Falcons’ Abraham excelling, even with thoughts on mom

John Abraham carved "I (heart) Mom" into his hair as tribute to Maggie, who is battling lymphoma.

John Abraham carved "I (heart) Mom" into his hair as tribute to Maggie, who is battling lymphoma.

FLOWERY BRANCH – John Abraham was in the seventh grade when he hobbled into the house one day with a sprained ankle. He told his mother he had turned it in the backyard playing football. That almost ended his athletic career right there.

“She hated sports,” Abraham said Tuesday, laughing. “She didn’t want me to play sports any more. She only came to watch me play football once in high school. She didn’t even realize how good I was until recruiters started coming around.”

Soon, Maggie Abraham found out what everybody else already knew. Her son became an all-SEC defensive end at South Carolina, a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets, a four-time Pro Bowler and one of only 25 NFL players to record 100 sacks.

This season, at the age of 32 and in his 11th season, Abraham has enjoyed arguably the finest year of his career, leading the Falcons with 13 sacks. He batted down four passes and intercepted another (a career first). He’s also turned into a locker room leader, a new role for a player considered quiet or even selfish in New York.

“You know what everybody says about you,” he said when asked of his previous reputation. “Before, I didn’t really feel it was part of my job to be vocal and a leader. But now I feel it is. I’m an older guy. You appreciate things more.”

Ask Drew Brees about how effective John Abraham has been. Here he is tipping and intercepting a pass. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Askthe Saints' Drew Brees about effective John Abraham has been. Here he is intercepting a Brees pass. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Abraham is back in the playoffs for only the third time in 11 years. The only thing that could have made this season more enjoyable would be if Maggie Abraham was in the stands watching. Unfortunately, her health won’t permit that.

Abraham’s mother is back in Timmonsville, S.C., battling lymphoma. It’s difficult for her to travel, although she was in town for Christmas. That was the last time Abraham saw her, but they speak on the phone daily.

“Her last chemo treatment was in August and she hasn’t relapsed or anything,” Abraham said. “Right now, we’re just praying, and everything’s going good. I told her she’s got to start eating better, doing different things. But she’s in her 60s. She’s eating the same things she always has. I can’t change her.”

One reason Abraham wanted to come to the Falcons in 2006 (via trade) was to get back to the South and be closer to Maggie, who raised him as a single mother. Maggie became a football fan only because of her son, but her illness has prevented her from attending a game since late last season. Abraham carved, “I (heart) Mom” into his hair” for a nationally televised game against Baltimore in November on the chance she would be watching. He also sends her a DVD of every game.

“She always says, ‘You did good,’” Abraham said. “I’d say, ‘Mom, we lost,’ but she still says, ‘That’s OK, you did good.’”

Abraham has enjoyed his five seasons with the Falcons. He said, “Even the bad times here have been better than the good times there,” alluding to his days with the Jets. Things did not end well there. Salary squabbles were among the problems. “Regardless of what our record was [here], I never felt undermined or disrespected,” he said.

He played for three head coaches in his first three seasons here — Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino, Mike Smith — but only Smith got it right. He has learned how to best utilize Abraham, limiting his snaps to keep him fresh in the fourth quarter and through the season. Abraham also has been helped by Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann getting push up front.

Now he’s  is seeking his first real postseason success. He has played in only three playoff games — two in 2002 with the Jets and one in 2008 (the Falcons loss at Arizona).

“I’ve never been to an AFC or NFC championship game, and I’m getting older,” he said. “So to me this is more important than anything right now. I just want to see this team go deep into the playoffs.”

His next opportunity will come Saturday night against Green Bay. Then he’ll phone his mother to talk about it.

By Jeff Schultz

Falcons Playoff Central:

Digi-Blog goes to Falcons camp (no Flowery Branches)

Poll time: Who is most important Falcon vs. Packers?

Saints gone, Vick gone and Falcons are ready to defend turf

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

55 comments Add your comment

Mike "CHOKE" Vick

January 11th, 2011
5:03 pm

Take care of Mom while you have her, John!

gadawgs

January 11th, 2011
5:05 pm

Thinking about your mom John. Glad to have you here in Atlanta. Tear Rodgers a new a**hole on Saturday.

