THE STORM HAS finally passed. It’s just before 5 o’clock on an inky-dark morning in mid-February as Marquise and Morgan Goodwin approach Northside Hospital in their black Range Rover. For the past several days, a biblical deluge has soaked everyone and everything in Atlanta, transforming nearby parks into lakes, flooding underpasses and making travel treacherous. For the moment, the skies have cleared, and with the exception of one minor nervous-dad driving miscue, Marquise — an Olympic long jumper and veteran NFL wide receiver — and Morgan — a former collegiate sprinter and hurdler — seem entirely unfazed by the weather, or anything else, during their short drive to labor and delivery. After all, they’ve been navigating the path to parenthood for going on three years now.
Up since 2:30 a.m., too excited to sleep, Morgan has been folding and refolding her favorite green blanket and checking her eyelash extensions in the mirror while playfully scolding Marquise for needing the biggest suitcase. “It feels like I’m about to play a game or something,” Marquise confesses in a whisper. “This has been a long time coming.”
Signs of the long, incredible journey that Marquise describes as both brutal and beautiful are all over the nursery back in the Goodwins’ temporary Atlanta apartment. The metal shelves in the walk-in closet are full of baby supplies they’ve waited three years to open. The room itself is painted in neutral colors and decorated in lambs and rainbows, symbols of sacrifice and renewal. And like any parents who are both grieving and expecting, when the Goodwins come in here to daydream, they often find themselves overwhelmed with conflicting feelings of sorrow, fear and hope.
The balancing act continues in earnest this morning. Birds chirp in the dark as a hopeful Morgan, dressed in black from head to toe, except for her pink fingernails, strolls toward the hospital entrance. She’s carrying a bag full of new infant clothes as well as three fist-size heart-shaped metallic urns that contain the ashes of three babies they’ve lost.
LISTEN: On the ESPN Daily podcast, ESPN’s Dave Fleming joins Mina Kimes and talks about Marquise and Morgan Goodwin’s long road to parenthood that was fraught with loss, sadness — and ultimately joy.
This early in the morning, the elaborate glass atrium entrance to labor and delivery is so deserted that even when Marquise says, almost to himself, “I’m not nervous, I’m exciiiiited,” his voice echoes loudly.
“How many weeks are you?” asks the administrator behind the check-in desk.
“Thirty-seven,” says Morgan, calm, in charge, unshakable.
“Is this your first baby?”
For a millisecond, the weight and significance of such a seemingly innocuous question flickers between Marquise and Morgan. There’s a nearly imperceptible list in their body language. It’s as if that storm has returned, once again, and they were just rocked by a rogue wave. The moment passes quickly, though, just a temporary reminder of the life-changing journey they’ve been on all just to get back to this morning’s terrifying precipice where, they are painfully aware, it could happen all over again.
“Technically, yes,” Morgan replies. “I’ve always got to say ‘technically.'”
“Because we’ve got babies,” Marquise adds. “Can’t forget our other three.”
“I didn’t,” Morgan says. “They’re here with us.”
As they finish checking in, Morgan’s hand moves in the most instinctive, maternal way, toward the bag carrying the urns. And as the Goodwins disappear down a long, blindingly bright hallway, deep into the hospital, she keeps one hand on the bag and the other on her stomach.
WHEN IT HAPPENED, when, as Marquise puts it, “all hell broke loose for the first time,” the Goodwins were doing nothing more than relaxing on the couch, watching TV, praying and reminiscing. It was Nov. 11, 2017, the night before the 49ers hosted the Giants at Levi’s Stadium. Since their classic college courtship at the University of Texas at Austin — first date at the outlet mall, engaged near campus on Mount Bonnell in 2014 — the Goodwins had been living out a track-and-field version of “Love & Basketball.” “He’s my best friend,” says Morgan, 26. “I need him. He needs me.”
Morgan, née Morgan Snow, was a nine-time All-American hurdler for the Longhorns. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Marquise earned a spot on coach Mack Brown’s football team with his pure speed, but he was also a two-time NCAA outdoor champ in the long jump and one of the favorites heading into the 2012 London Olympics. There, however, thrown off by an early foul, he finished a disappointing 10th.
