Name: Craig Mager
College: Texas State
NFL games played: 21
Games played for the Chargers: 21
Quick Aside: I’m not going to be talking much about football in this one. If you want me to do a separate post with tape of Mager talking purely about football, just let me know in the comments, and I’ll be happy to.
“Everybody’s got ghosts.”
Those three words combine to make a profound saying; an acknowledgement that everybody on this planet is fighting their own personal battle.
For Craig Mager, the ghosts are more literal than that.
Mager and his family were planning a party for Craig’s 15th birthday when Cathy, his mother, went to hospital. Suffering from a headache and a stiff neck, she feared she may have meningitis. Being a nurse, she would have known early treatment of meningitis was vital in treating it. She would have known that the Fentanyl patch they prescribed her would help. She had no way of knowing they’d given her the wrong dosage - a fatal dosage.
Cathy Mager passed away from an accidental overdose. The nurse killed in a hospital.
Happy birthday, Craig.
Mager and his three younger sisters moved in with Sue Ellis, their maternal grandmother. None of the four had ever had a father around in their life, so Mager had always assumed that role towards his sisters - but after Cathy’s death, the 15 year old Mager had to become a full time carer to his younger sisters.
Mager would cook for them. He’d get all the chores done. He’d help them with their homework. He was granted a driver’s license early due to hardship, and he’d use it to drive his sisters around. Despite being just 15, Mager “kind of served as my mom and my dad” according to his sister Courtney. “He would go to my [basketball] games, make sure I was at practice, make sure I listened to my coaches and kept my grades up.”
There’s no pain in the world like losing a parent.
Mager had to replace his.
Craig was balancing parenting three sisters with being a student himself, as well as putting in the lengthy hours needed to become a star in track and on the football field. Mager had played varsity football as a Sophomore under Luling Head Coach Robert Dean. He found it to be a sort of sanctuary - he could step onto the football field and escape. Escape from reality. Escape from death.
Then Robert Dean died.
Dean had suddenly passed away following a bout of pneumonia. He was just 41. A much loved coach. Someone people could turn to for advice, be that football or otherwise.
Dean would have been delighted to see Mager commit to Texas State a year later. It was perfect for him, being just 20 minutes away from Luling. He could keep a close eye on his sisters, and stay in contact with those at Luling who had helped him make it to Texas State.
According to Michael Gehlken in the San Diego Union-Tribune, one such person was William ‘Darrell’ Jones, his track coach in High School.
Jones was killed in a car crash in 2013.
Sue Ellis - the grandmother who had taken in Mager and his sisters - died in March 2014. By this point, Mager had probably been to so many funerals he could lead the service.
Enough ghosts to last a lifetime.
One of Mager’s last memories of his mom is from a football game as a freshman. Mager was tackled after a play, and got involved in a scuffle after the play. His mom leaped over the fence and onto the field to try and help him. Always watching. Always protecting.
Mager’s dream had always been to make it to the NFL, and he’d told his mom that he’d buy her a pink escalade when he did. Cathy Mager never got that pink escalade from him.
She didn’t see Craig realize his dream of becoming an NFL player - but she knows. She’s up there. Watching him from the driving seat of a pink escalade. She’s got company in the car, too. Craig’s grandmother is next to her in the front seat, and his high school coaches are in the back.
The four of them cheerfully talk about Craig. How talented he is. How they always knew he could make it. How proud they are of him and the man he’s become.
Cathy might be in the driving seat, but she’s not focusing on the road. Her eyes are focused only on Craig, looking down at him.
Always watching. Always protecting.