5150 P.O.A.D.

January 11th, 2011
5:27 pm

ABE did Kroy show you the Ultrascan on your drive? HAHAHHAAHHAH
Can you say scary looking kid?

Hope your mom is well and blessed. Mine went to the hospital Mon. morning in the snow. SHe is still at Northside. MOM is WOW upside down.

I want to again thank many of you bloggers that sent prayers and well wishes to my mom. We hope she comes home tomorrow.

Dads always ask why does my son say “Hi MOM” when the TV camera is on him. DAD you know why really. You said rub some dirt on it and get back in the game or walk it off. That was to make men tough, but MOM compassion and love made your boy want to work hard to empress a woman to love him just like mom does. AHHAHAHAH. Chicks dig Scars.

Reid Adair

January 11th, 2011
5:41 pm

GREAT article, Jeff. John Abraham is a class act, and it’s been fun to see him having such a great year.

Plano BirdDawg

January 11th, 2011
5:43 pm

Hope his mom continues to recover.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 11th, 2011
5:44 pm

We’re all Mama’s boys, Jeff.

Funny how daughter’s are always “daddy’s girls”.

Hope mine always will be. Amen.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 11th, 2011
5:46 pm

POAD: Positive vibes from mine to yours.

Raist

January 11th, 2011
5:49 pm

Mine has early stages of lymphoma, but has not had to start treatment yet; however she is in physical therapy for a broken hip she received just after Christmas. I can relate to worrying and thinking about your mom all the time. I’m an only child, so I have always had a close bond with her.
Keep up the good work, Abe and Falcons. And no matter how you do, your Mom will always be proud if you gave it your all.

florida falcon

January 11th, 2011
5:54 pm

Go get them Abe! As far as mom goes, she should eat whatever she likes. She’s earned that right but I know what you mean man. My mom is going through some nuclear treatment herself, and I don’t care what she eats as long as she is happy. God bless you and your family!

ScoutDawg

January 11th, 2011
6:05 pm

Who else thinks J. Abraham is getting ready to take it to a whole ‘nother level?

ScoutDawg

January 11th, 2011
6:09 pm

What a back story for the Super Bowl drive of ‘10 or ‘11 I can’t ever remember what it is technically called. This years’.

DrCH2

January 11th, 2011
6:19 pm

After reading this article, I am now sure the Falcons will win on Saturday night. Continue to fly under everyone’s radar Falcons, and remember to always remain humble.

Mark

January 11th, 2011
6:28 pm

ScoutDawg I was thinking the same thing. Actually I think the whole defense is ready to turn it loose! I loved the last game against the Saints as far as our D was concerned. BVG seems to be getting better with the play calling. The defense is a talented group and will only get better!!!! I’m nervous but excited about Saturday! GO BIRDS!!!

ScoutDawg

January 11th, 2011
6:40 pm

Yeah Mark I think the Falcons defense is going to be the story of this years’ playoffs. On the other hand after next year I’m all about BVG as UGA head coach.

Summer

January 11th, 2011
6:45 pm

Mr. Abraham and Ms. Maggie, Dunamis! Command this lymphoma to dry up, leave. Jehovah Rapha there is healing in HIS wings!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fantasy Tackles, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Posted: #Falcons John Abraham having great year despite thoughts being on his mom and her battle w/lymphoma. http://bit.ly/fHGe29 [...]

kaminari

January 11th, 2011
7:18 pm

It all starts with Abraham, the leader on the defensive line. His play this year has inspired our undersized defensive front to excel where maybe size was lacking and talent was previously hidden. If the defensive line plays well, the secondary can be more aggressive, knowing that the quarterback isn’t going to have all day to throw, and they can take risks and jump routes that lead to turnovers, defensive touchdowns, and to eventual demoralization of the opponent. And it goes the other way too. Strong play in the secondary allows the rushers that extra second to get to the quarterback. Defense is our key during these playoffs, regardless of how many pro-bowlers we sent on offense. Defense will allow our offense to win games for us. Without a good defense, let’s forget about the playoffs and start contemplating the 2011 draft.

