(ABOVE: Some of Asante Samuel’s presser with the media on Thursday. After he took his helmet off and the cameras went away, he talked to me about his mother Christine. –dol)
FLOWERY BRANCH — For a couple of days during training camp, there was a rare silence that rolled over the practice fields at the Falcons’ facilities.
Asante Samuel, the new “Mouth of the South,” was given time off to travel to Florida to comfort his ailing mother, Christine.
“She’s just sick and going through a tough time,” Samuel said. “She’s doing well now. She’s fighting hard every day. Her spirit is up.”
Samuel, who’s set to play against his former team the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, was not comfortable revealing her illness.
But growing up in a single-parent home with two siblings, the Samuels often moved around the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area and sometimes resorted to living in hotels.
During his rookie season with New England in 2003, his mother was living in a hotel until he purchased a condo.
So, when the Eagles, his second team, decided to part ways with Samuel last spring, he fought to get traded to a good team close to his mother.
“That was very, very important,” Samuel said. “We are going through a situation in the family. The family is No. 1 to me. I’ve got to do what I have to do to help out the best way I can.”
Inspired by how his mother scrambled to raise the kids and keep the family together, Samuel started a foundation, Bring It Home Moms (bhsinglemoms.org), to help other single parents.
“Growing up in a single-family home, that’s one thing that I realize and one thing that I support a lot, is single parents,” Samuel said. “They have the kids of the future. I just want to help out the best way that I can after going through the situation that I went through.”
Also, he’s been in touch with Falcons part-owner and former running back Warrick Dunn, who runs a similar foundation that gives away homes to single parents.
“I definitely will take his advice moving forward,” Samuel said.
It’s been an emotional week for Samuel as the undefeated Falcons (6-0) are set to face a hungry Eagles (3-3) team. In addition to being concerned for his mother, he’s set to face the team that traded him for a lowly seventh-round draft pick after he garnered 23 interceptions for them from 2008-11.
“I know he’s emotional,” said tight end Tony Gonzalez, who returned to play his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs this season. “He’s been letting us have it all week. This is the most excited that I’ve ever seen him.”
While Samuel may have worn out his welcome in Philadelphia, the Falcons have embraced him and his chatter. Coach Mike Smith has repeatedly said Samuel’s chatter is always positive, and he tends to liven practices with his boisterous quips.
“Players that have that kind of swag are going to let you know what’s on their mind,” Gonzalez said. “As long as you go out there and back it up, and he backs it up, then I have no problem.”
As the games get closer, Samuel calms himself down and gets seriously focused, Smith said.
Behind all of that talk is a serious competitor, and he helped to bail out the Falcons with an interception, his first with the team, that he returned 79 yards for a touchdown in the 23-20 win over Oakland on Oct. 14.
After the trade, there was a blog report in The Philadelphia Inquirer that stated the Eagles felt Samuel was in “steep decline.”
“I didn’t feel that way and it’s obvious, if you saw the interception that he had,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He had to run more than 10 yards to run that touchdown and he looked pretty fast doing it. That’s not how I felt. No.”
Samuel was steaming mad about the comment. But, he seems to have cooled down a bit with kickoff approaching.
“No decline in 22, right?” said Samuel, when told of Reid’s comments. “He just wanted to clear that up?”
Samuel is looking forward to playing against Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
“He’s a great talent,” Vick said. “Seeing him on the other side of the ball is going to be different.”
In a little tweetfest, Samuel claimed that he didn’t take any shots at Reid, who fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo on Oct. 16.
“Juan is my guy,” Samuel said. “He had the 12th (ranked) defense in the league. He was doing a good job as (best) I could see. It’s just unfortunate that he had to resign from his job or whatever.”
When the Eagles and Falcons were working out the deal — it was complicated because Samuel had to agree to a renegotiated contract — Reid stayed in touch with Samuel during the process.
“It was a joint thing,” Samuel said. “Atlanta was the place where I wanted to come. They tried to not let me come to Atlanta of course, but we got it done.”
Now, he has a new home and checks on his mother in a timely manner.
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