When he learned that his mother had breast cancer, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater decided to give up football. He wanted to be his mother's support system and live-in nurse. He was 15.
"Just trying to be a provider for my family and my mother," he said after a U of L practice this month. "I wanted to be the man of the house because there was no man in the household at the time."
The youngest of Rose Murphy's four children, and the only child still living at home, Bridgewater had limited options as a provider. A smile at the memory of his naivete revealed the braces that make him appear not much older than 15 even now.
"It was very tough to give up the game you love," Bridgewater said. "At the same time, it wasn't too challenging to give it up for the person you love."
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Murphy convinced her son to continue playing football.
"It didn't take much persuasion after I sat him down and talked to him," she recalled. "'Don't worry about me. You don't worry about anything. God gave you a gift. You have to use it to the best of your ability. I am fine.'"
That was true, except for the being fine part. In July, 2007, doctors removed a lemon-size tumor in a breast and nine lymph nodes in hopes of removing the Stage 3 cancer.
"I was just freakin' out, period, when they did the surgery," Murphy said. "I wouldn't let them remove the whole breast. I just couldn't look at myself without a breast."
Despite the anxiety, Murphy maintained a brave can-do attitude with her family and co-workers.
"I'd say, 'I'm a miracle in progress,'" she said.
Chemotherapy and radiation followed the surgery. She continues what she called a "10-year treatment plan" that includes prescription medication.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater developed into a dual-threat quarterback for Northwestern High in Miami. Rivals.com ranked him the second-best quarterback prospect in the nation. He seemed destined to play for the University of Miami. Then that school fired its coach, Randy Shannon, who had attended high school in Miami with Bridgewater's mother and aunts.
"It was a huge factor" in reopening the recruiting process, Bridgewater said of Miami firing Shannon.
U of L Coach Charlie Strong and associate coach Clint Hurtt, the latter having once been Miami's recruiting coordinator, made the Hurricanes' loss Louisville's gain.
Bridgewater's U of L career got off to an interesting start last season. Murray State intercepted his one and only pass in the 2011 opening game.
"My most humble experience," he called it. "It brought me back down to Earth. The moment I came into the game, the crowd was chanting my name. You go to feeling good about yourself. If you don't remain humble, that's when things go wrong.
"As a freshman, you just want to throw it around, throw it around the ballpark. You realize it's not all about going out there and throwing for this amount of yards. It's all about managing the game."
Shawn Watson, then U of L's quarterbacks coach and now its offensive coordinator, downplayed the notion of the interception being significant. A wide receiver ran the wrong route on a third-and-long play, he said.
"An easy one to live through," Watson said.
Louisville's 24-17 victory at Kentucky in last season's third game served as Bridgewater's coming-out party. With starter Will Stein sidelined because of a shoulder injury, Bridgewater completed 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Thus began a season in which he threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Big East named him its Rookie of the Year.
"He played very poised," Watson said of Bridgewater's tone-setting performance at UK. "Not getting unraveled or shaken."
Watson cited Bridgewater's "natural instinct" for football, a strong work ethic, character and poise. The coordinator also noted the impression made when Bridgewater met NFL quarterback Cam Newton during U of L's time in Charlotte, N.C., for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl.
"'OK, that's what they look like,'" Watson figured Bridgewater thought upon meeting Newton. "'I got a long way to go.'"
Bridgewater has added about 40 pounds since last season.
"He's twice the player he was a year ago in terms of knowledge and understanding," Watson said.
Murphy, who attended each Louisville home game last season, expects to be in Cardinal Stadium for this year's opener. In Watson's view, she and other fans will see a special player.
The U of L coordinator then tried to define "special" in regard to Bridgewater.
"Everyone thinks it's going to be a 'quarterback answer' like strong arm," Watson said. "The thing that is special about Teddy is his character. He puts everybody else ahead of himself. He exemplifies the servant leadership you need."