Odyssey: From Blue Collar, Ohio to Super Bowl Champion chronicles Marc's personal quest for something great and how a cast of family members and behind-the-scenes family friends helped to keep him on track. Freelance writer and former award-winning newspaper sports editor Aaron M. Smith takes the reader on an intriguing ride through the rigors and joys of transforming from a third-grader with a dream to a captain at legendary Notre Dame and eventually to the starting backfield for the world champion New England Patriots. Marc's struggles and eventual triumph will serve as inspiration and offer proof that you most certainly can do anything you want if you simply put in the effort.
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ODYSSEYFrom Blue Collar, Ohio to Super Bowl Champion
By Aaron M. Smith
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Aaron M. Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Game: Part I
"Always remember ... Goliath was a 40-point favorite over David." Shug Jordan
The dampness of the iron grey October afternoon crept in through the old walls of Notre Dame Stadium. Marc Edwards, Notre Dame's flat-top-wearing fullback from a bygone era, crouched near his locker while his coach, Lou Holtz, paced the room - his jowls shaking with each intense instruction. Marc didn't hear what Holtz was saying because the words that were ringing in his head then were those of Southern California coach John Robinson. These same words had reverberated through his head during the previous two-and-a-half years, but that early autumn afternoon was his chance to finally do something about it.
During his senior season at Norwood High School near Cincinnati, Marc had been heavily recruited and had narrowed his choices to USC, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State. He had scheduled visits to all four schools, but when Robinson was rehired at Southern California with the main objective of beating the Fighting Irish, the long-time coach decided to give Marc a call.
"Hey Marc, this is Coach Robinson at USC."
"Yeah, I've watched some more video of you and you're not the kind of player we would offer a scholarship to. You don't need to worry about taking your visit here. Thanks for your interest and best of luck to you."
The words stuck in Marc's gut like a sucker punch, but he stored the anger deep in a place where only he had access. He would get his chance. It was fuel for Marc. He had played in limited roles against USC in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, but that year, he was a starter. Marc had a significant role on the offense and felt 1995 would be the year to put an end to the ringing of Robinson's voice in his head.
Marc thought often about what Robinson told him over the phone; it didn't matter that he probably never would have attended the California private school. But anytime someone tells you you're not good enough for them, it tends to light a spark. And for Marc, this instance was no different.
Marc's teammates may not have been shunned by the Trojan coach, but each had their own motivations; it was, after all, the USC game. And if the players didn't care one way or another about what was termed "The Game" in South Bend when they were recruited, they learned quickly to care under Coach Holtz.
When Holtz first signed a contract with Notre Dame in 1986, the program had been struggling. Holtz noticed, though, that when they got to the USC game on the schedule, everyone was filled with enthusiasm and excitement. They called it "The Game," but when Holtz asked his players what was so special about that particular game, the room got quiet.
No one could tell their coach why this game was any different than the Michigan game or the Purdue game or even the game against Catholic school rival Boston College. That upset the fiery coach.
That night, Holtz sat alone at a library researching the rivalry. He read about the first battle and about the big wins between the schools.
"I wanted my players to understand that this was more than just a regular game on the schedule," Holtz said. "I wanted them to know why everyone called it 'The Game.'"
Holtz walked into the practice room the next morning and demanded the attention of each of his players.
"Yesterday, no one could tell me why this game was so special," Holtz told his team. "Listen up. This is why."
Holtz then lectured his team on the history of the rivalry and explained how fortunate each of the players was to be a part of such an event. He started with an explanation of how the rivalry started: Legendary Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne's wife had asked him to schedule a game with the Trojans because she wanted to go on a trip to Southern California every two years instead of staying in the frigid Midwest. Some historians say that Rockne's wife wanted a Los Angeles shopping trip.
Holtz talked about the meaning behind the Jeweled Shillelagh, the coveted trophy given to the winner of the game each year. The Gaelic war club was rumored to have been flown in from Ireland in Howard Hughes's plane and first presented after the 1952 tilt in which Notre Dame won 9-0 in South Bend.
From legendary wins to heartbreaking losses, and from the Four Horsemen to Joe Montana and the green jerseys, Holtz drilled the team on this great rivalry.
After the coach was finished, he told the team to take out something with which to write. As he asked this, coaches passed out a quiz that Holtz had written to see if the team was paying attention. And each year Holtz was a coach at Notre Dame, every player and all first-year coaches had to take the quiz.
If a player failed, he did not dress for "The Game."
The Fighting Irish had not lost to the Trojans since 1982, tying the Trojans 17-17 in 1994 after winning 11 straight. All the papers predicted USC - a lock for the National Championship - would ride senior Heisman favorite Keyshawn Johnson's hands and blazing speed to a victory. The Notre Dame streak would be over according to sportswriters across the nation. Even Keyshawn chirped all week that Notre Dame didn't belong on the same field as him or his team.
The Trojans were certainly going to get back on the horse in 1995.