JSS

January 11th, 2011
7:45 pm

Many well wishes to Ms. Abraham, keep fighting the good fight…

Kerryb

January 11th, 2011
8:01 pm

Abe, I know what you are going through. I lost my Dad to lymphoma in 1997 at 62 years old. I’ve missed him everyday since. I will be praying for your Mom to be healed of this terrible disease.

Jack in Snellville

January 11th, 2011
8:04 pm

My prayers are with your mother, John.
Now, go crush Aaron Rodgers like a tiny walnut !!!

bowfan

January 11th, 2011
8:34 pm

Jeff, Thanks for the nice human interest story. It’s good to get to know the players on a broader level.

I Lost my 73 year old father to cancers in July and I sure miss talking to him.

I saw Abe’s hairdoo that game, but couldn’t make out what it said.

Thanks for filling in the details Jeff. Good work!

Nobodys Somebody

January 11th, 2011
8:52 pm

Our prayers are with u and your mom Abe, god bless you both!

JASON

January 11th, 2011
8:59 pm

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your mother Abe. May God watch over you both. Good luck Sunday.

Dan

January 11th, 2011
11:11 pm

Mr. Schultz,
I’ve always enjoyed your articles, particularly your sense of humor, sometimes offbeat, but always interesting. Thank you.
I am 61 and used to be a die-hard sports fan. Somewhere along the way pro athletes became less role models and more common and ordinary, even detriments to society. Used to be that people found solice in the world of sports and its relative innocence and detachment from the world’s issues.
That is why I so enjoyed this particular article. A human interest story with all the right ingredients: honoring parent(s), living a dream, growing wiser and more grateful for the blessings of a privileged life not a sense of hardened entitlement and ego, and mentoring younger men who so need role models in this fast-becoming-crazier-by-the-day-world.
Please, Jeff, when you see great stories like this, report them to your readers. They really brighten my heart and bring optimism and hope that there are athletes who struggle just like us common folk and seek to do good.
Gratefully,

Dan

January 11th, 2011
11:16 pm

Enter your comments here

techbuzz

January 11th, 2011
11:36 pm

Hey Abe (Predator), always remember that in Jesus’ hands is the best place to be, regardless of where we are in our lives. May God bless and heal your mother, with whatever that may mean. We pray in our time; the answer(s) come in God’s time. Lifting prayers up for her my man!

SilatGamecock

January 11th, 2011
11:41 pm

You make all the Gamecock Fans proud. Maybe you can give us the secret of plying well in the GA DOME.

SilatGamecock

January 11th, 2011
11:42 pm

Enter your comments here

Gen Neyland

January 11th, 2011
11:49 pm

Jeffy : You and me, we’re in a club Abraham has’t had the misfortune to join and I send the best of wishes to his Mom and the hope for John he doesn’t join until the call in is beyond beyond, many years beyond.. Now, along the same line, we tied in our picks in your Pick ‘Em game. That doesn’t say a whole lot for my pick ‘em abilities. It was fun and I thank you and Mama Cox for the game. I hope she’s not making you pay for the prizes out of your paychecks..! Looking forward to playing next Bowl Season…

FF284

January 11th, 2011
11:50 pm

Our prayers are with you and your mom John.

Dana

January 12th, 2011
12:40 am

God Bless your mom John. I remember when you hurt your neck in a game here @ USC. I remember thinking how your Mom must have felt seeing you lying there motionless. But, God is good and he gave you the means to take good care of her! Go Cocks!

Eric

January 12th, 2011
12:58 am

My prayers are with you and your Mom Abe! I lost my mother when I was 13 years old so I know what you are going through. Just dedicate every performance to her and let het know how proud you are of her every day…..

Larry

January 12th, 2011
6:47 am

For all of you with ill or elderly parents, let me suggest you sit down a write a letter–hand written letter–telling each parent in their own personal letter everything you can think of he and she has done for you. Go back as far as thanking them for bringing you into this world, feeding, cleaning and protecting you, to the first toy or ball game you can remember…right up to now. This parent gratitude list will not only touch them as they will see first hand everything they did that you remember, but the indirect benefit of doing this for them will be the immense burst of appreciation you will have for them when you sit back and look at this list. In other words, these lists will benefit not just your parents!

