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MIAMI -- The time had come for Rose Murphy to gather her children around her. This would be a tough day for her, but not nearly the toughest of her life.
Those would follow.
Murphy looked at her two boys and her two girls, sitting on her sofa, wondering what she wanted to tell them. Her baby boy, Teddy, looked at her with his big, brown eyes. She focused on Teddy, who was just beginning what would turn out to be a record-setting high school football career.
"I have breast cancer," she said.
Teddy just stared at her, his expression changing from hopeful to sad. His older siblings did not know how to deal with such traumatic news and quickly scattered. But Teddy, well, he just sat on the couch, looking at his mother.
"My mom is going to die," he thought.
Rose Murphy thought she would die, too.
But she kept looking at Teddy.
She would not die.
She would not quit.
She would not consider letting her 14-year-old son go on alone.
"I just kept thinking about him being the baby, and I didn't want him to be without his mom," Murphy says now. "He was all I had and I was all he had, and I just kept thinking about him. I just didn't want to leave him here."
Murphy loves all her children. But she and Teddy share a special bond, a bond that kept them both going during her darkest moments. As Teddy watched his mother weaken with every chemo and radiation treatment, he decided he wanted to give up football to be the man of the house.
But his mom would not hear of such nonsense. Because Rose Murphy could see what everybody else could see.
Her baby, Teddy Bridgewater, would be a star.
Teddy Bridgewater was always taller than the other boys. He got his height from his father, who divorced his mom when Bridgewater was young.
He grew up in the working-class Brownsville neighborhood in Northwest Miami, an area that has seen its share of crime. During street football games, he made one play after another. Bridgewater was 7 at the time. Somebody suggested that Murphy sign him up to play at the local Optimist league. She did, and Bridgewater officially began his football career as a wide receiver.
Bridgewater also kicked for his team and eventually moved over to quarterback. He played youth baseball as well, as a pitcher, first baseman, second baseman and shortstop.
But Bridgewater had designs on football and entered Miami Northwestern High in 2007 with plans to play receiver. Around the same time, Murphy received her cancer diagnosis, and Bridgewater began to re-evaluate his priorities.
"I was the last child in the household, so I basically just wanted to give up everything and take care of her because she couldn't work, and I was asking questions like, 'How would the bills get paid?'" Bridgewater recalled. "It was hard because in a situation like that, you want someone else to be around to help provide for her."
|Rose Murphy and her son, Teddy Bridgewater, inspire each other.|
Murphy planned to keep her job as a transportation supervisor for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, so she told Bridgewater not to concern himself with finances. She wanted him to focus on football.
Still, Bridgewater would mow lawns when he had the time, or wash cars, just for extra money to give to his mother. When her treatments began in earnest, there were days she could not get out of bed in the morning. Bridgewater would stay behind to help his mom, only to be late to school. He was late so many times, school officials threatened to suspend him before Murphy explained the situation.
Her treatments went on for months, during football season. Her hair fell out, she lost her appetite, her legs were weak with fatigue. Her whole body ached. But Rose Murphy went to work every morning. And she refused to miss a game. She was there, every Friday night, her fortitude fighting the poison trying to destroy her.
"I know being there gave him strength," Murphy said. "I always tell him he's my biggest inspiration, and he always tells me I'm his biggest inspiration. I always tell him we can inspire each other."
Bridgewater eventually switched over to quarterback, the position he seemed destined to play. He had terrific size and the physical tools coaches drool over. Folks in South Florida started whispering about Bridgewater, believing he could potentially be better than schoolboy legend Jacory Harris, who also starred at Northwestern.
By the time Bridgewater took over the starting quarterback job in 2008, Murphy had been declared cancer free. But her fight never strayed far from her mind, and it changed her in dramatic ways. She would forever be known as a survivor, and that is never a guarantee. While she fought her cancer, Murphy lost friends to the same disease.
She refused to give voice to the negative thoughts that would run through her head, when she laid in bed at night alone, thinking about what would happen to her family, to her Teddy, if she died.