Fifth-ranked USC was undefeated and hardly challenged as it rolled into South Bend with six consecutive victories while Notre Dame already had two losses - an opening game stunner to Northwestern and a blowout at the hands of Ohio State four weeks later. Both Northwestern and Ohio State were top-10 teams, but the Irish were still looking for respect - a No. 17 ranking did not satisfy the Irish.
Marc could hear the Irish band belting out the Notre Dame Victory March, the beat of the drums rumbling throughout the cold walls of the locker room. The sell-out crowd, covered in navy blue and yellow ponchos, stamped its feet to keep warm in the unseasonably cold afternoon. Temperatures dipped into the low-30s, but the bitter wind made it much more frigid.
Holtz, finishing his pep talk, gathered his men at the center of the locker room.
"This is USC," Holtz said. "They think they're better than you. Everyone says we should be intimidated because they're undefeated. But you know what? They haven't played Notre Dame yet!"
The Irish players roared and raced down the steps and pounded the golden "Play Like a Champion Today" sign they had hit many times before. Marc touched his hand to the sign and vowed to respond to Coach Robinson's phone call and Keyshawn's boasts with a performance to be remembered.
Actions would certainly trump words on that dreary autumn afternoon.
Chapter TwoBlue Collar, Ohio
"I learned that if you want to make it bad enough, no matter how bad it is, you can make it." Gale Sayers
Late on a cool November evening in 1974, Cyndi Edwards, a teenage girl from Norwood, Ohio, lay in a hospital delivery room preparing to welcome her first child into the world. Only 18-years-old and recently married, Cyndi's mind raced with thoughts of "am I ready?" and "what am I going to do?" She smiled a little and cried a lot as her contractions grew stronger. She prayed.
Outside in a waiting room, Cyndi's husband Mark Edwards, a tall, strong man who seemingly was built precisely for his work in a Norwood automobile factory, paced in anticipation of the news. He wasn't ready to be a father and he knew it.
At just before 9:30 a.m. on November 17, Cyndi welcomed her son, Marc Alexander Edwards, into her world. His big hands clenched and grabbed for anything. Exhausted, Cyndi shook slightly as the nurse lay her tiny son on her chest.
"He was so beautiful," she said.
Cyndi cradled her son and gazed at his face; she could see her own in his. Her heart beat offered a quick, yet relaxing and familiar rhythm to her infant son. Moments like this came few and far between for Cyndi and she almost wished that time could stand still forever. An hour passed - it seemed like seconds - and it was time for baby Marc to sleep and for Cyndi to reunite with her husband.
"What time was he born?" Mark asked.
"It was 9:25," Cyndi replied.
"Look at your watch."
Cyndi glanced at her watch and it read 9:25 on the dot.
"It's 11 o'clock right now," Mark said.
Cyndi's heart pounded. Her watch had stopped keeping time at precisely the moment her son entered the world.
"I knew right then that he was going to be something special," Cyndi said.
The glow of delivering a son, though, soon dimmed as reality took hold of the young mother.
"I was a baby and I just had a baby," she said. "I didn't have an education and my husband was always away at work. I had no money. I didn't get much support from my husband and it was hard. It was real hard."
Mark struggled being a dad. He worked long hours and still didn't have the money to support his young family. He was distant, hiding from his responsibilities behind a wall of self-doubt. But he knew, or at least hoped, that someone else would make sure his son got what he needed. A former Army man, Big Mark, as he was called, was as tough as they came. He was a man who wore many hats, but fatherhood was a cap that just would not fit.
Big Mark was a disciplinarian. When Marc was a toddler, his father would make him stand in the corner for long periods of time whenever he would step out of line. Marc was always in trouble, it seemed. As a two-year old, he once accidentally knocked out a man by swinging a baseball bat and making contact with the back of the man's head. It was an early sign of the strength he would one day use to his advantage. Big Mark didn't like it when his son would act out; the corner soon became home for Marc. He would cry often in the corner and sometimes would fall asleep, leaning against the wall.
Marc spent most of his childhood growing up in a big old two-story, four bedroom house on Ashland Avenue in the heart of Norwood.
The house was the center of his family; he lived there with his beloved Grandmother Dorothy, his mom, and his aunts Cheryl and Pam. His aunts were young girls when he was born and they had more of a sibling relationship at the start.
Cheryl admits that she hated him at first because he got all the attention from her mother, Dorothy, whom Marc referred to as Mom Dot. To his grandmother, Marc could do no wrong. Marc was her baby, according to Pam Knight, Dorothy's middle daughter. Dorothy was a mother of three girls and Marc gave her the opportunity to raise a boy - a role that Dorothy relished. She would do anything for him.
When Marc was just four years old, Cyndi and Big Mark divorced soon after the couple had their second child, a son named Greg. Cyndi always had a place to stay on Ashland Avenue.
"I had the best mother in the world," Cyndi said. "She always told me, 'Cyndi, you have to have (medical) insurance for your kids. I am here to help you. You have a place to live. Your kids will have a home.' I couldn't have done it without her help."
Dorothy became a stabilizing force in Marc's life along with Cyndi's sister Cheryl. They formed an unconventional home life for Marc, but at least he had a makeshift support system in place. Dorothy provided the day-to-day care for Marc and Greg as they grew up while the financial assistance came from many different avenues.
