Narrow escape

Only on the football field can Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud forget about his mom's death.

Published July 29, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA - The day was just dawning, full of possibilities, when Barrett Ruud and his brother returned to the house on the lake. His mother, Jaime, was waiting for them on the front porch with a camera they had forgotten.

But the only image Ruud has from that day is the one he keeps close to his heart.

It was the last time he saw his mother alive.

"It's still tough for me," Ruud said Friday, wiping tears from his eyes. "The only time I enjoy myself now is practicing. Other than that, I sit around all day and feel bad. Even when we go to meetings and stuff, I'll find myself out of it and have to snap back.

"It's something I never thought would happen."

* * *

Jaime Ruud died of a heart attack on June 30 at the family's vacation retreat in Crosslake, Minn. She was 52.

A nutritionist who had published books on the subject, she easily could have passed for 10 to 15 years younger.

The night before she died, her life never seemed more full. She was surrounded by family - sons Barrett, a second-year linebacker for the Bucs, Bo, a junior starter on the Nebraska football team, daughter Kim, who pledged the same sorority as she had at Nebraska, and husband Tom, who played football for the Cornhuskers and in the NFL.

It was their time to be together, an annual trip to the tiny town in northern Minnesota located on the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway and home to 14 island-studded lakes known as the Whitefish chain.

Football was still several weeks away, and Jaime looked forward to being at the lake, sitting on the dock and working on projects for the Web site she had helped launch for the parents of Nebraska football players.

But Ruud's mother wasn't a spectator. She took long walks and horsed around with the boys on the Jet Skis.

"We've been going since we were 2 or 3," Ruud said. "We've done it for a long time, and it's one of my favorite places to go to. We just fish and hang out and ride the Jet Skis around.

"Everyone was there. She was actually out until late. I called it quits (Thursday night) because I was going to get up and go fishing in the morning. And she was probably up with my sister until 12:30 or 1 in the morning. The weird thing is she probably had about as good of a last night as you can have. It's kind of our big family deal in the summer. At least we got a chance to do that."

After retrieving the camera, Jaime was headed back to bed at about 7 in the morning. The rest of the house was quiet as the other guests headed to the store.

"She was going to go, and she decided to stay there," Ruud said. "It was about as sudden as you could get.

"They say she died of a massive heart attack. And she's a dietician. She walked all the time. She looked 10 years younger than she was. A massive heart attack is the last thing I thought she would get. I guess if you go out, that's the right way; being with everyone you love."

And make no mistake, Jaime Ruud was loved.

The news of her death hit the Nebraska football family hard.

She was the ultimate sports mom, who when asked by the local newspaper to list some of the most enjoyable events of her life settled for two: a state football championship for Lincoln Southeast when Barrett was a senior and Bo a sophomore and Kimmy making it to the state basketball tournament as a senior.

"When I think of work ethic, I think of her," Ruud said. "Because she had to take care of us. Because we were tough. We worked hard all day, but then we'd come home and just be bums. I'd come home and sit there all night and yell, 'Mom, can you get me this or that?'

"She had to take care of all of us and not to mention having to work on all her stuff all day, too."

Friday, Ruud returned to work. It should have been an exciting time, his second season in the NFL and with a legitimate chance to earn more playing time at middle linebacker.

But he was torn. His thoughts were with his family in Lincoln. Things just seemed a little less sad when they were all together.

"It's been a lot tougher since I left," Ruud said. "When we're together, it makes it easier. It was lot tougher for me when I left. My dad has his ups and downs. My brother has football practice next week. My sister will have trouble when she goes back to the sorority and stuff.

"I thought I would be kind of glad when camp started. It's still rough."

Linebackers coach Joe Barry said the team is trying to support Ruud as best it can but the words don't come easy.

"For someone to die like that, just bam, out of the blue ... you'd like to think if it was someone who had been sick or had cancer, you'd be able to deal with it," Barry said.

"But something like that, it's devastating. You don't know really what to say except, 'I'm sorry, and I'm here for you.' "

After finishing the Bucs' second workout Friday, Ruud soaked his legs in an ice tub. The rest of him is still numb.

"What I take with me is probably how friendly she was," he said.

"She was happy and treated everybody perfect."