He rebounded in dramatic fashion the following February at the 2013 NFL combine, posting an eye-popping 4.27-second 40-yard dash. The Buffalo Bills selected him in the third round, making him just the eighth Olympian since 1980 to play in the NFL. A hamstring injury kept him out of the Olympics in 2016 — the year the couple married — and in 2017, he jumped to San Francisco, where he became one of the first pieces in coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch’s rebuilding project, eventually signing a three-year, $20.3 million contract extension. “Like you see in the fairy tales, that’s how it planned out in my head,” Marquise says. “Kids, little white picket fence, the American dream.”
The Goodwins are a puzzle-piece couple. They’re each distinct and accomplished personalities whose contours and cutouts have snapped perfectly into place with the other. She is strong but softens once her guard is down. He’s a receiver diva in public — with his own custom diamond-encrusted “MG” logo and Gucci quarantine masks in every color — but in private, he’s thoughtful and resolute. Together, the Goodwins are effortlessly authentic and unreservedly both blunt and tender with each other. After five minutes with them, it’s impossible not to be enchanted and mesmerized and rooting hard for them as prospective parents. “The energy, the spirit, the faith, it’s magnetizing,” says Adrian Colbert, Marquise’s cousin and a former 49ers safety who’s now with the Miami Dolphins. “It’s love. Real love. Like what everybody strives for.”
The couple had always planned on having a big family. Six kids at least, Marquise told his mom, Tamina Goodwin. He grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and has cared for his younger sister Deja, who has cerebral palsy, her entire life. As a child, Marquise would sometimes refuse to play outside because Deja couldn’t come along. He always showered her with the kind of love and support he himself didn’t receive from his own dad. “I’ve always wanted to be what my father never was to me,” says Marquise, 29. “And I want it so bad.”
That night before the Giants game at Levi’s Stadium in November 2017, Marquise was given permission by coaches to leave the team hotel to be with Morgan. She had made it past the first trimester, but doctors had discovered that Morgan had an incompetent cervix, a condition that causes the cervix to open and leads to premature birth. Even with bed rest and an emergency procedure to close the bottom of her uterus with a stitch, the baby was given a 50-50 chance, at best.
Cuddling together on that couch, everything seemed fine.
Then Morgan winced.
It wasn’t a lightning bolt or a tidal wave that upended their perfect life.
It was a wince. A single shudder. She headed to the bathroom.
Once there, Morgan screamed for Marquise. Something felt like it was coming out, but she was too afraid to look. “Oh f—,” Marquise blurted, falling back into the wall to brace himself. It was the amniotic sac. Five minutes after he dialed 911, six San Jose firefighters were in the Goodwins’ bathroom helping Morgan onto a gurney.
This can’t be happening, Marquise thought.
But it was.
At the hospital, the news was grim. Infection had put both the baby and Morgan at grave risk.
“We have to terminate,” the doctors said.
“There was no hope, there was no saving,” Morgan says. “We just had to do what we had to do.”
After Morgan was given medication to induce labor, Marquise sat on the bed next to her, and together they opened the envelope they had received after their last ultrasound, the one that revealed the sex of the baby.
It was a boy.
“We just bawled and bawled,” Morgan says.
The baby that was supposed to be Marquise Jr. was born, and died, at 3:52 a.m. He was tiny and fully formed, but his lungs were underdeveloped. After the nurses recorded his footprints and dressed him, the Goodwins took turns holding him the rest of the night. They called him Baby Goodwin.
The best and worst moments of their lives had somehow just occurred simultaneously.
“A part of you is just gone forever,” Marquise says.
Well past dawn, Marquise still hadn’t even considered the thought of playing against the Giants. There was no way he was leaving Morgan’s side. Plus, he was a wreck. He hadn’t slept or eaten the entire night, and his grief had gutted him to a point of exhaustion he had never experienced.
That’s when Morgan looked up from the baby still in her arms and pleaded, “Go play for your son.”
On the way to the stadium, inside the 49ers’ locker room and all the way until an hour before kickoff, Marquise kept calling Morgan, begging to come back to the hospital — wanting to be with her, where he felt safe, where the world was still manageable — telling her he wasn’t sure he could do this. Very few people on the team knew what had happened, but during the national anthem, a sobbing Marquise teetered between Colbert, his cousin, on his left, and his friend, safety Eric Reid, on his right, and shared the news. “I was a zombie,” Marquise says. “To be frank, I didn’t want to be there. My mind was not there.”
