As David King ran onto Owen Field one last time, Stacy McVaney sat on the bleachers, surrounded by players' parents, and wept.
Stacy is a crier. Balled up in her right hand was a mangled, damp tissue.
Moments like this make her follow up her tears with a prayer.
Stacy — a broad-shouldered woman with a stern face but a soft, kind heart — took a deep breath, blew out, looked up to the sky and silently spoke to her good friend, Gladys King, David's mother.
“You have to be enjoying this,” she said, fighting back more tears. “You did a wonderful job raising this child and I hope you're getting to see the man he's grown into.”
On Friday, that man will lead the Sooner defense one last time when Oklahoma plays Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. He'll do so as a senior defensive end and a player whose character earned him Oklahoma's annual award given to a player who excels on and off the field.
David King becoming this leader is the product of Gladys King, a single mother who shielded her son from Houston's toughest streets, who worked to place him into one of Texas' most exclusive prep schools and who had a vision of a better future for him. All she needed was someone to help carry out that vision.
That help came from Stacy McVaney and her family. Stacy, the mother of one of David's high school friends and the wife of a minority owner of the Houston Astros, helped fulfill a dying mother's wish.
This is the story of David's two mothers — the one who kept him off the streets and the other who kept a promise.
* * *
The McVaneys and the Kings are from different worlds. The roof caved in on David's house on Kashmere Street, which the McVaneys said is one of the worst streets in Houston. The McVaneys live in a cookie-cutter house on a street of manicured lawns and sidewalks.
About nine years ago, Stacy McVaney walked into her kitchen and saw David, then 15 years old, sitting on a chair.
Stacy's son, Jeff, had become close friends with David through football at Strake Jesuit High School, one of the best prep schools in Texas. Tuition at the school is close to $16,000 a year, but David received good financial aid and his mother saw it as another step away from Kashmere Street.
David used to sit at the school for hours waiting between classes and a game or for his mom to get off work and pick him up.
Jeff came home and asked Stacy one day if David could come home with him after school.
“His mom usually didn't let him go with anyone," Stacy said. "She was really strict raising him. She didn't let him go out. Kept him from parties.”
But Gladys agreed. David called them Mr. and Mrs. McVaney. He seemed respectful. They knew his mother and his Uncle Phillip, who carried a cane he used to keep David in line, wanted him to have a better life.
David was raised to follow rules. So was Jeff. Stacy and John ran a tight ship in their house with their daughter and two sons — Katie, Tom and Jeff.
Hanging out with the McVaney kids, David wouldn't be sneaking away to get involved in anything that could ruin his chance at a future away from the red and blue police lights that often lit his neighborhood.
David and Jeff also began to play church-league basketball together. That's where Stacy and John got to know Gladys and Phillip. The families began to have dinners together after the basketball games, and they quickly grew close.
Phillip, though, was battling cancer. One day, he stunned the McVaneys when he stopped by their house. He wasn't able to get out of the car, so John went out to see him.
“If anything happens to Gladys or me, I want to know you'll take care of the boy,” Phillip said.
“Promise me,” Phillip had said, and John promised. Two days later, the only male figure in David's life passed away.
The McVaneys didn't know how soon they would be keeping their promise.
* * *
Once Phillip passed, the McVaneys watched as the 52-year-old Gladys' health spiraled. She had been dealing with diabetes, but her deteriorating health came as a shock.
“Your son needs you,” Stacy would silently pray to Gladys as she sat next to her hospital bed. “You have to get better.”
Stacy and John went to visit Gladys at Houston's inner-city hospital.
“We're kin to Gladys King,” John had said the first time. “We're here to see her.”
“The hospital staff looked at us like we were crazy,” Stacy said. “They could clearly tell we weren't biologically her family.”
Over the months, though, the hospital staff came to understand the family the McVaneys and Kings had come to be.
Stacy would visit Gladys often since David was in Norman in his first season as a backup lineman. Stacy decorated Gladys' room with framed photos of David and OU memorabilia. They would talk about their sons' college adventures, and Gladys made sure every nurse knew David was a football player at OU.
