The scoreboard will read a 38-13 Tennessee Titans' victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but it really doesn’t begin to tell the story for linebacker Will Witherspoon.
After losing his mother on Tuesday to an unexpected death, Witherspoon missed the entire week of practice, stayed in Florida for her funeral, and then flew back late Saturday night on the owner Bud Adams' plane.
With so much to deal with, from his own grief to funeral arrangements, some might not have bothered to come back for Sunday's game. But Witherspoon never doubted that it was the right decision.
“I respected exactly what I thought my mother would have wanted me to do. I got on the field and I think I did it pretty well,” said Witherspoon, who had the first of four Titans sacks Sunday. “It means everything. The biggest thing was the support I got from the locker room and the guys in here.”
His coach Jeff Fisher made a point to talk about the emotional ride Witherspoon endured this week.
“You go through a lot of things over your career, but this was one of the most courageous days I’ve ever seen out of a player. To not have practiced all week and to have buried his mom with his family late yesterday and come in last night and play the way he did, my hat is off to Will Witherspoon,” Fisher said.
Fisher never waffled on his decision to play the nine-year veteran, saying, “I had no concerns whatsoever. That’s the kind of character, the kind of man he is. We’re very proud.”
Linebackers coach Dave McGinnis came away equally impressed with Witherspoon's resolve in the midst of tragic settings.
“The depth that that takes in your spirit to be able to do that, that to me, is one of the most stoic things I've ever seen,” McGinnis said. “Will Witherspoon is a professional through and through, but he's also a wonderful human being.”
Witherspoon arrived back in Nashville between 10 and 10:30 p.m., long after the Titans' planning meetings were finished and simply got the best night of sleep he could, given the circumstances. Playing as much on emotion as his knowledge of the scheme, Witherspoon had six tackles as well as the sack.
When it was over, as he fought back tears on occasion in the locker room, Witherspoon thanked his teammates, the Titans organization and the fans for their support.
“The crowd was great. All of Nashville has been great. My family wants to thank the whole city, the organization, everybody who was involved,” he said. “The guys are like a second family to me. They have supported me all week, so my job is to support the guys.”
Mom would have been proud.