Missouri football team's Senior Day an emotional time for Weatherspoon family

Saturday, November 21, 2009 | 7:59 p.m. CST; updated 11:41 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 21, 2009
Missouri senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon holds up a rock from the giant 'M' in the north end of Memorial Stadium after the Tigers' win over Iowa State on Saturday, a tradition for seniors at Missouri after their final home game.

COLUMBIA — As Elwanda Weatherspoon watched her son jog toward her through the tunnel of teammates lining Faurot Field, cheers of his name raining down from the stands, she couldn't help but cry. Not because she saw what the cheering fans could see: an All-American, a Butkus Award finalist, the charismatic superstar they've come to love. She cried because she saw what none of them could. She saw her baby.

Sean Weatherspoon played his last home game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. And as an era ended for him, it also ended for the family that has spent four years joining him in making Columbia its second home.

Proving grounds

On the first play of the second quarter Develous Weatherspoon Sr. stands silent in the middle of section KK. It's third-and-3, and Iowa State has the ball on Missouri's 35-yard line. He spends much of the game quiet and focused. He knows football, and he's the reason that his sons knew it early.

His father and his uncles forced a football into his hands as soon as he could hold one. That meant that in the Weatherspoon house, Nerf footballs were around before his boys were out of diapers.

It didn't take long for Sean Weatherspoon, the youngest of Develous Weatherspoon Sr.'s three sons, to pry his way into games with his older brothers.

"We wouldn't let him play," Sean Weatherspoon's brother Develous Weatherspoon Jr. said. "But then he would cry to mom and she would say, 'If he can't play, y'all can't play.'"

The move had its own risks. Little brother could play. But any bumps and bruises were his own problem. Whenever mom tried to nurse an injury, dad would hold her back. His kids were going to be tough.

The demands continued as Sean Weatherspoon got older. When he was 16, his father started taking him to a nearby hill during the summer to train. They made the trip daily, in the heat of the Texas summer, a way to help his son develop the "bulldog" mentality he felt he needed.

"One day a gentleman that came out every morning asked me, 'You training a boxer?" Weatherspoon's father said. "'Nope,' I said. 'Just a football player.'"

Family affair

Sean Weatherspoon lowers his shoulder and drops the Iowa State runner short of a first down. The fake field goal has gone awry. First down Tigers.

Develous Weatherspoon Sr. pulls out his phone and dials his oldest son. Douglas Weatherspoon is a member of the United States Army currently stationed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. When games aren't televised his parents make sure they keep him up to speed.

"Your brother just made a spectacular play," the father says.

Their conversation continues a bit longer, but not too long. It won't be long before they speak again. With the Weatherspoons it never is.

"We talk to each other every day," Elwanda Weatherspoon said. "That's just the way we are."

Douglas Weatherspoon is the only one of Elwanda Weatherspoon's children missing from Memorial Stadium this afternoon. Her daughter, Vette Martin, has made it to every game this season. And her middle son, who spent the past three years as a member of the U.S. Navy, is in attendance for the fifth time in his younger brother's career.

With her 5-year-old granddaughter Shaelyn Martin squirming in her lap, Elwanda Weatherspoon talks about how people have always been surprised at how close her family is. She's never known anything else. As she finishes the thought the Missouri offense gets a first down, and a call of "M-I-Z" comes over the P.A.

"Z-O-U!" Shaelyn shouts back.

Elwanda Weatherspoon laughs.

"They learned how to spell Mizzou when they were 2 years old."

The biggest little 'Spoon

With just under 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Sean Weatherspoon knifes into the backfield and brings down the Iowa State ball carrier for a one-yard loss. His brother jumps from his seat.

"Spoooooooooooooooooon! That's it. Make that boy feel you, bro'."

He's just one of the many shouting the familiar cheer from Memorial Stadium's east bleachers.

His mother pauses for a moment  as she tries to remember the first time she heard it. She remembers that Jeremy Maclin's surrogate parents brought her a huge yellow spoon with a "12" on it to the Kansas game last season. It was probably then. She does know that she didn't like it at first.

"At first I thought they were booing!" she said with a laugh. "I said, 'Why are they booing my child?'"

It didn't take long for her to catch on. Each of the men in her life has been "Spoon" at one point or another. It's still how she addresses her husband. But the 60,000 people cheering it is new. And so is the widespread admiration that the latest "Spoon" has gotten.

"I'm always in awe," Martin said. "People just come up to me and give me hugs. They'll just say, 'We love Sean so much.'"

One last time

Sean Weatherspoon gives his father a high five as he meets his parents at the 50-yard line. He hugs his mother. By now both of his parents are crying and, with his emotions already threatening to overtake him, he begs for them to straighten up.

"'Y'all settle down, y'all settle down.' That's what he was saying," Elwanda Weatherspoon said, smiling.

The three hug at midfield.

"I never asked him about it," his father said. "But I honestly believe that he came back for this day. He just loves this place."

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