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Monday, December 29, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Brian Griese Leads With Heart - On And Off Football Field

Times Staff Columnist

PASADENA - Every Thursday night Brian Griese takes a few of his Michigan teammates to Mott's Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. It is part of the athletic department's "From The Heart" program.

"I just try to give the kids a smile one time a day," the Michigan quarterback said after yesterday's news conference.

When Griese goes to the hospital, he isn't some hot-shot Big Ten football player. He isn't the quarterback of the nation's No.1-rated team.

There's no attitude. He demands nothing. He's just a kid among kids. A normal guy who easily makes friends.

Griese the kid, not Griese the quarterback, impressed a teenage patient, a high-school junior named Jayne Uber. She had suffered a broken neck in a fall from a horse. Her legs were paralyzed and she had only limited use of her arms.

Every Thursday, Griese would visit her. In the beginning, he probably had no idea how much his visits meant to her. This was one guy who didn't make her feel handicapped. They didn't dwell on her problems. They laughed. They talked about music, clothes or relationships. They played games. They became buddies.

"She maintains to this day that she didn't want her friends to know I was a football player," Griese said. "She wanted people to realize that I wasn't just a quarterback, I was a nice guy, too."

By now, you probably know the story of the Griese family. You watched Brian's father, Bob, when he quarterbacked the Miami Dolphins to an undefeated season and the Super Bowl VII championship.

You've listened to him on ABC's college football telecasts.

You've probably heard the amazing restraint he has shown when he has worked his son's game. About the only clue he gives that the Michigan quarterback is his son is when he identifies Brian by his first name, as in, "Brian was a little late delivering the ball."

Maybe you know about the closeness of their relationship. Brian's mom died of breast cancer when he was 12, leaving father and youngest son alone at home.

"The eggs were always runny," Brian says jokingly of his dad's cooking.

Brian learned football from his Hall of Fame father. Despite his busy fall schedule for ABC, Dad would be there most Wednesday and Thursday nights, by the locker room, after most games, offering a word of encouragement after a rare loss. He was there to dissect the game and discuss the life lessons a teenager learns playing high school football.

"I could be there for the games," Bob said in a recent Sports Illustrated story. "Be there at the end. I think that's important for a kid, to have someone there at the end of the game."

Dad taught his son resilience and perserverance. Maybe Brian Griese isn't the sure-fire quarterback his father was. He won't be a first-round draft pick. He says he will play in the Hula Bowl next month and then wait to see where his life takes him.

But, in his fifth and final year at Michigan, Brian Griese is the starting quarterback of the undefeated Big Ten champions.

"He is a very efficient, tough quarterback," said Mike Price, coach of Michigan's Rose Bowl opponent Washington State.

And more important, he is a poised and sensitive young man. You get the feeling, listening to Brian Griese talk, these Thursday nights at the hospital meant almost as much as the third-down conversions on Saturday afternoons.

You get the feeling dad wasn't just talking about football after those high-school games. And son was listening to all of those short, serious lectures.

"Going to the hospital makes me feel special," Griese said. "To be able to have an influence on someone's life like that, to make their lives a little better."

Like many of the hospital's volunteers, the more Griese went, the more satisfying it became. When you volunteer at a children's hospital you almost feel guilty because you enjoy it so much.

The visits become your medicine. Maybe you make the patients feel better, but just as often, they make you feel better. You develop friendships. Griese and Uber became so close, she asked him to be her escort for the junior prom.

"At first I had reservations about it," he said. "I didn't want to draw too much attention toward me. It was her prom. I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable. I didn't want to embarrass her."

At first, he turned her down, telling her he had to go to a leadership conference. Then he talked to friends who convinced him to go. He took Uber to the Pinckney High School prom and danced with her without fear of embarrassment. He lifted her from her wheelchair and held her as they spun around the dance floor until his biceps ached.

"I had a great time," he said. "It's something I'll always remember. We cried about it. It was emotional for me as well as for her."

Just a regular guy doing something extraordinary.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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