By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2000
TAMPA -- They hang near his desk, on the wall of his study in his Tampa home, the two most important honors Steve White has earned in his 27 years.
On the right, his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee. To the left, his Academic All-Southeastern Conference plaque.
If only, he thinks to himself now and again, Nettye White could see them, too. His mother succumbed to breast cancer May 26, 1992.
"It's without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life," the defensive end said.
Nettye would be 58. The White family knew then her final days were near, and her son, home from school after a rocky freshman year, had one wish: to show her his report card before she passed away.
"In the fall I had a horrendous (semester)," White said. "It was really hard. I was depressed being away from home for the first year, and that was her biggest worry, that I wouldn't be able to rebound for my spring semester.
"Unfortunately, she didn't live long enough to see my grades. I wanted to let her know that I was going to make it."
Growing up in Westwood Hills in southwest Memphis, all members of the White family were expected to "make it." Mother and father, Bruce, were high school teachers. Older siblings Patrick and Joan became engineers, and degrees dot every branch of the family tree.
"I didn't take a lot of junk," Bruce White said. "I didn't care what they did in sports. They had to bring their report cards and show them to me, and we had problems if they didn't have good grades."
White solved his problems that spring, but too late to assure his mother. Nettye was first diagnosed with the cancer in 1983, then went into remission. After the cancer returned, it left Nettye weak and incoherent near the end as she lay in her room at Baptist East Hospital.
"I was expecting it any day, somehow hoping those grades would make it there on time," Steve said. "Who knows if she would have even understood what I was telling her? But it was important to me to show her that I was going to be able to make it, that I was going to graduate on time."
It was a Saturday when Steve returned home from school for the summer. Monday he visited his mother in the hospital.
Tuesday, Bruce White was giving a final exam in chemistry at Germantown High when the principal asked him to step outside. His wife had died that morning.
The eldest White called family members and rushed to the hospital to oversee arrangements. Steve didn't know what happened until his father returned home that afternoon.
"I hugged and held him for about 10 minutes," Bruce said, "and after that, he stopped crying. He went into his room and closed the door. I didn't see him after that."
Steve's grades arrived the next week.
Steve visits Nettye's grave at New Park Cemetery every Mother's Day. This year White wondered what she would think of him now. Then again, he knows the answer. He graduated with honors in December 1995.
"I think she would be very proud," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think she would be very pleased, not only that I am in the NFL, but also that I have my degree.
"Those are the most important things I have . . . until I get my Super Bowl ring."
Q: Steve, if you could impart some wisdom to yourself in 1992, what would it be?
A: Probably . . . not to take my mom for granted. You kind of have a feeling growing up, especially at that age, that your parents will be around forever. Even after my momma had cancer, she beat it and went into remission, I always had a feeling I would be old and grey when I lost my parents."
Jan. 26, 1992
Redskins 37, Bills 24
MVP: Mark Rypien, Redskins quarterback (18-of-33 for 292 yards and two touchdowns).
IN THE NEWS: January: A text-based Web browser is made available to the public. Feb. 1: Presidents Bush and Yeltsin proclaim a formal end to the Cold War. April 29-on: Four white police officers are acquitted in Los Angeles of beating black motorist Rodney King during a traffic stop; violence erupts in the city. Aug. 5: The four officers are indicted on civil rights charges in the King case. Nov. 3: Democrat Bill Clinton is elected president. Dec. 24: President Bush pardons former Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra affair.
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