"Being in between life and death, when you're doing the chemo -- it just blew my mind," Murphy said. "I just kept telling myself, 'I have to find a way to get through this. I can't quit.'"
She made it through, to see her son become one of the most highly recruited players in the nation. They would pick through the recruiting letters, laying them all out on her bed at home. Bridgewater made an early commitment to Miami, where he would follow Harris.
The commitment made sense. Bridgewater had grown close with then-coach Randy Shannon, and he would be able to play close to home. But he started reconsidering his options before Shannon was fired in November 2010. Bridgewater decommitted in early December, and it drew national attention, devastating some in the Miami community.
Murphy says Bridgewater changed his mind before Shannon was let go. At one point, she thought her son would end up at LSU. But he eventually chose Louisville, in part, because he felt he could win a starting job early in his career.
"With everything that was happening down there, I felt I needed to get away," Bridgewater said. "Leaving my mom was the hardest part because of how close we are and the relationship we have. Just knowing I couldn't come home to a cooked meal, it was tough, but you adapt after a while."
Though outsiders criticized him for his decision, his family and friends were happy to see him move on. "Basically, they didn't want me to be in Jacory Harris' shadow," Bridgewater said. "They wanted me to go somewhere and make a name for myself."
Bridgewater arrived in Louisville in January 2011, a semester early, to compete for the starting quarterback job as an 18-year-old freshman. Former walk-on Will Stein was his competition, and Bridgewater felt good about his chances.
But coach Charlie Strong decided to name the more experienced Stein his starter heading into 2011, a tough decision for Bridgewater to take. Murphy needed to give her son a pep talk.
"What if I had given up?" she said to him. "You know, I was sick, my hair was falling out. What if I was like, 'I can't do this anymore? I want to give up, I want to die?' That ought to tell you it is worth it to struggle for something. If I hadn't gone through that and fought, I wouldn't be here to see you. If I fought, you are going to do the same thing. You never know what your outcome is going to be. So quitting is not an option, and failure is not an option. You're going to be all right."
Bridgewater played sparingly in the first two games of the season but got his opportunity against rival Kentucky after Stein got hurt. Bridgewater helped lead Louisville to a 24-17 victory and has not relinquished the starting job since.
He has not gotten much fanfare, but Bridgewater is a player worth watching. He never gets rattled. He is incredibly poised, a quality his coaches cite time and again as one of his best. That was evident last week in a 27-25 comeback win over USF, when he threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers with 1:35 left to win the game.
His maturation as a quarterback has been the biggest storyline to what is unfolding in Louisville. The No. 16 Cardinals are off to their first 7-0 start since 2006, living up to the preseason expectations placed on this team -- in large part because of Bridgewater.
Already this season, Bridgewater has thrown for 1,694 yards -- more than any other quarterback starting for an undefeated team right now. He has 11 touchdown passes to three interceptions, and has five games without a pick. His completion percentage is 73.4, and Bridgewater's goal is to reach 75 percent.
He is the leading candidate to win Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors and was just named a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the top quarterback in college football.
Keep in mind, Bridgewater does not turn 20 until next month.
"Last year, when he took over as the quarterback, he knew that he had a lot of learning," Strong said. "He needed to study the game, the defenses and the coverages. That's what he did in the spring and summer. He put in the work and wanted to learn more football. He just made himself a better football player."
Bridgewater spent most of his free time during the offseason going over every single play from 2011 with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, which has also been huge in his development.
But his performance to date is not enough for Bridgewater, a perfectionist at his core.
"I can be way better, as far as managing the game, making my checks, and being more accurate with the football," he said.
Murphy makes it to all his home games and road games that are close enough to drive to. She grips the pink and white bracelet she wears with the word "STRENGTH" written in big black letters to keep herself calm as she watches her son play. Murphy always cooks Bridgewater his favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs, with garlic bread and corn, and Bridgewater treats his mom to Krispy Kreme donuts.
But one day soon, he may be treating is mom to more.
When he was in third grade, Bridgewater made Murphy a promise.
"Mom," he said, "When I make it to the pros, guess what I'm going to buy you? A pink Escalade."
That would mean more than he could have ever dreamed.