Every time a stranger inevitably stops Kevin Dockett in his Maryland neighborhood to ask about the red Cardinals flag that flaps from his Cadillac, it provides him a chance to tell them about a miracle named Darnell Dockett.
And Darnell's uncle is more than happy to share the story of his Pro Bowl nephew whose life he helped transform.
"I can't even find the words to tell you how proud I am," Kevin Dockett said by phone. "I can't tell you what it's like to see people I don't even know wearing his jersey and cheering for him. It's unbelievable."
How else to describe the fifth-year defensive tackle's journey from motherless teenage criminal to a man who on Sunday might win a Super Bowl?
Even Dockett himself shakes his head when recounting his childhood horrors in vivid detail.
The impetus of Dockett's difficulties, he says, was his mother's death. He returned to their Decatur, Ga., home on that day in 1994 to find her with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. He was just 13, but it's an image he still can't shake.
The circumstances surrounding Cheryl Hambrick's death remain unknown. There are no suspects and no leads.
"I would like to sit down with the killer," the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder said, "to ask them what was going through your head and just let them know all the pain you caused."
Dockett knows it's unlikely the chance will ever come.
"I realized it was in the projects, and it was a single black mom. They probably weren't going to put a lot of effort into finding the killer anyway," the former Florida State star said. "I took it and moved on."
He has turned the page on his pain, a sign of his growth evident in everything from his locker room leadership to his decisions as a new father. The more he grew, the more he realized obsessing was no good.
"Being on this team and from going to Bible study and getting closer to God and being closer to my teammates, one thing I've learned is forgiveness," Dockett said. "But I still want to know why, what were you thinking? But it's just to get the demons out."
The demons were present in the years immediately after his mother's death. His cancer-stricken father's death four months later didn't help, especially because he had taken Dockett in. But Dockett doesn't recall it being nearly as painful because Darnell Dockett Sr. hadn't been a part of his life for many years. He made a last-ditch effort before his death, even though he was rebuffed.
"My pain wouldn't let me (have feelings) for a stranger because he was never there," Dockett said. "I guess two, three years after he passed away, I learned forgiveness. … I can't judge him."
Without a parental figure, Dockett devolved into a delinquent. Literally running from the cops was a sort of twisted game.
"I got away the majority of the time," he said.
Up in Maryland, Kevin Dockett observed what was becoming of his brother's child.
"I just did what any brother would do," he said this week after finishing a shift driving his snowplow.
But not just any brother takes in a troubled, hard-headed kid with multiple arrest warrants. But without Kevin Dockett, Darnell likely wouldn't be here today.
Darnell moved to Maryland soon after his father's death, and his uncle "forced me" to play football, he said. His football knowledge was, well, limited.
"I remember the coach said, 'Do you know what a three-point stance is?' " Dockett said. "I said, 'Nope, but I can tell you how to steal a Buick Regal.' "
He struggled during his first season. But watching a pair of cousins excel gave him something to work toward.
"I would always hear him down in the basement lifting those weights every night," Kevin Dockett said.
It paid off the next season.
"I got the confidence to play football again," Dockett said. "I ran like two or three people over the first day with pads on, and there hasn't been any looking back since."
That applies as much to his life as it does his sport. Dockett laughs more these days. How can he not?
"I'm not one of those silver spoon kids who've been playing football since they were 5; (their) mother taking them to practice, buying them all the newest cleats," he said. "I had the same high school cleats for three years. I would have had them for four if my big toe wouldn't have been about to bust out of them. This game wasn't handed to me, and I'm very thankful for it.
"You can ask any one of my teammates. When I'm in the locker room, it's joke time all the time. My tears are gone. I've shed enough of them."
Maybe those demons finally are gone for good.
Dockett to Graham's mom: 'Get over it'
Tuesday's media day brought out some good ol' Florida-Florida State animosity. Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett wasn't thrilled with being told the mother of Bucs tailback Earnest Graham is still upset about the 2001 incident involving them.
"Get over it," said Dockett, who played at FSU. "That's old news. We moved on. I played against Earnest last year. We chopped it up, talked. They want to baby their son. All that's just, whatever. I actually don't even remember what happened."
Here's a refresher. Graham said Dockett intentionally twisted his knee after a tackle during Florida's 37-13 win, resulting in a sprain. Florida coach Steve Spurrier sent copies of the play to ACC and SEC officials, and Graham even retained an attorney to determine if a lawsuit was justified. Graham missed the next game, a loss to Tennessee that cost the Gators a berth in the BCS title game.
"At that time, you never know what could happen in football, and everybody had their speculations on what happened," Dockett said. "But at the end of the day, he's a professional athlete. I'm one, and whatever happened back in the day happened."
But what did happen?
"Of course he would say that. That's a very political thing to say," said Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks, then a sophomore for the Gators. "But I know. I was right there, and I had to pick Earnest up. So the film evidence, if anybody ever looks at it … it speaks for itself."
Compiled from Times staff, wires