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SANTA CLARA

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.

I listened to him narrate his biography and I believe he gives credit to God for his life. He wasn?t supposed to live. The doctors said kill the fetus. He emerged sickly and unable to be in the world. He seemed unfit. But he was not unfit. He grew into Mike Singletary and, for him, this fitness ? this triumphing ? is a continuing miracle and for that miracle he thanks God daily, pledges his life to God.

His dad was a stern religious man who loved his children but could not show his love. He lacked empathy. He also lacked fidelity: His dad ran away with another woman when Singletary was just entering junior high school. This is Singletary?s background, a background of a stable family wrecked.

With his dad out of the picture he could play sports. You already know about Singletary the football player and this article is not about that. Except for one thing. Singletary grew into himself. He had started from the most humble beginnings in a physical sense and he became a superstar. He is like King David in the Bible, and Singletary?s story is like a story from the Bible.

When he was a famous young man he was a phony. He told me he was a phony. He acted precisely the way he acts now ? the deep serious voice, a man who looked you in the eye ? but privately he was a different person.

One day when he was 26 he attended a Christian convention in Arizona and he was overcome with his unfitness, with his unhappiness, with his phoniness even though he had the world knocked, and he went to his hotel room and fell to his knees and called to the Lord and vowed not to rise until something changed. And he knelt and prayed and needed help because he had reached a dead end in his life. And he felt something touch him. And he knew his life had changed.

You can interpret this touch any way you want. Singletary interpreted it as a sign from God. He knew his next two tasks were vital. He had hated his father all these years and now he sought out his father and forgave him. He went to his wife and told her he had been a hypocrite. When they were courting he had secretly dated other women and he needed her to know and forgive him. And she did. With these two acts he had washed himself clean.

He is a man who sees his life as a moral life ? as a moral tale, and he is the protagonist of that tale. He wears that large cross (he laughingly disputes that it?s large) as a reminder of whom he serves and what kind of man he was called on to be. He represents an approach to life, and the cross is a symbol of that approach.

After victories Singletary publicly thanks God for his players and coaches. After losses, Singletary privately gets to his knees in the locker room and thanks God for the lesson He is teaching by the loss, even though Singletary does not understand the lesson (God is mysterious and his purposes are unknowable), even though Singletary certainly dislikes losing. He thanks God even for the loss.

When he coaches, he guides himself by the Golden Rule ? do to others what you would like to be done to you ? and he does not belittle players or coaches, although he wants his players to play hard and get in every possible legal hit until the clock runs out. His ethic is Christian but he is what they call a Muscular Christian. He sees himself as a righteous warrior.

If the world is a moral world and if God truly rewards the virtuous, Singletary will be a great coach and surely goodness and success will follow him all the days of his life. That is the issue for Singletary and for us. The outcome is to be determined.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular go to the Cohn Zohn at blog.pressdemocrat.com/cohn. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.