The hardest thing in Canton: Sara White's speech
As Sara White prepares for the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction of her late husband, Reggie, she shares her joy and anguish with Wright Thompson.
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Sara White has done all she can to honor her husband's memory. For 19 months, she listened to speeches, made a few of her own, smiled when his numbers were retired around the country, cried when she thought how much he'd have loved every moment.But this, her final public gift this is the hardest. So Sara sits outside at a Jack in the Box on a Friday night, the clock inching toward midnight. She's always had reams of words, fast, furious combinations of words, like a linguistic prizefighter. Only now the words won't come, and she has one more speech to write, for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction on Saturday. This wasn't what they planned.
She met Reggie White when she was a senior in high school. He was all potential then, sure to be undone by his inability to stay organized. She'd fix that. They'd be a team. "I was his backbone," she says. "I did everything to make him look good. Seriously. To make him look like he was the most patient person, to make him look like he sent out the fan mail. I did all of that because I loved my husband. And because I knew where his heart was. I was his helpmate." Together, she and Reggie would form the powerful and public persona known as Reggie White. Even now, though she fiercely guards her independence, things have this way of circling back to him. She's sitting at the fast-food restaurant, joking about her age. Tell 'em I'm 29, she cracks. Then, a pause. She contemplates 29. It's 92 backwards, you know. Things like that happen a lot; she and Reggie were intertwined. When he was threatened with fines for his postgame prayer with the Eagles, she told him not to be scared of his beliefs. She empowered him. When he preached, she listened. When he succeeded, she cheered. When he failed, she comforted. When he made those ignorant comments about homosexuals, she made the rounds of the talk shows.
She lost herself in the details. The winter was long. It was cold and empty. As fall broke through, football season, she made changes. They moved out of the dream house. Just too many memories. "Every room was Reggie White," she says. "Which wasn't bad, but it was hard." The honors kept her busy, kept her focused. She treated them like mitzvahs. "I don't want to stop remembering Reggie," she says. "I never will stop."
With Reggie White about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Mike Golic shares a great story about the late NFL star getting upset with an offensive lineman during a preseason game: "He threw the tackle on top of the quarterback!"
• Golic on White: "Jesus is coming"
It all hit home just a few weeks ago. Sara was talking with Vai Sikahema, a former teammate turned television reporter. Sikahema wanted to tape part of her speech. "I haven't written my speech," Sara said. "You haven't written your speech?" Vai asked, stunned. There must have been a hint of panic or something in his voice, because it all became real at that moment. She's been thinking ever since. Trying to imagine what Reggie would say. Who he'd thank. "I've been to every speaking engagement he's ever been to," she says. "It's all running through my mind."
Her little stand-up routine done, Sara still doesn't have a speech. So she'll depend on him. She'll take her bullet points up to the mike, and then she'll just have faith. That's what she will do. If she can get the list of the people right, it will come to her. She knew this man, better than anyone, and they loved each other. She'll just speak and let the man she knew live in her words.