JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Demaryius Thomas’ mother and grandmother will cheer for the Broncos receiver around the prison TV Sunday, both wearing No. 88 jerseys they crafted with strips of tape.
The two women have never seen Thomas play in person. He was 11 when police burst through the door of their home in Montrose, Ga., and arrested both in 1999. Police allowed Katina Smith to walk her son and his two younger sisters to the school bus one last time.
Now she’s at a minimum-security prison in Florida, sentenced to 20 years. Her mother, Minnie Pearl Thomas, who had two previous drug convictions, received two life sentences with the possibility for parole after 40 years.
Smith could have gotten a lighter sentence by testifying against her mother, but she refused.
They’ll watch Thomas play in his first Super Bowl on Sunday, when he will be matched against Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman for much of the game.
“I think that drives me more to know that they’re there and they’re watching me,” Thomas said. “I try to go out there and play my best because they’re going to talk about it to the people in the jailhouse.”
Thomas’ father was serving in the Army and stationed in Kuwait when his mother and grandmother were arrested. He went to live with an aunt and uncle, Shirley and James Brown, a Baptist minister who lived six miles away.
Thomas, called “Bay-Bay” by his family, started working as an usher at the church and attending Bible study after track and basketball practices.
“Once I moved in with him, I told him I wanted to do something to stay off the streets and stay out of trouble, so I tried football,” Thomas said. “And it worked out for me.”
Thomas played at Georgia Tech and was a first-round pick by Denver in 2010. Injuries slowed him down until his 80-yard catch from Tim Tebow in overtime beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
Two months later, Peyton Manning came to Denver and Thomas has flourished ever since.