“I can make an impact on my environment, where I grew up in Miami, showing there’s no restrictions what you can reach. That someone from the same neighborhood can make it out.”
- Teddy Bridgewater, 2014
At the epicenter of poverty, race riots, and gun violence is Liberty City – arguably Miami’s worst neighborhood. West of I-95 and south of NW 79 Street, filmmaker Shanks Rajendran was told (when inquiring about a potential documentary in 2013) that, “Liberty City is a place where people would kill you for a dime.” Thousands of Miamians live this reality each day; thousands more attempt to block it out of vision. Teddy Bridgewater, the potential No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, grew up here.
Sometimes you hear stories that reveal how fortunate your childhood was; sometimes you hear stories that make you want to hug somebody, Bridgewater’s narrative is both. Growing up with a shadow for a father in a city where sport is often viewed as a way out, Bridgewater has fashioned a second home on the football field. His home, though, wouldn’t even be remotely complete without his mother, Rose.
In 2007, when Bridgewater was in eighth grade, Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I wanted to be there for her. I would stop playing ball, I would stop going to school. If I had to work, I would get a job and just be the man of the house.”
For a while, Bridgewater tried to ignore the room and everything in it. Despite his repeated attempts to detach himself from the sport in order to assist her through cancer treatments, Rose continued pushing him back to the field, to his way out, to his second home.
“I felt that I had a purpose in life, and at the time, I felt that my purpose was to protect my mom, be her superman. The one that she never had.”
In his sophomore season at Miami Northwestern High School, Bridgewater was tasked the offensive reigns of the Bulls – a team that was named the 2007 National Champions by USA Today. They fell a touchdown short in the 6A state title game. In November, though, he got the most priceless present of all; his mother had beaten her five-year battle with cancer.
What was foreseen as Rose’s kryptonite, had become Teddy’s motive to keep running; to keep excelling. And – like all foes of the Man of Steel – Rose’s disease eventually crumbled.
His junior season – with Rose in remission – he passed for 2,546 yards and 32 touchdowns, rushing for five more scores. He set a Dade County touchdown record with seven against Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School. Marketed as one of the most prolific athletes in the nation, Bridgewater finally had the opportunity to play a game on the national stage – a playoff matchup against rival Miami Central High School. With ESPN cameras rolling, Bridgewater, donning pink gloves to pay homage to Breast Cancer Awareness month, saw his team’s season slip through their fingers, 29-16.
Senior year brought Bridgewater elite status as the No. 6 quarterback recruit in the country, finishing with 2,606 yards and 22 touchdowns. Bridgewater rewrote the same ending, though, and the Bulls fell in the state semifinals to rival Miami Central. It had happened again.
Bridgewater hadn’t won a state championship, but he had gotten out of a place equipped with very few exits – choosing to accept a scholarship offer made by the Louisville Cardinals.
In 2011, Bridgewater became the Big East Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All-American – the first true freshman to start for Louisville in three and a half decades. Again, Bridgewater could not win the final game of the season, though, and the Cardinals fell to NC State in the Belk Bowl.
2012 sparked NFL conversation for Bridgewater, and the sophomore claimed Big East Offensive Player of the Year, and honorable All-American honors. The week before the conference championship game against Rutgers – a game that sent the Cardinals out of the conference and into a BCS game, if won – Bridgewater didn’t practice. His ankle was sore, so he shielded behind a boot; his fractured wrist sent lightning throughout his forearm, so he wrapped and rewrapped it until it hung wilted from his side, a plant withheld from sun. He didn’t start the game, but when he hobbled onto the field his team was already trailing. The crowd was against him, his body was disintegrating by the second – leg buckling each time he tottered towards the sideline. But Bridgewater inexplicably led the Cardinals back from an 11-point deficit late and stunned the Scarlet Knights in front of their home crowd. A giant remained between him and something that had eluded him for four years, ending the season on a high note.
The betting line for the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl had the Florida Gators as the favorite by 14.5-points. Florida had been in the Superdome three times since 1996, this was Louisville’s first appearance ever. 226 yards and two touchdowns later, Bridgewater and the No. 21 Cardinals had beaten the No. 3 Florida Gators 33-23 – and watched the black and red rectangles cascade down from the vents. It was the biggest upset in BCS history before UCF knocked off Baylor in this year’s Fiesta Bowl. Bridgewater had finally reached the summit, and worked diligently over the offseason to prepare for another year.
In December 2013, he graduated early after just two and a half years, with a degree in sports administration – the first of his family to finish college. Rose’s smile glimmered as he strolled across the stage, her son’s gowns draped across his back as if it were a cape.
This season Bridgewater threw for a career-high and school record 31 touchdowns. He also threw for 4 interceptions, a career-low, finishing eighth in the NCAA in total passing yards. Just last week he dismantled the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl, throwing for 447 yards and four total touchdowns en route to the game’s MVP award. With it, he tied the Louisville record for most wins as a starter. On New Year’s Day, Bridgewater announced that he would forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
The probable No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft will hail from Louisville. In last year’s draft, the first Cardinals player was taken 232nd in the seventh round. Bridgewater likely will become the first player in Louisville history to be taken in the first round since Eric Wood went to the Buffalo Bills at No. 28 in 2009. The Louisville Cardinals have never had someone picked in the top five; Bridgewater will be the first at that too. In a class bursting with quarterback depth, Bridgewater’s mobility under pressure, arm strength, and patience make him a player the Houston Texans are very interested in.
Coming from a place where crime was wallpaper, Teddy Bridgewater’s recourse became football, but first it was love. Superman will be emulated on Sundays soon, as the ineffable narrative of Teddy Bridgewater continues.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Big East Buffalo Bills Eric Wood Fiesta Bowl Houston Texans Josh Planos Louisville Cardinals Louisville Cardinals Football NCAAF NFL NFL Draft Russell Athletic Bowl Rutgers University Sugar Bowl Teddy Bridgewater