It’s a gray autumn Sunday and everyone in Seaside seems to be inside watching football. Martha Edwards meets me at the door of the modest house she has lived in since 1959. A remarkably youthful 82-year-old, the queen mother of Monterey County football ushers me into her home, which shines clean and white as a pre-game visitor’s jersey.
She’s in good spirits despite the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers have already marched down the field and scored on her son’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs. The broadcast cuts to the sidelines and there he is, Seaside’s prodigal son, Herm Edwards, arguably the greatest player and the only NFL head coach Monterey County football has ever produced. Despite the Steelers’ ominous opening drive, Edwards looks as stern and unflappable as ever.
“Just like his father,” Herm’s mother says in her thick German accent as we settle into the living room to watch the game. She gets up to show me a photo of her husband, a big, handsome African-American man in a sergeant major’s uniform. “They both kept it inside,” she says with a tap of her chest.
Covered in posters, plaques and artwork, the walls of the living room are a testament to her son’s career in football. Before he became a coach, Edwards played nine seasons as a cornerback with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1977 to 1986. A framed poster from Super Bowl XV hangs above the couch.
“The Super Bowl,” Martha says. “The best ever. Absolutely the best ever.”
Meanwhile, on television, the Chiefs are punting the ball back to the Steelers. Clearly, the 2006 Chiefs are not the 1980 NFC Champion Eagles. Martha shakes her head,“Not a good start.”
A solid defensive back, Edwards chalked up 33 career interceptions, just one short of the franchise record. Despite a lack of speed which often led to receivers beating him deep, Edwards appeared in 135 consecutive regular-season games for the Eagles. Above the television hangs a painting of Edwards batting a ball out of the hands of the 49ers’ legendary receiver Jerry Rice. Martha proudly points out that Rice has signed the painting, “One I didn’t catch.”
But the most famous moment of her son’s playing career is commemorated by a small plaque which reads: ‘November 19, 1978- Miracle at the Meadowlands.’ Seared into the memories of football fans, the ‘Miracle’ made a legend of Edwards and, 27 years later, remains one of the NFL’s most memorable plays.
Here’s what happened. The hated New York Giants had the ball and a 17-12 lead with seconds on the clock. Out of timeouts and clearly doomed, the Eagles brought a full blitz as Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik took the final snap.
But instead of dropping a knee, Pisarcik attempted a hand-off to running back Larry Csonka. The ball came loose and bounced right into the hands of a young, blitzing cornerback named Herm Edwards. As the NY Giants fans watched in stunned horror, the kid scooped up the ball and returned it 29 yards for the winning touchdown. Instant fame, just add destiny.
“Oh, they still adore Herman in Philadelphia,” Martha laughs “They still treat him like a saint.”
But her son isn’t the only one with NFL honors. Martha plucks a game ball off a table loaded with memorabilia which reads, “Presented to ‘Mom Edwards’–Number 1 Eagle Fan–Eagles 35/Giants 3–Sept. 22nd, 1980–from: Super Bowl bound Phila. Eagles Football Sqd.”
It’s quite a trophy for a woman who nearly didn’t let her son play football.
“I didn’t know football. It seemed so dangerous,” she says. “In Germany we only had soccer.”
Martha met Herm’s father, a World War II veteran, while working in the PX of a Stuttgart military base in 1953. The couple fell in love and petitioned the U.S. government to wed. Despite warnings that their marriage would not be considered legal if he ever transferred to the American South, Sgt. Edwards brought his German bride back to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. Herm was born the following year.
After another three-year stint in Germany, the Edwards were ordered to Fort Ord. The Edwards bought their house on Highland Street in Seaside when Herm was five.
“Back then, there were no houses on the other side of the street. The road was dirt,” she says.“ There was nothing between us and the gate of the base. And now I am still here and Fort Ord is closed.”
Yet the Edwards’ welcome to Seaside in 1959 was far from gracious. Their real estate agent received a petition signed by a handful of neighbors opposed to the presence of an inter-racial family.
“We bought the house anyway,” Martha says. “We did the best we could to raise our children the right way. We taught them that you are treated the way you represent yourself, no matter what race or color you are.”
On the television screen, the Steelers quarterback has hit a streaking receiver in stride. A Chiefs defender fails to wrap him up and the receiver glides into the end zone for a 47-yard TD.
“Oh this makes me sick,” Martha groans. “I’m sick.”
Although Herm shined shoes for the soldiers and washed dishes at the Fort Ord officer’s club on weekends, he was “glued to the television” when a game was on. In high school, Herm pressed his mom to let him play. She remained hesitant.
“I said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want you playing football, you’ll get hurt,’” Martha says.
The next day, Monterey High’s football coach called and told her she simply had to let her son play football. No matter what. Swayed by the conviction in the man’s voice, she signed the release waiver.
“He made it sound like I didn’t have a choice,” she remembers. “I guess he knew.”
And that football coach? None other than Dan Albert, the man would go on to serve ten two-year terms as the most popular and successful mayor in Monterey history.
After a stunning high school career that included 48 interceptions in three years, Edwards received a full scholarship to Cal Berkeley before transferring to San Diego State via Monterey Peninsula College. The following year he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
But his success in the NFL was bittersweet. Herm’s father, who had worked for a Santa Cruz construction company after retiring from the military, died in a car wreck during his son’s first season as a professional football player.
“He was able to get to a game in L.A.,” Martha says quietly, her eyes on the television. “He saw his son play and he was very, very proud.”
On the TV screen, the Steelers are marching back down the field. Within minutes they’ve scored. Three minutes later, they score again. With 6:20 remaining in the half, the score is 28-0 and Kansas City has mustered only 40 yards of offense.
“His team has a lot of injuries,” Martha tells me. “What are you going to do?”
When I ask her if she ever discusses team matters with her son, she shakes her head emphatically.
“I’m not into his business. That’s a man’s job, not a woman’s job,” she says. “I just call him the next day and congratulate him or say, ‘Sorry, baby.’”
Although his team may be getting creamed today, Herm Edwards has enjoyed great success on the sidelines. Before being hired by the Chiefs, he spent four years as head coach of the New York Jets and led them to the playoffs in 2001, 2002 and 2004.
Yet unlike some NFL coaches, Edwards doesn’t subscribe to a “win at any cost” philosophy. He demands the same integrity from his players that his parents demanded of him. He also gives back to the kids. He serves on the national advisory board for the Positive Coaching Alliance and has hosted a free football camp in Seaside every summer for the past 11 years.
With three seconds left in the half, Pittsburgh kicks another field goal. Herm’s team hits the locker room trailing 31-0.
Instead of bemoaning the fate of her son’s team, Martha shows me a Sports Illustrated cover that reads, “The 100 Most Influential Minorities in Sports.” Her son is number 60.
As Herm Edwards and his Kansas City Chiefs disappear down the dark tunnel of Arrowhead Stadium, I’m reminded that losing a battle on the field isn’t so bad, when you’re winning a much more important war.