Sunday night was probably one of the biggest games Denver Broncos Wide Receiver, Demaryius Thomas, has ever had to play. It’s not because of the pressure of being in the NFL playoffs and the need to secure a win for the Broncos to advance one round closer to the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, though. The pressure came from off the field in a suite where his mother, Katina Smith, got to watch her son play in person for the first time. This being her first game might come as a surprise to some especially considering the fact that Thomas is an NFL veteran with six years of experience under his belt. 

Katina Smith missed out on most of her son’s NFL career due to a drug trafficking conviction. In 1999, Smith along with Demaryius’ grandmother were arrested for running a Georgia cocaine ring. Demayrius Thomas was just 11 years old when his mother was  sentenced to over 20 years in prison.

Thomas grew up under non-ideal circumstances. Smith gave birth to him at the age of 15, and prior to going to prison, Thomas watched his mother use drugs and exude behaviors not quite fitting for any parent. At the time of her arrest, Thomas had yet to start playing football, so when he did pick up the sport his mother never got the opportunity to watch him play at the high school or collegiate level. Thomas was a stand out player at Georgia Tech, full of determination and perseverance. And his hard work paid off when he was selected by the Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, just one of the accomplishments that his mother was not there to see.

During Sunday night’s divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, that all changed. In July, Smith was among 46 prisoners whose sentences were commuted by President Barack Obama. Due to the fact that these 46 inmates were non-violent offenders, President Obama decided that they deserved a second chance. But not just a second chance at life, a second chance at being a mother to an amazing son. In an interview with the The Player’s Tribune, Thomas described what it was like the day his mother was arrested and the officers stormed into their home. “The loudest sound I ever heard. I was sleeping by the door when the men busted in. It was seven in the morning, right before school. The first thing I saw were the guns pointing at me. Big guns. Like in a movie. I didn’t know they were police. I just saw guns and red dots flashing. They told me to get down. I laid on the floor and they went into my mom and stepdad’s room. They brought them out in handcuffs.As they were walking my mamma to the police car, she said, ‘Can I please just take my kids to the school bus one last time?’ ”

Hopefully, the loudest sound that Demaryius Thomas ever hears is the sound of his mother cheering him on from right above the field. It also doesn’t hurt that the Denver Broncos won Sunday night’s game against the Steelers. Congratulations on more than one win this evening Demaryius.