They'd also talk about how thankful they were that race didn't matter and that they raised their boys with the same expectations.
That's when Gladys asked Stacy to make a promise. Gladys wanted to know that if anything happened to her, Stacy and John would finish raising David.
“She said she saw how we were raising our boys and just trusted us,” Stacy said. “People always say, ‘I can't believe you took on raising someone else's child,' but what else would anyone do when your friend asks you to do that?”
Stacy made a mother's promise.
During a small Christmas break before the Sooners flew to El Paso for the Sun Bowl against Stanford in 2009, David spent the night at the McVaneys. Tom and Jeff went with him to the hospital on Christmas Day.
The McVaneys and David watched as Gladys lost all recognition of her loved ones. David tried to hide the pain.
Stacy and John visited her in early February, and Stacy said Gladys seemed OK. The next day their phone rang. The doctor was calling to talk to John.
They weren't sure how much time was left.
John called David, who was at school, to tell him he had booked a flight for David to fly to Houston. When Stacy and John got to the hospital, family was already gathered. Gladys was gone.
David hadn't even boarded his flight in Oklahoma City. It had been delayed. John called David to tell him his mother was gone.
In shock and grief, David boarded the flight. By the time they picked him up from the airport in Houston, Stacy was a mess. David looked like a zombie, and John was just trying to hold it together for David.
As they drove back to the hospital, Stacy silently prayed that David would cry. She thought it would help him deal with the pain.
“I'm not a very emotional person,” David said. “There were times that I did cry, but I don't like to show emotion in front of people but I went off or took car rides and thought about everything.
“I had to be strong for my family. I didn't want them to see me all down. The times were hard. I cried, but nobody ever saw it.”
When they got to the hospital, Stacy and John watched as his family clung to him and wept.
“When David lost his Uncle Phillip, all that remained of his family were women,” Stacy said. “There were grown women, aunts, great aunts, just sobbing and they all hung on him.”
That day and in the ones that followed, the paperwork came from the doctors. Stacy and John helped him through the papers and bills.
The house on Kashmere Street stood as a remembrance of all David lost. It was a symbol of loneliness and pain. David said he didn't want it.
He never moved back into that house. He didn't have to.
The McVaneys kept their promise.
* * *
In the beginning, the OU Compliance Department investigated the McVaneys. A strong-as-an-ox defensive lineman like David could be motive for a family to take him in and try to benefit if he were to turn pro.
The compliance department learned that wouldn't be the case with the McVaneys. John owns a small share of the Houston Astros, and the family is financially secure. Their daughter Katie is a successful lawyer in Texas, their son Tom is graduating college this spring and their son Jeff was drafted by the Detroit Tigers after playing college baseball at Texas State.
Stacy and John's motives were clear. It was about keeping a promise and to give a young man a family when he had no dad to turn to and no mother left.
“First of all, we don't need the money and second of all we love him as a kid,” John said. “That was not the reason. He was friends with our kid and he lost his home. His family died. Where the hell else was he going to go? That's the whole story. Pretty simple.
“He's not different to me than any of my boys, honestly. We feel that way about him. I would give that boy the shirt off my back.”
David started referring to them as Momma Two and Big John. He became part of the family Christmas card.
Stacy learned to keep bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the cabinets and to keep the refrigerator stocked.
David even has his own spot on the family's couch in the basement. The armrest was deemed ‘The Trough' since the family would set out two or three egg sandwiches in the morning and two or three turkey sandwiches in the afternoon for David.
“Whenever we're all downstairs, I usually find a movie and we'll watch it and have a good time,” David said.
Stacy said she avoids watching new releases so she can watch them when David is home. Then she cries through a majority of them. If they're watching a movie David has seen before, he warns her on parts when he thinks she may become upset.
