CINCINNATI - Marcus Martin recently bought his first car. He needed to drive it from Chicago, where he went to college, to Washington DC, where he worked. The most direct route from Chicago to DC is not through Cincinnati. But that's the route he took.
It allowed him to see his parents. It allowed him to pick up his dad.
Just last week, Marcus and Mike drove together to DC. They talked and they laughed. They listened to music. Knowing Mike, they sang along. Probably a lot. They drove through Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland talking about the future. Marcus was just getting started. Mike was plotting what would come next in his life.
A week later, Marcus was gone. He died of a pulmonary embolism early Wednesday morning at a DC hospital. He had become dizzy at work Tuesday afternoon and fainted. He was taken to the hospital, examined and kept overnight for observation. He last spoke to his dad Tuesday night.
"His heart just stopped beating," Mike said when we talked by phone Wednesday morning. He was on his way to the airport.
You could hear the anguish in his voice, the pain and the suffering that comes from the unexplained, the unexpected. Mike's voice is usually confident, with a hint of swagger and with a touch of laughter. None of that was present in this conversation. He was searching for relief, yearning for an answer.
We talked briefly Wednesday morning. We talked at more length that night after his family gathered in Washington to deal with the tragic news.
The pain was still present. "I feel hurt, confused, numb," said Mike, choosing each word carefully, looking for the proper way to size up his mood.
His phone had blown up with calls, and texts and e-mails. He heard from all his old teammates. He mentioned Boomer Esiason, Cris Collinsworth and Anthony Munoz. But there were so many others. If you know Mike, you know he has a lot of friends.Marcus was the same way.
Social media exploded with messages and tributes to Marcus. "The outpouring has been overwhelming," Mike told me. Finally he had to shut it down. It was touching, but it was also hard to take. Every word and picture was a reminder of his son.
I must admit that I didn't know Marcus real well, but I knew him for a long time. Mike has worked with me for some 20 years on Sports of All Sorts, and Marcus occasionally tagged along and would watch the show off-camera. He was an encyclopedia of sports information. Often during a commercial break, Mike would ask Marcus a question to make sure he had his facts straight.
It was obvious to me they were nuts about one another. If you didn't know they were father and son, you would have sworn they were brothers. They were very comfortable and confident together. Marcus made Mike laugh. Marcus looked up to his dad.
Marcus started high school at Walnut Hills, but wanted to transfer to Taft to play football for his dad. His mother Michelle didn't like the idea. "He begged his mom," Mike told me Wednesday night. When he was able to convince her that Taft offered college prep courses, she allowed it to happen. Marcus got to be part of Taft's revival, a downtown program that once had been disbanded for lack of interest. Mike propped it and with corporate support resurrected the program. Taft advanced to the playoffs one season, an unbelievable achievement for a program that had been left for dead.
Marcus was one of Mike's leaders on the field. He was his sounding board off the field. He could explain what went on in the head and the heart of a high school kid.
Marcus knew it was a great experience and even a better story. He went away to college to study television production and wanted to do a documentary on Taft's comeback. He spoke to me twice about using our video. I'm told that he was continuing to work on this project at the time of his death.
Moms and dads don't expect and don't want to bury their children. It's supposed to be the other way around. I feel terrible every time I hear of a parent who loses a son or daughter. I can't fathom the sense of loss. I can't imagine that it ever goes away.
That's what Mike , his wife Michelle and Marcus' sister Morgan are dealing with. They're looking for answers and they're looking for reasons. All they know is that Marcus is dead.
"He was my best friend" Mike told me Wednesday morning as he fought back tears. I knew he was right. I could tell that from how they talked and joked and looked at each other.
You sometimes wonder about fate. How Mike and Marcus had that final journey together in his new car just a week ago. Marcus could have saved time and bypassed Cincinnati. But then, he would have bypassed one last journey with his dad. Part of a lifelong journey that ended far too soon.