The doctors told Mike Singletary?s mother to have an abortion. She was too old to give birth, they said, and after several miscarriages the chances of this baby ? Mike ? being a normal child were slim.
She and her husband were religious ? he was a Pentecostal minister ? and the idea of abortion appalled them. She put her faith in the Lord and gave birth to Mike, her 10th child. He was frail and had trouble drawing breath. For the first seven years of his life he was plagued by bronchitis and pneumonia and he remembers his mother rushing him to the hospital the times he couldn?t breathe and he remembers lying under a tent, ?a bubble kind of thing,? to help him take in air.
He spent much of his time in bed. His mother read to him and they prayed together and he lived in his imagination. He wanted to play sports but he was too weak for that and, anyway, his father considered sports evil, activities of a fallen world, not of the spirit.
When Singletary was 8, his physical problems began to disappear and he would work in his father?s construction business but mostly he sat in the truck and looked at his father and brothers while they worked. He was gaining his strength and he was observing. You think of Singletary observing, making sense of things, putting together the pieces of life. You think of him thinking. You think of him looking. You think of him looking at himself looking.
When he was a boy of about 12, his cousin Reginald dominated him. What Reginald did, Singletary had to do. When Reginald laughed, Singletary had to laugh.
One day Singletary decided enough was enough. He leapt at his cousin and got him in a headlock as boys do, and he squeezed until Reginald began to cry and begged him to stop. Singletary let Reginald go and Reginald ran away as if Singletary was crazy. Singletary didn?t mind being perceived as crazy, but he didn?t want to be seen as a wimp and after that he never was.
He recently told his story to me in his office. It used to be Bill Walsh?s office and then George Seifert?s, and it has belonged to others. It now belongs to Singletary. Think of him as next in line in a tradition of stewardship that once was great.
He came to the door of his office in black athletic shorts and sneakers and a 49ers sweatshirt. He is a trim, vibrant, athletic man and in his office he has installed three workout machines, large industrial-looking contraptions that take up most of the free space. You can imagine him leaping up from his desk and doing quick cardiovascular work to clear his mind.
He sat at the round table reserved for visitors, the same table Walsh and Seifert and Steve Mariucci used for informal conversations. He sat with his back to the ceiling-high window overlooking the practice fields, and because the light poured in that window it highlighted his face and made him look like a man emerging from a haze.
He answered every question I asked thoroughly, in an earnest tone. He ducked nothing. He takes things seriously. He is earnest. When I am with him I become earnest.