STILLWATER — Chuck Yurcich's daily routine generally follows the same pattern. And it all revolves around Mary.
He'll make her breakfast and supper. Help her use the restroom. Put her in bed multiple times, where in all, she'll sleep about 20 hours a day.
Mary is Chuck's mother. She's 104 years old.
During the few hours Mary is awake each day, Chuck will sit close to Mom — her hearing has greatly deteriorated and she is blind in one eye — and visit with her. He estimates he's heard some of her favorite stories about the grandkids about 50 times.
Including the ones about “Little Mikey.”
Mary knows Mike now lives in Oklahoma and is a football coach. And Saturday, Chuck will get a brief escape from his life to see that for himself.
He will jump into a black Lexus SUV around 6 a.m. and begin the four-hour drive from the Cleveland suburb of Euclid, Ohio to Morgantown, W. Va., where Mike will coordinate the Oklahoma State offense against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
These types of trips used to be common for Chuck. He's taken trains and automobiles on numerous journeys across that region to support his son as he found his way as a player and coach, mostly in lower-division college football.
But now Mike's in Big 12 country after earning his big break, the chance to direct OSU's potent spread offense. Meanwhile, Chuck has become Mary's primary caretaker, making it difficult for him to leave the house for a 45-minute excursion, much less a multiday trip across state lines.
OSU's long voyage to West Virginia, its first trip since 1928 to the Big 12's newest outpost, still seems a bit peculiar to many Cowboy supporters and college football traditionalists. But Chuck couldn't be happier OSU and WVU are now conference brothers, because that allows him to see his first Cowboy game.
Mike beamed earlier this week as he talked about his excitement for his dad's upcoming trip.
It's not necessary to see Chuck's face. His voice enthusiastically expresses what he'll feel as he settles into the stands to watch his son's offense in person.
Pride. Joy. Happiness.
“I can't tell you how anxious I am,” he said by phone. “Every day seems like it's about three days long. I'm just waiting for the days to pass …
“I can't wait to walk in that stadium.”
It was only natural that Chuck's three children would find their way to sports. When they were young, they were already tagging along with him to high school games.
“They were kind of broken in,” Chuck said. “They were gym rats with me.”
Then, Chuck became Mike's coach.
Mike, the youngest child, grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. He was always naturally savvy in football, Dad said, playing quarterback from the moment he joined a fifth-grade team as a third-grader.
Meanwhile, Chuck preached fundamentals and team dedication, but also called himself a little bit of a softy.
“He was very supportive and pushed me, and at the same time put his arm around me,” Mike said. “So it wasn't like he was one of those dads who was always hounding me.
“He was there to pick me up when I was down and he was my biggest fan, so he's been real big for me growing up.”
Once Mike reached high school, it was time for Chuck to make the transition from coach to, simply, Dad.
Mike knew more about football Xs and Os than he did by then, anyway. And though Chuck admits he sometimes didn't agree with coaching decisions, he welcomed the opportunity to just cheer from the bleachers.
“You don't have to contribute anything except be a support and give them love and attention and just enjoy it,” Chuck said.
For two seasons, Mike quarterbacked the varsity offense of a run-heavy Euclid squad that was one of the state's best in the early 1990s. One of Chuck's most prominent memories of that time is when he and his wife, Pat, held each other as the stands emptied following Mike's final high school game.
“There was something about the last high school game that was so meaningful,” Chuck recalled. “That was the end of him playing at home. We knew he would be playing in college, but it wasn't the same.”
From third grade until the end of high school, Chuck never missed one of Mike's football games. And he was certainly going to try to keep up the pace as Mike moved to the college level.
More than a decade of travels took Chuck from Division III power Mount Union to California University of Pennsylvania, where Mike was a player. Then from Saint Francis (Indiana) to Indiana University to Edinboro (Pennsylvania) to Shippensburg (Pennsylvania), where Mike was on staff.
Chuck often had to make those trips alone. Pat was a beautician, and Saturday was naturally a big day for customers.
“She obviously wanted to go,” Chuck said, “and she did as many times as she could. She missed so many of the games for that very reason. I would nag her about going, and she'd get mad at me.”
