TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu has a little extra motivation these days as he continues rehabilitating from ACL surgery.
His grandmother, Marie Spellman Mathieu, who raised him until he was 5 years old, is in critical condition in New Orleans.
"She’s not doing well," the Arizona Cardinals defensive back told ESPN. "It’s kind of tough to watch and not really be there. I kind of have my own life to handle and to watch her suffer in a sense, it’s added a little bit of motivation for me."
Mathieu spent a day with her in New Orleans last week and began preparing himself to say goodbye.
Marie raised Mathieu from the time he was born in 1992 until he was 5 and was adopted by his aunt and uncle, Tyrone and Sheila. Even though they have been his parents for the past 18 years, Mathieu still looks at Marie more as a mother than a grandmother.
"In essence she is my mother," Mathieu said. "She always kept me strong. She was always that ear I needed. When everybody else didn’t really understand me, she always did. I guess all grandmothers are like that, but to me she was more like a mother because she fed me bottles, when I cried she rocked me to sleep."
Marie, 75, gave birth to 10 children -- including Tyrann's father, Tyrone -- and adopted another. She was a homebody who watched all of Mathieu’s games from high school to last season on TV. Mathieu’s grandfather, Lorenzo Mathieu, died in 1997 at age 54.
Tyrone said his mother was "always proud of (her grandchildren), especially Tyrann making it to the NFL." She could see Tyrann’s determination from a young age, Tyrone said.
"I know she’s proud of me and everything I’ve accomplished," Mathieu said. "It kind of just sucks that I can’t be there. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed to do what I love for a living, so I don’t try to hold that on my chest, but she means a lot."
Mathieu has two children, has been in the NFL for three seasons after sitting out his junior season at LSU because of marijuana issues. All those steps in his life and career have caused Mathieu to re-evaluate himself and his life.
It happened again when he found out Marie’s health was failing. Watching his grandmother suffer recently has Mathieu looking at his life differently.
"It kind of puts life back into perspective, that family is everything and we’re not going to be here forever," Mathieu said. "We really have to live up to our potential, and I felt like my grandmother did that.
"She raised three generations of kids, and so to me she’s the strongest woman I have ever met and to see her fight through this, it kind of validates that point of her being strong."