In defense of a grandson, rhyme, reason take stand

November 22, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It all started the day after Michael McCrary's four-sack game against Oakland, when Tony Siragusa suggested that McCrary might be an alien.

This was not just any old scoop.

This was my ticket to the National Enquirer.

Siragusa's comments made it legitimate to ask McCrary if he was an alien, and other Ravens if they noticed extraterrestrial tendencies in his behavior.

As columns go, it offered a lot more promise than, say, another detailed analysis of the Ravens' inept play-calling.

We popped the question to McCrary. We grilled his teammates for telling anecdotes. We wrote the column, and awaited the call from the Enquirer.

It never came, but McCrary's 91-year-old grandmother, Eleanor Schaffner, felt compelled to respond.

A grandma?

Never offended one of those before.

"She had this quizzical look on her face when I read her the article," said McCrary's mother, Sandy. "She was like, 'Why are you talking about my grandson that way, like he's from outer space?'

"She went back in her room for maybe 10 minutes, came out and said, 'I wrote a poem in response to that article.' She had not even written it down. She recited it."

A poem!

Evidently, Schaffner meant business.

Letter writers to The Sun routinely plead for yours truly to "go back to New York," but rarely do they put their diatribes in verse.

"You know, darling, what prompted me to even think of anything like that was the article in the paper," Schaffner said. "I thought, just for a joke, I'll give 'em something to think about."

Schaffner turned 91 on Nov. 4. She was happy to debate her grandson's origins. And she was a better interview than three-fourths of the players in the Ravens' locker room.

"My Michael, honey, was always, always a wonderful boy," Schaffner said. "When he was little, we had many good times together.

"He'd come down and stay with me in the summer [near Ocala, Fla.]. We went out every day. We had many a laugh together. He was my special one."

McCrary and his maternal grandmother have always been close. "She'd tell him little stories. They had their little secrets," Sandy recalled.

McCrary, 28, smiled at the memories.

"I'd skip school when she used to come up and visit, and she'd take me to the mall to buy me Star Wars action figures," he said.

He has since graduated to bigger toys -- the club recently bought him a remote-control tank after he talked about buying a $40,000 model from the Neiman-Marcus catalog.

But he still is close to Schaffner.

"She's an angel," McCrary said. "She never talks bad about anybody. She's a perfect example of pure kindness."

She's a football fan, too, wearing Ravens colors, living for Sundays. For the past nine years, she has lived with McCrary's parents in Vienna, Va. Three days before her 91st birthday, she attended the Ravens' 45-19 loss to Jacksonville at Camden Yards.

Yet, Schaffner only became a fan after McCrary began playing football. She was already a senior citizen by then, and has since followed his career from George C. Marshall High in Falls Church, Va., to Wake Forest to the NFL.

"Do you know I was never interested in football or sports of any kind all my life?" Schaffner asked. "When Michael got into football, I got very interested. Now I can't wait for the games. We've got a satellite at home. I look at it every Sunday. I don't really do too much at my age. But I do look forward all week long to the games."

In fact, McCrary said she even critiques his performances, "telling me how I did." The 6-foot-4, 270-pound sack machine unabashedly refers to Schaffner as his "little sweetheart."

Alas, not everyone will find this story so touching.

Siragusa rides McCrary mercilessly about his mother's role in the Professional Football Players Mothers Association -- a.k.a. the Mom Squad. He is not likely to be moved by poetry.

"He can't tease him any more than he does," Sandy McCrary said. "I don't think there's anything left for him to say."

Before the question could even be asked, the Goose directed his favorite columnist to a locker-room phone. He then called his wife to inquire about some words that she told him were written in this space, but actually appeared under another byline.

See, this is how it usually is with players' relatives. They take criticism of their loved ones personally, which is understandable. But sometimes, they get writers in trouble, even when we've done nothing to merit their scorn.

With that, we present the words of Eleanor Schaffner.

She didn't get mad, she got even.

She outwrote the writer.

Where did you come from, Michael dear?

Out of the everywhere, into the here.

Where did you get those eyes so brown?

Out of the clouds as I came down.

Why do they seem to sparkle and spin?

Love of the game is still within.

Thanks, Eleanor.

For the poem, and the column.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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