Testaverde's toughest loss Father: When the Ravens' family man quarterback looks adoringly at his baby son, whose birth followed a troubled pregnancy, he also sees the twin who didn't make it.

March 11, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. -- Vinny Testaverde leans over the stroller and picks up the smiling baby. This is Vincent Jr., 7 months old and a small miracle. Dad lifts his child -- in those big, strong quarterback hands -- and knows there could have been two of them. But this little boy is perfect, and Testaverde holds Vincent Jr. over his head and smiles into the child's trusting eyes.

Testaverde, the Ravens' Pro Bowl quarterback, seems an unlikely candidate to share details of his personal life. A private man who endured a career full of criticism before finally being accepted in Baltimore, he guards his family closely. Here in Florida, he lives with his wife, Mitzi, and their children Alicia, 5, and Vincent Jr. in a beautiful stone house behind a 10-foot-high white wall designed to keep out intruders.

As Testaverde cradles his son in his muscled arm, he begins relating how he and Mitzi lost one child and how close they came to losing Vincent Jr. It is a story that Mitzi will pick up a little later and one that still causes their voices to catch.

Testaverde, who agreed to a four-year contract worth $19 million on Saturday, turns down endorsement deals and commercials to stay at home in the off-season with his family. This winter, he even bought a small house next to his property here and plans to remodel it so his parents can move down from Elmont, N.Y.

It's a warm, close-knit, Italian family.

"My wife and children are everything to me," Testaverde says. "I do everything for them and because of them. The most joy and satisfaction I get is in doing the things I do for them, just seeing the smiles on their faces gives me so much joy."

When Alicia was 2, the Testaverdes starting trying to have a second child. Two years later, Mitzi finally became pregnant with twins while they still were living in Cleveland.

From the beginning there were troubles. Late one Sunday afternoon, eight weeks into the pregnancy, Mitzi and her mother were getting ready to go to one of the last Browns games in Cleveland. Mitzi began to hemorrhage and called 911.

At the hospital, the emergency room doctor told her she had miscarried and needed to abort the pregnancy on the spot. But she balked; her husband wasn't there. He was getting ready to play a football game and she wasn't going to call him. Finally, a nurse took her down to do a sonogram, to look for a cyst, and discovered the twins' hearts still beating.

Two weeks later, one of the hearts stopped.

"The doctors kept saying if we got through the first 12 weeks, they'd be OK," Testaverde says. "But one didn't make it. From the beginning it was difficult. We'd go for sonograms and they always seemed to have trouble finding the heartbeat or the baby. Something always happened involving the one.

"Finally, they couldn't find one of them. That was awfully tough, but we were awful thankful we had the one."

Neither Mitzi nor Vinny was prepared for the trouble they were facing. Mitzi's first pregnancy with Alicia was so easy. A former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader, Mitzi worked out until the day of delivery, and Alicia was thoughtful enough to arrive during the Browns' bye week.

Everything was different with Vincent Jr.

"We kept telling each other we were going to have one healthy baby," Testaverde says. "We said, 'This is what God wants, and it's not in our control. Let's accept it and be as happy as we can be.' "

But learning they had lost one of the twins was only the beginning. There would be four months of bed rest for Mitzi. She no longer could get down on the floor and play with Alicia. She was dependent on her husband for almost everything. And it seemed every time she went for a test, the results came back all wrong.

"I was always a nervous wreck," Mitzi says. "Every test they did came back positive. I was tested, and it said the baby was positive for Down syndrome. Then they'd say, 'It could be the twin.' You just didn't know."

The twin would stay in her womb until Vincent Jr. was born.

"It was emotional, both joyful and sad, because you're sitting pTC there looking at a beautiful healthy boy and you're saying, 'We could have had two,' " says Vinny.

"But my concerns after that were for my son and not knowing the effects, if any, emotionally, mentally in any way. The doctors say there won't be any. As a parent, you always worry. But he's as happy a baby as I've ever seen."

Through it all, Testaverde was there for his family. He was the one who helped with preschool homework, got down on the floor and colored with Alicia when Mitzi couldn't, and took his daughter to her favorite restaurant, the local pizzeria, for lunch every day.

"He went to all the doctor appointments with me," says Mitzi, 31. "He was there when the doctor told me we'd lost one. He was always comforting me, with little encouraging words and just being there, trying to keep me from being scared, helping with Alicia."

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