On an average week day during the season, you could find Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston normally sitting at his locker, on his phone or on his tablet. Reporters milled around, occasionally making small talk, and Winston normally obliged.
But if you ever wanted to see his eyes light up, you just has to ask him about his Grandma.
This week, those lit up eyes, most likely are filled with sadness and some tears as word started coming out on social media that “Grandma” Myrtle Winston has passed away at the age of 70.
The Winston family was a close knit group, as many small southern families are. Winston spent a lot of time with his grandmother growing up, andaccording to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Mrs. Winston would take a young Jameis to work with her at times.
“Everybody likes him; he’s awesome,’’ Myrtle said. “(And) he has always had confidence. Whatever he says, he does.’’
Mrs. Winston suffered from Type 2 diabetes, and her mobility became increasingly limited over the years. She used a wheelchair often, and Winston’s first purchase after signing his rookie contract in 2015 was to buy his grandmother a $4,000 lift chair to help her out.
During the 2016 season the NFL allowed players to custom design cleats in order to raise money for charity. Winston’s charity and cleat design choice? A diabetes charity to help raise money to fight the disease that robbed his grandmother of some of her health.
One day, before the game in which he wore the charity-inspired cleats, I stopped by his locker and we chatted. I told him I also had Type 2 diabetes, and had some leg and feet circulation issues already. Winston asked how I was managing it. I told him, well, not too good.
Winston turned and looked at me with a puzzled expression.
“What do you mean, not very well?” Winston said. ” Man, you have a son and a family counting on you. Stop messing around with it. It will catch up to you.”
Here was a 46-year old man getting lectured by a 22-year old kid.
But he was absolutely correct.
It made me stop and think.
We also chatted about my grandmother who I was close to and also helped raise me. We joked about grandmothers, and how we could get away with a lot more with them than our parents. We had a couple laughs and then went on about our business.
But you could tell how much Jameis loved his. And by the end of the conversation, he knew how much I still missed mine, 21 years later.
When I saw that Myrtle Winston passed away on Wednesday afternoon, I remembered back to that image of Winston surrounded by family and friends in Bessemer on draft night. When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Winston as the Bucs’ No. 1 pick, Winston smiled and hugged those in attendance, then he bent down and placed a kiss on his grandmother’s cheek.
Later that evening Winston joined the Tampa Bay media for a conference call. One of the reporters asked why he choose to spend that night in Alabama, as opposed to on the stage in Chicago amid all the fanfare.
Winston’s mood changed and he got serious.
“It was about being with family, being with the people that were with me from day one, through the pain the adversity, all the naysayers, just being with the people that have always been there,” Winston said. “Being able to hold my little brother, I’m doing that right now. Being able to kiss my grandmother. Being with my family. It’s always good to be with your family.”
Today there is one less family member to be with.
Take it from me, it will hurt for a long time. But as time goes on Winston will look back, and those eyes will once again light up when thinking about his grandmother.
He will remember her cooking.
He will probably remember a couple of the spankings.
But mostly he will always remember the feeling of her arms that wrapped him hugging his neck and getting some sugar, as we say in the south.
What I’d give to feel that one more time myself.
And while I can’t say for certain, I am guessing when Winston hoists his first Lombardi Trophy for the Buccaneers, he will look up, and smile, and say a quick prayer of thanks for the lady that helped him become the man he is.
Rest in peace, Grandma Winston. Your work here is done, and for those who have gotten to know Jameis Winston, we think you did a fine job.
And if you see my Granny up there, tell her I love her and miss her. And y’all have a cup of coffee and a few laughs about raising these two knucklehead down here.
-Services for Myrtle Winston are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bessemer, Ala.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com