Do this now! Don’t wait and possibly have a regret when it is too late! Before losing my dad in 1999 and my mom in 2001, I did this a few years earlier and I can tell you they cherished their special letter more than any other possession. Material possessions become more and more meaningless as our time shortens. Even better, I felt a tremendous amount of peace the day it was my turn to sit on the front pew at their funerals knowing they passed with first hand (written) knowledge of exactly how much they meant to me!

Do it…do it now!

jalex49

January 12th, 2011
7:35 am

Mr. Abraham:

Our prayers and thoughts are with you ad your family. Your mother is in our thoughts and prayers .
She is a “Falcon mom” and as such, she has a special place in our hearts as fans.

A Fan

Chattanooga Chuck

January 12th, 2011
8:46 am

Best wishes and prayers for John and his mother. My Mom is 91. I wish everyone could have their mother for at least as long as I’ve had mine.

GrayFalconFan

January 12th, 2011
9:09 am

God’s blessings to your mother. She and your family is in our prayers!

RobbE33

January 12th, 2011
9:37 am

Another fine article. Thanks, Jeff, for reminding us that this Falcons team is all heart and soul. Good guys won’t finish last; not this year!
Our prayers are with John and his family as they face what has to be a far more important struggle than a mere football game.

AbrahamFan

January 12th, 2011
9:43 am

We’re with you , John A. – the Falcons Nation has your back man. All the best to you and your family.
John Abraham’s leadership on the D has been immeasureable this year. Rise up Atlanta and take notice – Go Falcons!

Deplane

January 12th, 2011
10:06 am

I lost my father to cancer. My prayers are with JA and his mom. JA is a class individual.

Deplane

January 12th, 2011
10:44 am

Nice interview with Abe here. He has really matured..and is as humble as they come for a championship caliber player.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d81d9f72d/article/packers-can-pass-falcons-can-run-so-what-gives?module=HP_cp2

zgoldatl

January 12th, 2011
10:55 am

Mr. Abraham- I met your sister outside of the Falcons at Panthers game in 2007. She was a wonderful woman. We had just won, and I was being obnoxious yelling ATL, and similar things. I was wearing a Keith Brooking jersey. She came up to me, gave me a high five, and told me I had the wrong number on my falcons jersey. She said I needed that 55. I took her advice. Win or lose Saturday night, you, you sister, and my mother are in my prayers. All the best Mr. Abraham. See all y’all at the dome Saturday night.

Oh yeah….. FALCONS RISE UP!!!!!

zgoldatl

January 12th, 2011
10:56 am

sorry, I meant “you, your sister, and YOUR mother are in my prayers.”

Calvin G. Sims, Sr.

January 12th, 2011
10:58 am

John, please know that you are valued here. Obviously for your athletic ability and performance, but just as importantly for your leadership and character.

What you represent as a player, a leaders and yes, as a son, is a shining example of what men should strive to be. It is the guiding principle that every sand-lot coach tries to instill in young boys and girls.

That sports is not just about wins and loses, it is about developing and nurturing a championship spirit. Something that we all are capable of, too often fall short of and is clearly in evidence by you and so very many members of this Atlanta Falcon’s Team.

May God continue to bless you, your mother and this team.

Thank you, John.

Go Falcons!!!

Saint Clarkston

January 12th, 2011
11:32 am

Hang in there mama Abraham. John is a huge reason the Falcons are where they are.
Big play after big play. QB’s know they better get rid of the ball quick or the Abraham express
will plant them where they stand. Get after Mr. Rogers Saturday night.

john

January 12th, 2011
11:59 am

Falcons 28. GB 3

john

January 12th, 2011
12:01 pm

contain, contain, contain!

[...] – Falcons’ Abraham excelling, even with thoughts on mom [...]

htwo0rider

January 12th, 2011
1:08 pm

Hey John,

Your Mom is in our prayers here on the west coast. My wife and I are really thrilled about the run you guys are making!

Go Falcons

[...] about it on NFL.com as well. Call me a sucker, but I love seeing guys help each other out.  Add in this story about Abraham’s mom, who’s battling lymphoma, and it’s hard not to like the [...]

Dan

January 12th, 2011
10:40 pm

Larry,
I am doing that very thing. It was inspired by a book by Dennis Rainey titled “The Tribute.” I think that you would like it.