One time, Stacy and David sat down to watch a movie neither had seen: The Blind Side. The movie is a story of Michael Oher, a young man from a rough neighborhood with a drug-addicted mother. He is taken in by a well-to-do family. They help him learn the game of football and love him like he's their son. He goes on to play in college and the NFL.
Stacy said they ended up sitting next to each other crying.
“It was a pretty good movie,” David said. “Sad.”
“It hit a little too close to home,” Stacy said. “Not in that mom part. David came from a great background and his mom was awesome, so not that part. But the part of loving somebody else's child.”
She knows that all too well. She saw herself in that movie — how a mother could love someone else's child as her own.
“When he has children, they will be my grandchildren,” Stacy said.
But before any baby showers or weddings, they'll celebrate other milestones. They celebrated David's graduation from OU on Dec. 14.
Now there's the possibility of a draft party celebrating if David gets to play professional football.
* * *
On Nov. 23, before the Bedlam game, as David stood at midfield with a plaque in his arms, Stacy tried to hold it together. So did David.
He was being honored as the winner of the 2012 Don Key Award, given to a senior football player who excelled on and off the field. Later, OU coach Bob Stoops would say King, a senior captain, deserved the award for all that he dealt with off the field.
As David cradled the award, Stacy could see the pain on his face. He was thinking about his mom.
“I was praying to her that I hoped she was proud of me and what I had done,” David said.
Stacy stood on the field in a red OU windbreaker.
“Nobody is ever going to replace my mom because she was there with me for 20 years,” David said recently, “but Stacy's fulfilling the motherly role for me. Treating me as one of her own children and telling me nice things and telling me she loves me once in a while to make me feel loved.”
Stacy was there as a sign of the promise made by two mothers — a promise of ultimate love.
“Hold it together,” she told herself as tears rolled down David's cheeks. “You can release in the stands.”
Stacy hugged David one last time before kickoff. When she got back to the stands, she knew she needed to talk with Gladys.
“I'm sad you're not here because you would be so proud to see him. I only pray you are seeing it all. It's not fair you did all the work of raising him into who he is today, and I get to be in all the glory with him celebrating,” Stacy said. “It's just not fair.”
As she finished, she lowered her head and tears began to fill her eyes.
And just like many mothers celebrating their sons’ senior days, she began to cry and cheer as David walked out to the coin toss with the other three captains.
David had exceeded expectations. Standing there in that circle at midfield, David prayed that his mother was proud.
* * *
Almost two years after Gladys' passing, Stacy dabbed another mangled and damp tissue at her eyes during winter commencement.
David's extended family of aunts, great aunts, cousins, his sister and his niece were in attendance, and the McVaneys were trying not to interfere. In times like this, they understand they are his second family.
Stacy replaced her glasses only to take them off to wipe her eyes again. As she replaced the glasses once again, her iPhone screen lit up.
Stacy quickly got up and rushed through the throngs of families, leaving her husband to fend his own way through the crowd. He laughed as he watched her.
She walked halfway around the arena. From two sections away, she spotted David in a black graduation gown and a white laurel with the words “OU Student Athlete” stitched on it.
Stacy started crying and waving. David grinned. Her pace quickened until she fell into his embrace.
“He's just a big friendly giant,” she once said describing him.
Stacy let go of David and raised herself on her tiptoes and kissed him on the head.
It was in this moment she showed the mother she had become to a young man who wasn't even her child. She held his hand as David began to thank them for coming.
David smiled at her and looked at John.
“Hey, I grabbed a double box and this is all I have left,” John said, revealing a small stack of tissues.
“If I knew having children would be this emotional, I probably would have never had any,” Stacy said.
As the Pomp and Circumstance March filled the arena, Stacy knew Gladys saw David as he turned his tassel, received a diploma and shouted 'Boomer Sooner.'
Sitting high inside Lloyd Noble Center, John looked at Stacy and put his hand up.
They gave each other a high five.
“One down,” John said.
“One down,” Stacy said.
Then Stacy rested her head on John's shoulder as they watched from above over the young man who became family all because of a promise.