James White fought back tears Monday night, then let them flow.
The New England Patriots running back had just played in his first game since losing his father, Tyrone, in a fatal car crash two weeks earlier.
Tyrone White Sr. used to text his son the night before his games. This weekend, those texts never came, driving home a somber reality that has yet to fully sink in for the longtime Patriots captain.
“Just simple texts he would send to get me prepared for the games and stuff,” a visibly emotional White said after the Patriots’ 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. “I looked back at the last text I got the Saturday before the Seahawks game just to kind of reminisce on that.
“He meant everything for me. He pushed me. He wouldn?t always tell me what I wanted to hear, but he always wanted me to do the right things and push myself to be the best I could be. … He made me who I am today.”
White took a leave of absence from the Patriots after his father’s death, which occurred the day of New England’s Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He did not play in that game nor the next and spent a week in his native Florida to be with his family, including his mother, Lisa, who was hospitalized as a result of the crash.
Lisa White arrived at the hospital in critical condition, according to initial reports, but White said her health has steadily improved.
“Honestly, all that stuff still seems kind of surreal to me,” White said. “My mom?s continuing to improve and progress and get better, so that eases my mind a little bit, and being out on the football field eases my mind a little bit, too. So I?m just trying to push through, because that?s what my dad would want me to do. So I?m just trying to take it one day at a time and find a way to look at all the positives in my life.”
Just two days after his father’s passing, White celebrated his son, Xzavier’s, first birthday. In an Instagram post that day, he wrote: “I hope I can be as good of a father to you as my father was to my brother and I.”
“Honestly, there was a lot of stuff going on in my mind, but I tried to make the little guy?s day as special as possible,” White recalled Monday. “There was a lot of emotions. I was at the hospital with my mom all day long and just came home for a couple hours to just give him a cake and things of that nature, then I went back to stay the night with my mom. There was a lot of stuff going on, but I just tried to make that day as special as possible.”
White returned to practice last week and was one of New England’s most productive offensive players against Kansas City, catching a team-high seven passes for 38 yards and totaling 21 yards on three carries. His teammates were thankful to have him back.
“For him to be able to go out there and to play and to lead this team the way he did, it’s inspiring,” fellow running back Damien Harris said. “It makes guys want to play harder. It makes guys want to do their job better knowing that we’ve got a guy like James White in our locker room — a guy that’s going to lead us no matter what. … I can’t say enough good words about him.”
Added special teams captain Matthew Slater: “It means a great deal for us to have him back, emotionally. We feel like we?ve been in this with him, although none of can really identify with everything that he?s had to go through. But emotionally, it gave us a big boost. James means so much to our team.”
White said the support of teammates past and present has helped guide him through this difficult time.
?My teammates were there for me every step of the way,” he said. “We?ve got a family like atmosphere in this locker room. From texts to phone calls to tweets to old teammates, fans — everybody reaching out meant a lot.
“It was extremely tough for me. I mean, my mind still can?t really wrap itself around everything that went on. It?s just still trying to process everything. But just hearing from them and them being there for me definitely helped.”