INDIANAPOLIS – Pierre Garcon’s smile rarely fades.
It flickers when he talks about his breakthrough second year with the Colts when he burst onto the national scene with an AFC championship game-record 11 catches to go with 151 yards.
It’s wide when he talks about the opportunity to play in his first Super Bowl.
It beams when he talks about his mother and three older sisters, all born in Haiti, strong women who he says raised him right and instilled their toughness in him.
It’s accompanied by a laugh even when he talks about his humble beginnings, growing up in South Florida without a father and relying on the tough women.
We weren’t the richest people on the block, he said. We had to work for a lot of things. We had to wear a lot of the same clothes for a while. You just had to appreciate all the little things. We didn’t have it all.
You had to grow up fast. My mom worked two jobs, no dad, two sisters, (another) sister went to school and she worked after school and took care of me and my other sisters. That’s kind of where I got some of my strength from.
He has needed the strength, especially lately.
Garcon quickly was becoming a rising star on the Colts’ roster, seizing the opportunity when starting receiver Anthony Gonzalez suffered a season-ending injury in the first game. Garcon caught 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns in 14 regular-season games.
Then on Jan. 12, Haiti was rocked by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. Eight days later, there was a 6.1-magnitude aftershock. It has been a frantic and worrisome time for Garcon, who wasn’t born in Haiti but has many uncles, aunts and cousins who live there.
Garcon began sleeping on his couch, dozing with CNN on the TV. Slowly, news trickled in, and he learned most of his family was OK. Garcon hasn’t heard from all of his relatives, though.
The smile fades a bit, then.
The people down there really don’t deserve anything like this to happen. Nobody deserves anything like this, he said. But it does help out when I do well, I guess. They really respond back to me and let me know that I did well, and they really appreciate it.
That’s all I’m trying to do, just have them not think about what they’re going through and just be happy for me and to be Haitian.
He has worked to raise donations for the relief effort, selling autographed items on his Web site and using Twitter and Facebook to implore fans to help. He seems to have a Haitian flag at the ready, draping one across his shoulders in the postgame news conference after the AFC divisional game and bringing one to the stage for his postgame on-field interview after the Colts beat the Jets for the AFC title.
Garcon realizes with the Super Bowl in Miami, he’ll be even more visible. That’s fine.
He said he has used the tragedy as motivation and with more people watching, he’s trying to give them hope and something to smile about instead of the earthquake.
Spread the smile.
Not a bad goal for a week capped with the season’s biggest game, one Garcon said he envisioned playing in, despite his meager beginnings.
Garcon was born in Carmel, N.Y., where his father, Jules, and mother, Marie, were temporary farmworkers, according to the New York Daily News. His sisters were living in Haiti with relatives at the time. Jules died when Garcon was 6. After moving to Florida, Marie and Pierre were joined by his sisters, Micholee, Maquissia and Gina.
Marie worked in the sugar cane fields during the day before going to a night shift at the post office, and Micholee spent eight hours after school working at a shoe store, the paper reported.
We were never poor, Maquissia Garcon told the newspaper. My mother made sure we always had something to eat and clean clothes. Was it easy? No, not at all. I would cry because my mom was working so hard.
But that dedication kept the family going and allowed Garcon to focus on football.
Because of academic issues, he wasn’t able to go to a Division I school out of John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, Fla. So he headed to Norwich University in Vermont instead.
After one season, he transferred to Division III Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. He helped lead Mount Union to two national championships by catching 246 passes for 4,380 yards and 60 touchdowns in three seasons.
That earned him a sixth-round pick by the Colts in 2008. He caught four passes in limited action last season but worked hard to learn the offense and develop a rapport with quarterback Peyton Manning.
And a week from now, he’ll be playing in the Super Bowl.
Quite a journey, but not a surprising one for Garcon and those who know him.
I always had big dreams, he said. I always dreamed about being in the Super Bowl playing, being in the NFL. But I had to work toward it. As a player, whatever path they give you, you have to take it and make the best of it.
And the toothy smile returned.