Chuck remembers feeling heartbroken when he watched Mike's thumb dislocate after hitting an offensive lineman's helmet following a throw in the first game of his senior season at California. He remembers catching a middle-of-the-night train from Cleveland to the South Bend, Ind. area, then renting a car to drive to Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. He remembers a game in 2009 where Edinboro lost at West Liberty 84-63.
The furthest Chuck has traveled for a game is Bloomington, Ind., where Mike was a graduate assistant from 2003-04. But he didn't make it to many Hoosier contests, because Pat was diagnosed with lung cancer during that time. She died in April of 2004.
Chuck has clearly shown devotion to his youngest son has he's moved through the football ranks. But it's a two-way street, Dad says. He classifies his relationship with Mike as “extremely special,” even dating back to the times when children begin to distance themselves from their parents.
“Mike always made me feel like I was welcome,” Chuck said, “and he always made me feel like he was interested in my opinion. He never made me feel like I didn't know what I was talking about.
“Even to this day, as ridiculous as it sounds, he'll ask me something and I think, ‘Wow, that was really nice of him to ask me.'”
Until last November, Mary, had taken care of herself in her Euclid home.
Yes, at 103 years old.
Chuck, who lived about a five-minute drive away, would swing by to check on her each day. But she still cooked breakfast and soup, washed her clothes in the sink and performed everyday tasks around the house on her own.
“She's an amazing person,” Chuck said.
Then, Mary suffered a mini stroke, causing her to need 24/7 care.
Mary's wish was to die at home, the place she's lived since moving to Euclid in 1957. So Chuck soon found himself in a caretaker role many adults fill when their parents or other relatives grow old.
He gets help once or twice a week from a hospice nurse and assistant, who bathe Mary and do her hair. But the vast majority of the responsibilities fall on Chuck.
It's a job that can be draining, yet extremely fulfilling.
“In a lot of ways, it's difficult, because I feel like I'm tethered to my mom's house,” Chuck said. “When you're with just one person, the same person, every day, you wear on each other. So there's frustration that sets in.
“But despite that, the fact that I'm able to be there for her in her last days is very rewarding. We share a lot of laughs and a lot of memories together.”
That consistent daily routine goes something like this: Mary will wake up around 11 a.m., and Chuck will help her use the restroom, then make her coffee and breakfast, usually an egg. He will put her back to bed for a nap from about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. After making some dinner, usually soup, she'll return to bed again about 1 1/2 hours later.
Though Mike had many sleepovers at his grandma's house as a child and visits her every time he comes home, she never saw him play football. She thinks it's “too rough,” Chuck said. But Chuck always lets her know when the Cowboys are playing on TV. She's interested, but mostly in if she'd be able to see Mikey on the sideline. Since he's up in the coaches box, Chuck ends up watching the games alone, taping them so they're preserved.
“As a parent, you can't ask for anything more,” Chuck said. “It's beautiful. The fact that he's doing what he loves to do, that he's living out his dream, that means so much.”
Because of his situation at home, Chuck knows he won't get to travel to Stillwater or any other OSU game this season. But when he found out during the summer that the Cowboys would play at West Virginia, he immediately made plans for the trip.
Mary doesn't like it when Chuck leaves, even for a few hours. So he first braced Mom about the day-long trip weeks ago, then recently gave her another reminder.
“Who's gonna watch me?” Mary asked.
That would a gal named Vivian, a sitter Chuck has hired in the past whenever he's needed to leave home. She'll be with Mary from 6 a.m. until about midnight.
That allows Chuck to hit the road with his girlfriend, Ginny. They'll take Interstate 79, a highway he knows well. Years ago, he used to take it down to the intersection with Interstate 70, then cut east to watch Mike play quarterback for California. This time, Chuck will keep heading south on 79, eventually landing at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Around 11 a.m., they'll meet up with his oldest son, also named Chuck, and his family, along with Mike's wife, Julie.
Walking inside a football stadium to watch Mike play or coach is something Chuck has done countless times. He knows what he'll feel inside — pride, joy, happiness.
But this game, for so many reasons, will be extra special.
“In a way, I don't want anybody to bother me,” said Chuck, his voice choking up a tad. “I just want to be able to soak it all up and sit back and just watch it. I want to memorize it and enjoy every minute of it.”