show, I'll share one last brief story. Before a game in his final season, the last I saw in person, I told my dad, "Win or lose, it's been the thrill of a lifetime to live this journey with you." I wouldn't trade one second of that journey for anything, and it's our ultimate goal to illustrate why so many National Football Families feel the same way.