Marquise drifted through the 49ers’ first few possessions. In the second quarter, on third down at their own 17-yard line and trailing New York 6-3, the 49ers broke the huddle and Marquise saw the Giants in Cover 4. He knew the ball was coming to him on a deep post. Lined up in the left slot, just before the snap, Marquise squeezed his hands into fists, and his body coiled. He rocketed off the line with such effortless power that in four strides he had blown 3 yards past Giants corner Janoris Jenkins. “At that point I didn’t care what happened to me,” Marquise says. “I didn’t care if I broke my leg or got a concussion. I was hurting so bad already, nothing on the football field could amount to the kind of hurt I was feeling already. So I was free, in a way — I couldn’t be touched.”
Not on this play. He caught the pass just beyond the 49ers logo at midfield, shook Jenkins off with his left arm and, at the 10, used the same free hand to throw a kiss into the sky. When he reached the end zone, Marquise collapsed to his knees and offered a divine kind of bow, with his palms together near his heart and fingers pointing to the sky, before being swarmed by teammates.
As Morgan watched from her hospital bed with Baby Goodwin cradled in her arms, her sobbing, a mixture of sorrow, release and gratitude, grew so pronounced, the NICU nurses all came running into her room to check on her.
Smiling through tears, Morgan told her son, “That’s your daddy.”
Marquise’s first touchdown of the season sparked the 0-9 49ers’ first win of 2017 and victory No. 1 of Shanahan’s head-coaching career. It also ignited something deeper in Marquise. Says Morgan: “When you go through what we’ve gone through, you do come away with a mentality that is different than most. If we can get through that? I can survive anything. Nothing else in this world can break me.” Whatever it is that bereaved parents gain — a unique perspective or a kind of imperviousness — it translated directly to Marquise’s performance on the field.
In 2017, he went on to have the best year of his career, catching 56 passes for 962 yards and two TDs with the third-best yards-per-catch average (17.2) in the NFL. Battle-tested, he grew from little more than a pure-speed deep threat with questionable hands and durability to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s top target. Off the field, he became a role model for grieving fathers after posting a heartbreaking black-and-white photo on Instagram of Baby Goodwin’s tiny translucent hand wrapped around his daddy’s finger.
Responses and support poured in from all over the world. Together, the catch, the season and the picture became one father’s answer to the greatest fear and constant prayer of every parent who loses a child: Now no one would ever forget Baby Goodwin. “In the end zone, I had what felt like an out-of-body experience,” Marquise says. “My body went limp, and my spirit just took over, knowing it was all a memorial to him.”
IN LATE SUMMER OF 2018, when the scan at the high-risk-pregnancy doctor in San Jose revealed that Morgan was carrying twin boys, the universe finally made sense, if only for a short while. “It was the best news I could have gotten,” Marquise says. “I was like, ‘This is my Job story [from the Bible]. I’m Job right now!’ He lost everything, and then God blessed him with double in return.”
After losing Baby Goodwin, Morgan underwent another procedure to correct the incompetent cervix. Her doctor performed a laparoscopic transabdominal cerclage (TAC), which was supposed to reinforce the natural band at the top of Morgan’s cervix that prevents the baby from prematurely dropping into the birth canal. “We lost one blessing and now we’re getting two” is how Morgan reacted to the news. “The perfect rainbow at the end of the storm.”
The TAC didn’t hold, though. At 19 weeks, after a few minor contractions and some leaking, Baby A’s amniotic sac ruptured, causing almost immediate death. Marquise and the 49ers had just landed in Tampa Bay when a still-hopeful Morgan called with the news: Surgeons were going to take the TAC out, deliver Baby A and leave Baby B in the uterus to continue developing.
There is often debate around the NFL (usually on talk radio) about whether football players should ever dare miss a snap for childbirth. Not in this family. Marquise turned around and got right back on a plane. He pulled his hoodie up, put his headphones on and held it together as best he could on the flight home.
He arrived at the hospital in time for what was supposed to be life-saving surgery. During the operation to remove the TAC, however, Baby B’s sac was punctured.
