Stricken with grief and working on an hour of sleep, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith played a major part in a comeback victory against the New England Patriots on Sunday night just hours after learning that his brother died in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.
Smith was intent on honoring his 19-year-old brother, Tevin Jones, pointing to the sky after a 25-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and finishing with a team-high six receptions for 127 yards.
Kneeling in the end zone, Smith said a prayer during the fourth quarter.
"It was tough emotionally," said Smith, who was excused from practice Monday to be with his family and is expected to return Tuesday. "I didn't know how I would hold up. This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother."
Smith's performance was reminiscent of the focus displayed by former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre nine years ago during a 41-7 win over the Oakland Raiders after his father died. Favre passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns one day after his father, Irvin Favre, passed away.
The poise and composure displayed by Smith didn't go unnoticed.
"Playing is therapy for your soul; it is an escape," said former NFL running back Marshall Faulk, an NFL Network analyst. "What he did in this game is going to lift him up and it gives his family something to be excited about."
Smith said he didn't decide until shortly before kickoff whether he would play, checking first with his mother, Monica Jenkins.
"Obviously, you play with a heavy heart," Smith said. "You want to play for that person. My mom, all my family, they didn't even know I was going to play until the last minute. She was like, 'Of course, he'd want you to play.' He admired me so much.
"I didn't want to be out there, just running around, doing nothing. If I was going to be out there, I was going to give it my all. Afterwards is when you can sit back and reflect on things. My teammates, I love them to death, and they helped me get through this."
How an athlete deals with difficult personal circumstances depends on the individual.
Life and death transcend sports, but athletes often decide to be with their teammates, a second family of sorts, when tragedy strikes.
How Smith excelled after his brother died in a single-vehicle accident when his motorcycle struck a utility pole, is remarkable, according to Dr. Joel Fish of The Center for Sports Psychology in Philadelphia.
"It clearly takes a tremendous level of will and motivation and character to dedicate your performance to a loved one to honor their loss," Fish said in a telephone interview. "The tribute can allow someone to harness those emotions and channel them. Not everyone can do it.
"The stress is amazing, and it's not about strength and toughness. It's important to recognize that everybody responds differently to these kinds of tragedies. This is a tribute to dedicating our moments to someone, connecting and elevating our focus."
Two years ago, Ravens free safety Ed Reed boarded a private jet to return home to his family when his younger brother Brian Reed was reported missing after jumping into the Mississippi River after being chased by police.
Ed Reed joined his family after an AFC wild-card playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He returned to the Ravens while his brother remained missing and started the divisional round game the following week. Brian Reed's body was discovered weeks later, and coroners determined he had drowned.
"When I went through losing my brother, being around these guys really helped," Reed said. "Everybody is mourning and trying to figure out what happens. I gave [Smith] a psalm. We don't know our time, none of us.
"I just told him that we're here for him, I'm here for him. I can relate to him. I still talk to my brother to this day because I know there's much more to us than just being here. I told him he could still have those conversations, just know that he's in a much better place."
Although coaches and athletes routinely characterize their teams as a family, Fish believes a genuinely tight-knit environment can aid the grieving process.
"Every team in the country talks about being a family, but I've been amazed to see how, when adversity or tragedy strikes, a team puts that effort into effect," Fish said. "I have no doubt Torrey drew strength from his character and the strength of his teammates. Teams go through the good, the bad and the ugly together.
"Really being able to trust and lean on his teammates in the most meaningful way, when you do that, amazing things can happen. But nobody is a clone. There are unique ways to grieve. We have to be respectful of everyone's choices."
Smith chose to express his grief by honoring his brother by sprinting past Patriots cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington.
"He's a stronger man than I am," running back Ray Rice said. "If I had to face death within hours of playing the game, that would be a tough decision being the family man that I am. He's got two families, he knows that we have his back."
Ravens nose guard Terrence Cody didn't attend funerals of his aunt and uncle when they died during football season last year.
"For Torrey to fight through what he was going through, that was amazing," Cody said. "I guarantee he was thinking about his brother the whole time. To have the focus and make the catches and plays he made was amazing.
"If he would have said he didn't want to play, I would have respected it, but it takes a man to play and perform how he did. This is our second family. We go through so much together. I spoke to him before and after the game to let him know, 'I got you, I'm with you.'"
NOTE: Smith announced that he's establishing a scholarship fund in honor of his brother called the Tevin Jones Memorial Scholarship Fund. Contributions can be made care of Torrey Smith at One Winning Drive, Owings Mills, 21117.
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