Tyrone would not be taking this well. He would be phoning his big brother before and after every game, as he always did, imploring him as part booster, part cattle prod, “Do what you do! Be a baller!” And then he would probably ask why the ball wasn’t going in his brother’s direction any more.
“Oh, he would not be taking this well,” Roddy White said. “He would be having heart attacks right now. It wouldn’t be good words. But I miss those phone calls.”
This has been a difficult season for White. He has gone from a centerpiece of the Falcons’ offense to the relative gravy boat of the dish set that’s pulled out of the cupboard two or three days a year. He caught 80 passes last season covering 921 yards with seven touchdowns, despite missing two games. This year, he’s the “Where’s Waldo” of the playbook. He has 17 catches and one touchdown in nine games. He has been targeted only 30 times. He is so far down Matt Ryan’s progression in the new offensive scheme under Kyle Shanahan that it’s easy to forget there’s a four-time Pro Bowler on the field who, by the way, can still play at the age of 34.
“I expected a bigger role, especially still being the No. 2 guy, but it hasn’t happened,” said White, who’s only the fifth-most targeted receiver (behind Julio Jones, running back Devonta Freeman, tight end Jacob Tamme and even No. 3 wide receiver Leonard Hankerson). “But I’m not going to throw fits or anything like that. I’m going to try to help lead this team and I just have to hope things change. That’s all you can do. I’m content. But sometimes it’s hard to just sit back and watch.”
Real life trauma has a way of giving one perspective. It has for White.
His younger brother, Tyrone Moore Jr., was killed in May of 2014 when he was shot twice in the back outside of a club near White’s hometown in Charleston, S.C. He was 21 years old.
“Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong people,” White said.
The two brothers grew up with a single mom in an open sore of a neighborhood. “I’m from the ‘hood,” said White, who’s never run from his past.
“That could’ve been me. When you’re a kid sometimes you do things and you hang around the wrong people. You just don’t think things are going to happen to you until it’s too late, and then it takes a long time to come back from. You don’t think you’re going to be in a bad place where people are going to try to hurt you. I did those things when I was young. Out all night with the wrong people. But I was lucky. I made it out.”
Moore was in a nightclub with friends. An argument ensued with others. Somebody pulled out a gun and fired three shots. Two bullets struck Moore. He was pronounced dead a short time later at the hospital.
“He was just the one who got hit,” White said. “They were actually aiming for his friend.”
It was later learned the alleged shooter, Darnell Claven Lafayette, who has been charged with murder, is actually a distant cousin. Just another layer of pain.
White was at the Preakness in Baltimore with Jones at the time. He got the late night call from a family member and Jones helped him get on a flight early the next morning, then joined him later. White was shook to the core. He has done everything he could for his brother to provide structure and give him a chance in his life. Moore lived with him for a short time. White also paid his way to a military school in Virginia.
“It hurt for a long time,” White said. “It still hurts today. It’s like a void that never gets filled again, like a part of me is missing. He’s one of six people in my life, my brother and my five kids, who I would do anything for, even lose my life for. It’s difficult when you don’t get to touch, feel or hear from that person again. You have a greater appreciation of everybody around you.”
In late December, White was there for a close friend, Falcons director of communications Brian Cearns, when Cearns’ young wife of less than three years, Amy, became suddenly ill and died. He stayed with both in the hospital.
Last month, White left the team to fly to Charleston and be with his mother, Joenethia White, who was having brain seizures. She had surgery and is doing better now but is scheduled for another procedure in three weeks during which she’ll have a pacemaker implanted in her brain in hopes of preventing further seizures. White said he and his mother speak “two or three times a day.”
“She had stitches in her head so doctors didn’t want her to travel to games to games for a while,” White said. “But hopefully if we make the playoffs she’ll be better by then. I pray every day.”
Now maybe you have a clearer understanding of where football fits into the equation for White.
It’s natural that his professional pride is going to get dinged when he finds his role has been significantly reduced, especially given the lack of evidence that he can’t still be a significant contributor. It’s also natural that an 11-year veteran like White would want to be there for his teammates. But it’s only football.
“This past year has opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said. “I realize how fortunate I’ve been in this game. I know a lot of people don’t even make it this far.”
The irony of White’s after-thought presence now is he seems more popular than ever with fans, who chant, “Roddy, Roddy,” whenever he makes a catch.
“It didn’t start that way,” White said, laughing. “I remember my second year we were playing the Saints. I beat one-on-one coverage, the ball’s coming down and I’m thinking, ‘This will be an easy touchdown,’ and then it goes right through my arms. I saw everybody on the sideline looking like, ‘Oh my God,’ and the fans were booing me to death. I never wanted to have that feeling again.”
Over the next eight seasons, White averaged more than 88 catches and seven touchdowns and was named to four Pro Bowls. The boos stopped.
He hasn’t been given many opportunities to create loud cheers this season. He’s holding out hope for a faster-paced offense, more throws in his direction and a trip back to the NFL playoffs. But if that doesn’t happen, he’ll survive. Tragedy has taught him something about powerlessness and appreciating what he has today.
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