Special Photo Never Far From Falcons’ Hope

Special Photo Never Far From Falcons’ Hope

Jay Adams

Published December 26, 2012 at 2:44 PM

Chris Hope tightens his tie, puts on his sport coat and finishes packing up his temporary locker below Ford Field after the Falcons just finished polishing off their 13th win of the season. Before he picks up his bag and heads to the buses going to the airport, the Falcons safety reaches into the locker and pulls down the picture frame that was sitting inside it.

Inside the frame is a photo Hope holds dear. It’s a picture of him standing with his grandmother, Christine Wilie — a woman who taught Hope so many things in his life. Hope takes the frame in both of his hands, looks at it for a moment and carefully places it inside his bag for the trip home.

This isn’t the first road game Christine Wilie has been on. As Hope puts it, she has never missed a game — home or away.

“She was a big inspiration to me. One of the most important people in my life,” Hope said. “Growing up, I looked up to her. She had 13 kids. Never really had an education, but she always had something to give, whether it was money, advice, love. I’ve never seen her have a bad day.”

Wilie died of cancer during Hope’s first year with the Tennessee Titans in 2006. Before her death, Wilie took so much pride in what her grandson had accomplished. She got to see him go from special teamer to starter to Super Bowl champion while with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wilie would fill her old Bible with newspaper clippings and photos of Hope she had collected through the years. Even when she didn’t watch Hope’s games on TV or wasn’t able to come to a game, she was at home praying for him.

She was always with him then, and she’s always with him now.

The photo of Hope and his grandmother sits at Hope’s home during the week, right on his dresser where he can look at it every day. When it’s time to get ready to play, more important than anything else in his travel bag, the framed photo always has a place among his must-haves.

“I get upset if I ever forget that picture,” Hope said. “I’ve almost missed the plane going back and getting that picture.”

The first thing he does in any locker room — away or in the Georgia Dome — is pull the photo from his bag and set up the frame in his locker. She always has a place there.

Before he goes out to the field and after halftime, he kisses the photo and has a few words with the woman he described as his best friend.

“I always tell her to be my eyes for me,” Hope said. “One of my goals in life was to make my grandparents proud. To hear them say they were proud of me, that was one of the best feelings I ever had. … She hasn’t missed a game yet, so I bring her to every game.”

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