Ware, Bowen share lifelong bond
Now on rival teams, former teammates grew closer after sharing grief of losing a child
Ware grew up in Alabama. Bowen in New York. One was country. One was city. While Ware was a first-round pick in 2005, Bowen was an undrafted free agent a year later. They went to small colleges -- Troy University for Ware; Hofstra for Bowen.
Yet from the moment they first met, something clicked between the two.
For five years they were teammates with the Dallas Cowboys, developing a bond that this summer transcended the football field and the former Hummer dealership in Grapevine, Texas, where they held grueling workouts during the lockout.
On June 28, Bowen's wife, Tiffany, gave birth to twin boys, Skyler and Stephen III, four months earlier than expected. The micro preemies were less than 2 pounds.
Ten days after Skyler was born, he passed away.
"I couldn't process it," Stephen said.
His best friend could.
In 2006, Ware and his wife, Taniqua, suffered through the trauma of a stillborn son, Omar, and three miscarriages.
"It gave me somebody to relate to," Bowen said. "Your friends and family will be there for you, but there's nothing like somebody who's been through something similar. It definitely grew us stronger together."
Privately at lunches and dinners together, they would talk about their experiences, although they kept it mostly quiet around their teammates at the workouts. "Man to man" talks, Bowen called them.
"I accepted the situation as God did this for a reason," Ware said, "but from that I've got an angel from heaven watching over me 24-7."
On his right shoulder, Ware carries a tattoo of a giant O with angel's wings and his son's name inscribed in the middle. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think of Omar when he looks at his daughter, Marley, whom the Wares adopted, and their biological son, DeMarcus Jr., who is closing in on his first birthday.
From the grief, comes strength, and Ware passed that message on to Bowen, who signed with the Washington Redskins not long after the lockout ended.
"Now every time you're on the field, you know your son is going to be watching you," Ware said. "He's going to be watching you every single play. Me, if I get tired I think about, 'What if he had one more breath? One more breath. One more breath.' That makes me say, 'I've got one more play, let's go.' That drives me. I told him about my situation so that could help him out."
Bowen carries a picture of Skyler on his cell phone. At home, at the Redskins' facility, in the locker room, in meetings, he'll just stare at the picture at any moment.
"Every day I talk to him," Bowen said. "I'll ask him to watch over his brother, watch over his family."
Tiffany and Stephen III, as well as the couple's daughter, Trinity, remained in Dallas when training camp began. The separation was difficult, but Bowen's mother, as well as Taniqua Ware and the wives of other players helped out. Bowen received updates every day.
"To see his son fight like he did, for him to have the opportunity to hold his son, little Steve, it's going to be the greatest thing in the world for him," Ware said.
On Sunday, the Redskins will fly to Dallas for Monday's game between two of the most heated rivals in the NFL. Bowen will join Ware and a few teammates for a dinner that night to catch up, joke, laugh and talk about how much has happened since early July.
For Ware and Bowen, the competition of a game will only temporarily separate them because their lives are entwined forever with angels from heaven watching over them.
"We were the best of friends before," Ware said, "but then it became like a brother mentality where I could talk about anything. We're more brothers now."
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.