Sometimes in football, a quarterback can simply look at his receiver and know that without a doubt, both players are on the same page. Think Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, or Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. All the great combos though, have something that goes beyond the simple throw and catch, they have building blocks that run much deeper.
For Pittsburgh Steelers undrafted free agent wide receiver Eli Rogers, this is the bond he shared at Louisville with current Minnesota Vikings quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Their bond even transcends college, as the two were teammates at Miami’s Northwestern High School. The two are best friends and not just from their chemistry on the football field. Both their mothers have suffered, or currently have a life-changing diseases, Rogers’ mother with the HIV virus and Bridgewater’s mother, breast cancer.
Tranae Jackson, the mother of Rogers, has had the disease ever since Eli was 8 years old.
“And it’s been pretty tough on me because, you know, like, her mindset is not in a normal mind state so she goes in and out and she’ll talk about different things, and it just bothers me sometimes, but I’ve grown and learned how to deal with it,” Rogers said, according to Eric Crawford of WDRB.com.
For a constant in his life, Rogers turned to Bridgewater, who was like a brother to him. The two grew up in the Brownsville neighborhood, who the Miami New times recently called “one of the city’s poorest and most-blighted neighborhoods.” The two boys steered clear of trouble though, and according to Jackson, Bridgewater had a major hand in that, often suggesting the two boys watch DVD’s or always would pick Rogers up when he was feeling down.
“He’d say, ‘We got to go, we got to do this,'” Jackson said, according to Crawford.
Bridgewater knew all too well the turmoils Rogers was going through in his life, because he had been there himself. His mother, Rose Murphy, was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer when Teddy was 15. With chemotherapy appointments and this and that, his first reaction was to drop out of school altogether. He wanted to “be a provider for my family and my mother, be the man of the house because there was no man in the household at the time,” he said, according to Crawford. However, Murphy wouldn’t let him, telling him he had a special gift from God, and she’d be the last person on the face of the Earth to watch him waste it.
So the two boys leaned heavily on each other, always there to pick each other up when one was down, and vice versa. The two were thick as thieves, even basing each other’s college choices off one another. Both heavily recruited by the University of Miami, then led by Randy Shannon, the two committed. They then de-committed and Rogers picked Louisville.
“Well you want to go to Louisville?” Rogers asked Bridgewater, according to Crawford. “And Teddy said, ‘It’s on you. I’m gonna go wherever you go.’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s go then, they’ve got a great coaching staff and we can build that program.’ And Teddy said, ‘I’m with it.'”
The rest is history. Bridgewater was a first round draft choice of the Vikings in 2014, and Rogers is looking to make a name for himself for the Steelers as an undrafted player. At only 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, he’s on the smaller side, but so of course is Antonio Brown. At his pro day, he ran a 4.57, a solid-yet-unspectacular number, while posting a 34.5-inch vertical. However, after making it out of such a rough area, Rogers exhibits a toughness normally not seen from someone his age. He correlates that to his mother, and her battle with the AIDS virus.
“That’s someone’s life being taken,” he said, according to Crawford. “You just have to go through the struggle, through this long period of time, just to know that you’re going to pass with AIDS. It’s just depressing. But every time I hear it, it’s just motivation for me.”
The two mother’s still remain, much like their sons, very close. In fact, Murphy recently drove Jackson to one of her doctor’s visits. Whatever happens with Rogers and his Steelers career, whether it be practice squad, the 53-man roster or a Kevin Colbert undrafted gem, both ladies know one thing their sons will have and that’s a best friend forever.
“They’re good young men,” Murphy said. “They work hard and they know they have each other.”