Sometimes money came from Cyndi's paychecks from Red Lobster; sometimes it came from Cheryl when she was old enough to secure a job at Hardees. Pam would also chip in when it was needed. Big Mark rarely contributed to the family financially, or even emotionally for that matter, according to Cheryl, but Pam remembered one time when he came through in a very big way.
The house on Ashland was a safe haven, a base where Marc and Greg and Pam and Cheryl and Cyndi knew they could survive. They knew Dorothy would be there for support. It was big, it was old, but most of all, it was home. But bills began to mount faster than the money was coming. The gas and electric were turned off and that big old house could get colder and darker than a February night. The house on Ashland went into foreclosure and the family's future there was in serious doubt.
Big Mark had come into some money from being in the service - he still received a modest paycheck from the Army. Money was due for the house before Dorothy could come up with the amount; she had been waiting for an insurance check to arrive after the passing of her husband. Big Mark went to the bank and told them about the situation and he paid what was needed to keep the house with an agreement that Dorothy would pay the rest once the insurance check arrived. Big Mark's gesture saved the home and was a glimpse of what kind of man he could be. Sadly, though, it would have to remain only a glimpse.
"He came through for us big time," Pam said. "I can't help but wonder if that house would have been lost if there ever would have been a Marc playing football. That was his home. He is who he is because of the upbringing he had at that house. What would have happened?"
Dorothy and Marc's aunts provided the stability that Marc and Greg desperately needed. As they got older, Cyndi became more distant, spending more time after work with friends instead of with her children. The stresses of life weighed heavily on Cyndi; her children's needs mounted while money became scarce. Alcohol became a destructive force in Cyndi's life and acted as a wedge between her and her children. Several times, she would stagger home to the house on Ashland after a night out with friends. Too often for Cyndi, according to Marc, the night would end in a shouting match with Dorothy or Cheryl or anyone who had the energy to confront her with the harsh realities of life.
Cyndi's children may have been in their bedrooms when she returned home intoxicated late at night, but they knew what their mother was doing. They knew where she spent her time and where her paychecks were going. It didn't take a sleuth to figure out she was putting into jeopardy the futures of her children. It is painful for children to listen to such confrontations when they should be asleep.
Cheryl, who did not want to see Marc and Greg wander down the same path, began doing whatever she could to help the kids at school and with any financial obligations. When Cheryl turned 16, she would give Marc and Greg money whenever she could afford it. By the time she turned 18, she took on more of a parental role, sacrificing her dream of going to college.
"You always wonder how things would be if they were different back then," Cheryl said. "I always wanted to go to school; I'm not sad that I didn't because I have my children today because of the roles I had back then with Marc. You can be resentful about it or you can move on. I've been through my resentful stage. I'm older now and I know things happen for a reason. I'm not going to be bitter my whole life."
Marc and Greg would come to Cheryl in the mornings before school for lunch money - she had kept all of her singles to give to them for food. While Cyndi buckled under the pressures of raising a family with little money, Cheryl tried her best to keep the family above water.
"Cyndi was going through rough patches - painful times for her and for all of us," Cheryl remembered. "I worked countless hours, so the whole day-to-day caring was taken care of by my mom, but financially I was at the front end of that."
But Cyndi's new husband Jay - she remarried when Marc was seven - introduced the active boy to an outlet on the gridiron. It didn't stick at first.
Jay had friends who had children around the same age as Marc and they played pee-wee football in Reading, Ohio. Norwood did not have a youth football program at the time, so Jay signed up Marc to play in Reading, a small neighborhood about six miles from Norwood.
Marc was into football about as much as he was into advanced chemistry. He hated the sport and cried often when he would get blocked or tackled on the field. Marc gave up on football and played soccer the following year, but Jay convinced his step-son to try his hand at football once again. He was just too big and too strong not to give it another try.
Excerpted from ODYSSEY by Aaron M. Smith Copyright © 2010 by Aaron M. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER I: The Game: Part I....................1
CHAPTER II: Blue Collar, Ohio....................5
CHAPTER III: Mission Possible....................29
CHAPTER IV: The Home of Legends....................63
CHAPTER V: Soul of the Irish....................87
CHAPTER VI: The Game: Part II....................99
CHAPTER VII: The Unquestionable Leader....................109
CHAPTER VIII: A Dream Come True....................135
CHAPTER IX: The Champion....................171
EPILOGUE: One Last Night....................203
POSTSCRIPT: A New Challenge - By Marc Edwards....................207
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I grew up a huge Notre Dame fan and one of my favorite players was Marc Edwards. He was the epitome of a Notre Dame football player. I came across this book about Marc, ordered a copy, and it was a great read. It explained a lot about who Marc was and brought back a ton of memories from watching him play in the mid-90s. I love biographies on football players and this one is another good one. I recommend this book for any ND fan or football fan for that matter. The author really makes you connect to Marc; he was just a regular guy, not a superstar diva. Good stuff!