When Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith showed up Sunday night for the game against the Patriots, he had a lot more on his mind than the AFC championship rematch so many fans were waiting to see.
Smith had barely slept and wasn't even sure if he would play. He had driven home to Virginia after learning hours earlier his younger brother Tevin had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Shortly before grabbing an hour of sleep, at around 5:30 a.m., he tweeted about how much his brother meant to him.
An hour later, as tributes to his brother were pouring in, Smith posted a picture of the two of them together, saying, "I can't say a bad thing about him... proud to have him as a brother. ..."
At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, he finally made the decision he would play - in honor of his brother.
"It was tough emotionally. I didn’t know how I would hold up," Smith said after the game. "I was telling my teammates a minute ago that this is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother. In our family, everyone’s so tight. Just like a lot of other families. It’s part of life and, due to my teammates and my family and friends, I’ll be able to get over it.”
When Smith got to the stadium, he said he texted his mother.
"That’s when I really made my decision I was going to play," Smith told reporters at a press conference after the game. "So she was excited about it. She was like, ‘Of course, he’d want you to play.’ He’d admired me so much ... and it’s just a tough situation altogether."
Smith received words of encouragement from everyone inside the club and around the globe. On Twitter, fans shared their condolences. Inside the clubhouse, safety Ed Reed, who lost his brother in 2011, gave Smith a psalm that he hoped would help him through the tough time.
"God’s in control, and God has a plan bigger than ours. We don’t know our time, none of us. We all experience the same things, so I just told him that we’re here for him; I’m here for him," Reed said, recalling his conversation with Smith to reporters after the game.
"I can relate to him. I told him we get so caught up, like our pastor said today, in the physical and what we see. I still talk to my (late) brother to this day because I know there's much more to us than just being here. I told him that he could still have those conversations. Just know that he’s in a much better place."
Taking the field Sunday night, Smith was moved by a moment of silence for his brother.
“That touched me right there, the fact that the organization took the time out to honor my brother, one of my family members, who had absolutely nothing to do with this program besides me," Smith said. "He loved being up here. His birthday was October 6, coming up. He was going to come up Thursday, come to the game versus the Browns, raid my house all week. I’m just thankful (for) the organization; it’s everything I thought it would be. The way they care about you. That’s the reason I wanted to be in Baltimore. That’s the reason I wanted to be a Raven.”
And it seems that Smith wanted to make his team and his brother proud.
He played a spectacular game, with two touchdowns and 127 yards on six catches, despite the adversity and pain. His brother, he said, was everything to him.
"He’s honest, he had a great heart. A lot of people say that all the time when people pass, but he truly was that person," Smith told reporters. "When you see him mad, you’d always laugh because it didn’t look right. So, to be around him, his big smile and his laugh, which was probably one of the most annoying laughs ever, I’m definitely going to miss him. He laughed so hard at everything, and you know, he’d do anything for you. It’s a tough loss for us."
Smith helped lead his team to a 31-30 victory against the Patriots.
In the second quarter, he hauled in a 25-yard pass to put the Ravens on the board for the first time and cut the score to 13-7.
He fell to the ground as he pulled in the pass. After the touchdown, he took a knee and pointed up to the sky. It's a typical move for players, but the meaning was much more personal Sunday night.
"I just said a quick prayer, took a knee. You know, obviously you play with a heavy heart; you want to play for that person," Smith said after the game.
It was the first of Smith's two key touchdowns that helped lift the Ravens toward victory.
"How do you explain it? Coming from a faith perspective, God and heaven work in ... mysterious, wonderful ways," head coach John Harbaugh said of Smith's performance. "I am not talking about winning and losing; I am talking about what you see people accomplish in the face of adversity. That’s really what it’s all about. To me, that’s one of the great things about sports."
The support from his team, rivals and fans helped give Smith the extra push he needed, the player told reporters.
"He seemed like he was ready to play football and ready to go out there and help us get a win," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "That was great; we all wanted to rally around him and go get it for him."
Getting the win proved to be a tough task for the Ravens, who finally sealed the game with a last-minute field goal. But it was Smith's performance that stood out for most of the players.
"I think he did what his brother would have wanted him to do, and that’s to go out and play like a Raven," running back Ray Rice said afterward. "And what a show he put on for his brother tonight."