Both boys would now have to be delivered.
“All of our worst fears happened all over again,” Morgan says.
For an hour, Marquise and Morgan each held Baby B in their arms as he fought for his life, until, with one last gulp of air, his tiny, exhausted heart gave out.
The harrowing experience haunted them both. There are still times when Marquise can feel the phantom weight of his son against his skin.
WHEN THE NIGHTMARES began after the twins’ deaths, in her dreams Morgan looked down and saw a gaping hole where her stomach should be. So instead of sleeping, she combed the Internet all night for answers, an exercise far more horrifying than the nightmares. “There’s so much sadness and embarrassment and self-doubt when you deal with a loss like this,” Morgan says. “That’s why people don’t speak up, because they’re embarrassed. I’m an athlete. I’m a woman. This shouldn’t happen.”
Marquise also fell into deep despair. He hadn’t taken a breath without thinking of his dead son. Now he had three? He wanted to fight the doctor. Then he wanted to fight the world. Worst of all, he felt powerless to comfort his devastated wife. He was at rock bottom but still somehow dangling over what felt like an abyss. “I was torn to pieces,” he says. “That burden just wore me down and got real heavy on me.”
Already struggling through an injury-plagued season, he dropped out of the 49ers’ offensive plans even more when he missed the Tampa Bay game and the following week’s game to stay with Morgan — and spiraled further into darkness. On the TV, in the mall and in the locker room, every time he saw or heard of fathers and sons together enjoying a carefree holiday, the feeling that he was the only grieving father in the world hit him like a crackback block. “The loss was snatching his soul out of him,” says his mom, Tamina. “He was in a dark place, a really dark place.”
When Tamina called from Texas, after a long stretch of silence, in a wounded voice that barely registered, her son asked the question that tortures most grieving parents: Why? “Mama, I’m a good person, right?” he asked. “I don’t mistreat anybody. So why? What did I do wrong? Why am I being punished?” They were the worst kinds of questions, the ones with no good answers. Says Morgan, “What hit hard, what hurt the most, was the ‘Why me? Why us?'”
Tamina was worried about her son and flew with Deja to see him. When they arrived, Tamina was frightened to see that the rambunctious child who never seemed to stop moving, the Olympian who could jump farther and the NFL receiver who could run faster than anyone, had lost the will to rise from the couch.
For two weeks, that’s where they all stayed.
Marquise describes this period as seeing colors his whole life and then, in a flash, everything turning black and white. It didn’t help that he was in a profession where displaying even the slightest bit of emotional vulnerability is frowned upon. The 49ers did what they could to support Marquise and Morgan, asking them to share their story as the keynote speakers at the team’s season kickoff dinner. While the Goodwins waited to gather the strength to speak publicly about their latest loss, fans on social media started calling Marquise soft for missing the Tampa Bay game. “It takes a lot for me to not be pissed at them every day — the doctors or people on social media,” he says.
At his lowest point, when Marquise reached out to his team, occasionally the message he heard was similar to what many grieving parents hear from uninformed friends, family and co-workers: What’s taking so long? This happens to everybody. The baby was only 19 weeks, so that’s not as bad, right? “I try not to judge. It’s hard to empathize with something you’ve never experienced,” Marquise says. “And when it comes to the death of a child, that’s a lot of people who will never know.”
The callous reactions actually helped to turn Marquise toward the only other person in the world who knew what he was dealing with: Morgan. He began seeing a grief counselor. He accepted the fact that this was a permanent part of him now and that even if they did go on to have six kids, the scales wouldn’t balance, they’d still be grieving their boys and healing for the rest of their lives. And although they were still consumed by the kind of despair that often leaves parents with barely the strength to draw their next breath, the Goodwins clung even tighter to each other while searching for any tiny ray of hope they could find. They worked through the wreckage for medical and spiritual answers and the one thing grieving parents need to survive: meaning for their suffering.
