From prison, two fans root for No. 88

"I am a woman of integrity," Minnie Pearl said. She explained that she has a rock-solid reputation among the officers and inmates alike, that she was entrusted to serve as a companion on another woman's suicide watch, and that her daughter joined her in the cause of making Demaryius proud.

"We don't want his peers to see us acting out of order in no kind of way," Minnie Pearl said. "We want to uphold a certain standard."

The Demaryius Thomas standard. Raised by an aunt and uncle after his mother's arrest, and after his father realized his life in the Army made full-time parenting impossible, Demaryius grew into a world-class wide receiver who doesn't believe in trash talk, and who has never put himself on the wrong side of the law.

"It's been a blessing to watch him evolve," Smith said. "I don't want to sound too boastful, but I'm a very proud mother. He had the choice of taking the wrong path or the right path, and he chose the right path even though he had all those negative situations around him."

In the wake of her February 2000 conviction, Smith could tell through her son's body language on visits, and through his lack of engagement on the phone, that he felt betrayed by her. Young Demaryius had asked her to stop dealing drugs, had shared a nightmare he'd had of her being hauled off to jail, and she didn't heed his warnings.

As the cops broke through her door in the early morning hours of March 15, 1999, Smith was jolted from her sleep by what she called "a big boom." Demaryius and his two sisters were in their bedrooms, and Minnie Pearl said it was "very scary waking up to infrared lights and screaming."

Smith asked the police if she could at least walk her children to their school bus, free of handcuffs, and the police obliged. She kissed her kids on their foreheads, assured them she loved them, and told them to look out for each other.

Smith would reject the prosecution's offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for her testimony against Minnie Pearl, and ended up with 20 years. "I couldn't live with myself if I was the reason my mom was in prison," Smith said. "At the same time I let my kids get raised by someone else. It was a no-win situation for me."

And one Minnie Pearl tried to manage for her.

"She's very loyal," she said of her daughter. "But I told her many times that she could talk, that she could testify."

All these years later, Smith doesn't regret her decision. She only regrets the fact that her son -- the child she gave birth to as a 16-year-old child herself -- grew up without her, and that she never saw him play high school, college or professional football.

Except on the prison TV. When Tim Tebow threw that touchdown pass to Demaryius to beat Pittsburgh in a playoff game, Smith said she was screaming so loudly that other inmates had to calm her down. Denver's AFC Championship Game victory over New England was met with a similar response.

Smith expects as many as 50 women to gather around their dormitory TV to watch Demaryius play in the Super Bowl, with at least a few carrying pompoms. Of course Minnie Pearl will be there, too. She still believes that somehow, some way, she'll be paroled out of her life sentence in time to see Demaryius play in the NFL. But just in case, she'll find a way to will herself into the MetLife stands.

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