Doby Howard's Fan Club: Night Train running back's mother is his biggest and most active fan

04/27/02 LaCrosse Tribune
He can picture her now like it was yesterday, arms flailing, eyes sparkling, yelling like a madwoman, as she ran beside him.

Doby Howard was a little embarrassed at first, not surprisingly, seeing his mother run down the sideline during his high school football games, like Terrell Davis' mother in those Chunky Soup commercials.

This wasn't pee-wee football any more, after all, but Marlene Raymond's love for her son didn't stop just because he was a few years older, and doggone it, neither would her enthusiasm. So Marlene kept running, and her son kept scoring touchdowns.

It's been years since Doby Howard's mother sprinted up and down the sidelines at the East High School football field in Rochester, N.Y., cheering the fourth of her five boys. Her baby is all grown up now, as much as a 5-foot-8 football player can be considered all grown up.

Howard is 24, a running back and kick returner for the La Crosse Night Train, hundreds of miles from his mother, and girlfriend, and home in Rochester. He laughs out loud, just thinking about his mom, how she'd probably still run down the field if she didn't live so far away. She might have to run in the crowd, though, since Howard plays indoor football now.

"Can you just see it," he said. "A 24-year-old with his mother running down the sideline chasing him."

When it came to football, Howard's mom was always a little different. Other moms were telling their boys, "You did real good." Marlene Raymond was grilling her son about why he wasn't recognizing zone pass coverages.

"She's always been the competitive one in the family," Howard said. "Me, I guess I've always been a mama's boy."

He could never completely understand it, his mom's love for everything he did, especially football. He's jumped from team to team, and league to league, and state to state, since he played college football at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan, but she keeps coming to see him play.

When he signed with the River Rats two years ago, in some far off place called La Crosse, Wis., she didn't care. She came all the way from New York to watch him play. The River Rats lost game after game. She didn't care. She came to another game later in the season.

Two years later, he's playing in La Crosse again. Like always, he's doing a little of everything. He returns kicks, runs the ball, plays some quarterback when he's needed. The Night Train are 0-4. Mom already has her first trip planned.

That's the part he never could understand. Why was she still so interested? How could she care so much about his obscure indoor football team, so far away?

Back in Rochester, Doby Howard's girlfriend, Christal, had a baby two weeks ago. They named her D'Asia. He is a dad. Now he understands.

"It was so amazing," he said. "I could hear her. She sounded so little."

Howard wasn't there for the birth. He was halfway across the country at a Night Train practice, talking to his mom on a cell phone from the delivery room.

"I wish I could have been there," he said.

He flew home to see his baby the day after the Night Train game against Omaha on May 13. Then he flew back to La Crosse just in time to get on a bus and ride 16 hours to Billings, Mont. for tonight's game against the Billings Outlaws.

This will be the last year he plays football. He doesn't want to miss anything else.

"I'm done traveling around, playing football," he said. "I have a family now. It's time to go home."

Sure, he'll miss football. He loves that feeling when he darts through a crowd and breaks into the open field. But he's been preparing for this. After he left Saginaw Valley State, Howard went back to Rochester. While he was playing football - for no pay - in semi-pro leagues, he worked his way through school and earned a degree in sociology.

Howard took a leave from his permanent job as a behavior specialist at a mental institution so he could play for the Night Train this year. He works with the mentally handicapped in Rochester, tries to help them control their anger, talks to people whose personalities and lives have been turned upside down by car accidents.

"Some days it's hectic," he said. "But when they smile, that's when it's worth it."

There's so much more to Doby Howard's life than football now. He's made up his mind. He's done with competitive sports.

But then again, in a few years, you might just find him cheering on a sideline.

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