B.C. Lions’ franchise quarterback Michael Reilly lost his ultimate super fan on March 19, when his mother, Rhonda, died while battling myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease of the bone marrow.
“It’s not really something you ever get over, especially when it’s sudden and unexpected,” said Reilly, noting she would have been celebrating her 60th birthday on Saturday, July 24.
“She’s either been in the stands in person or watching on TV or listening to the game on the radio every football game I’ve played in my entire life. There’s never been a time where a game got over with and I called her and she wasn’t aware of what happened in the game.”
The Lions, whose training camp in smoky Kamloops will wrap up on July 29, will open their CFL campaign against the Roughriders on Aug. 6 in Saskatchewan.
There will be no phone call to mom after the game.
“It’s going to be a strange year for a lot of reasons, obviously, with COVID and everything like that, but that first game is going to be extra emotional, for sure,” said Reilly, the 36-year-old former Edmonton pivot who was a free agent when signed by B.C. in time for the 2019 season.
“Unfortunately, we lost her too soon, but at the same time, I was definitely very blessed. She was an amazing person and an amazing mom.”
Both Reilly and his father, Pat, posted on Twitter on the day of Rhonda’s death.
“This morning, I lost my best friend, my buddy and the love of my life,” said Pat, Rhonda’s husband of 42 years. “She was the greatest wife and mother anyone ever had. RIP Rhonda. I love you always.”
Flathead High School in Kalispell, Mon., at which Rhonda was office manager, planted a maple tree in her honour on May 6, two days before the family said goodbye at a reception.
“As much as it sucks when they’re gone, you remind yourself it only hurts that bad because of how great things were when they were around,” Reilly said.
In June, the quarterback formerly known as Mike asked to be called Michael as a tribute to his mother.
“My mom hated that people called me Mike,” Reilly said in a videoconference earlier this summer. “We got into big arguments about it. She always said, ‘What does your birth certificate say? I named you Michael. I wish that you’d go by that. It was kind of jokingly, but she was serious about it.’”
The family became well-known to the Edmonton Elks’ organization during Reilly’s six-year tenure with the club, which included a Grey Cup victory in 2015.
“I can’t tell you how many pictures I have of my kids being little tiny babies asleep on her lap in the stands,” Reilly said.
“A lot of people in Canada were blessed they got to know my mom, as well. They loved going to BC Place. My dad always walked the concourse, handing out trading cards and stuff like that, and my mom, she was kind of the quiet one that was just there all the time.”
She won’t be there on Aug. 19 when the Elks are in Vancouver for the Lions’ home opener — at least not in person.
“This will be the very first time ever where she won’t be on this planet watching me play football,” Reilly said. “That’s going to be strange.
“I’m not looking forward to that, obviously, but at the same time, I have faith and I believe she’s in heaven and I do believe she’s aware of what’s going on and she’s in my corner, for sure.”