Using social media and their YouTube vlog GoodwinSZN, Marquise and Morgan began sharing their experiences on the taboo topic of infant loss, starting with a gut-wrenching post about the twins’ gender reveal and their subsequent deaths. Although one in five pregnancies (nearly a million total) end in miscarriage every year, in our death-denying culture, infant loss is so tragic we are often incapable of even speaking about it. The silence, shame and isolation that it creates inflicts even more damage on the people and the relationships left behind after a child dies. The Goodwins decided to help change that. “I really think that God has done this to us so we can share with the world,” Morgan says. “It’s just who I am, my personality, to take on this fight and be very public about it.”
In the end, it was this brave, selfless act that saved them.
The Goodwins became role models for #BlackLove, a movement celebrating relationships forged by the unique cultural beauty and challenges of black couples. And with Morgan leading the way, they also became a beacon of hope for grieving parents who no longer felt quite so stigmatized or alone. Moms from around the world, and as close as Macon, Georgia, started reaching out to Morgan for support and advice. Your blog saved me, they told her. She joined Abbyloopers, the Facebook support group for women who have had failed TACs. Once word got around in the NFL, Marquise began counseling several active players struggling with their own infant loss. Says Morgan, “I found my purpose, and finding that purpose helps you get through. I love helping other moms, and those connections have been a blessing in all this.”
The bereaved parents the Goodwins had intended to serve by being so open and public with their pain were the ones who, in turn, directed them to Dr. Arthur Haney.
A professor and former chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Haney is a renowned reproductive endocrinologist and one of the world’s leading experts in permanent surgically placed TACs. He says the kind of laparoscopic TAC Morgan initially received, while less invasive, is like “tying your shoelaces with chopsticks.” Because he uses Teflon-like bands that he is able to place manually at the very top of the cervix to keep it closed, Haney has a success rate above 99%.
In March 2019, the Goodwins headed to Chicago for the surgery. They couldn’t get on the plane fast enough. Afterward, Haney told Morgan that whenever it happened, he didn’t want a picture of just the baby. Instead, he said, “I want a picture of you, your husband and the baby.”
“We’re here to build families, and that’s what it is,” Haney says. “And there’s no better example of that than these two.”
THE GOODWINS WERE on top of the world four months later. The breathtaking views at the peak of Padar Island in Indonesia are only 400 feet above the water, but the narrow, rugged pathway to the top is steep enough that Marquise rappelled part of the way down on his backside.
The cliffs straight down to the Indian Ocean weren’t his only source of vertigo, though. The day before leaving on the trip, Morgan handed Marquise a positive pregnancy test.
It took him by surprise. They hadn’t even been trying. It was a total accident.
“Babe, we’re pregnant,” Morgan giggled.
A few days before last Thanksgiving, inside a dark examination room at Belly Bean 3D Ultrasound Studio in San Jose, as soon as the Goodwins’ baby comes to life on the monitor and its strong, thumping heartbeat reverberates around the room, Marquise and Morgan, dressed in matching white sweat suits, laugh in harmony and stretch their open arms toward the screen as if they could reach right in and grab their baby.
“My heart’s about to burst,” Marquise says.
Today Morgan is 24 weeks and six days and — having never been this far along, to a place where every day the baby becomes more viable outside the womb — everything is a milestone worth celebrating. Even more so knowing that tomorrow is the twins’ birthday.
For the next hour, the only time the Goodwins take their eyes off the monitor is when the sex might be revealed. They want to keep that a secret. Otherwise, they ooh together at the sound of the baby’s heart pumping along at 157 beats per minute. They aww at the “Goodwin nose.” They even purr “oh babe” to each other and play kissy-face when the baby puts its foot in its mouth. “A gymnast!” Marquise proclaims. Although there are several people crowded inside the room, occasionally bumping into one another in the dark, at this moment, the three Goodwins are the only people in the world.
Starting with the Bali trip, Morgan says the energy, and everything else, with this pregnancy has been completely different. Her nightmares after the twins have been replaced by the sweetest dreams in which this baby is much older, as if Morgan’s subconscious is signaling to her that the child’s safe arrival into this world is a foregone conclusion. They’ve been seeing rainbows everywhere and have started referring to this very limber child as their “rainbow baby,” a moniker given to a baby born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of an infant from natural causes. They’ve even allowed themselves to shop for strollers and dream just a tiny bit about the one thing they’ve longed for more than anything else: to hear their baby cry. “It seems more real now,” Marquise says. “And the closer we get, the realer it gets for me that I finally get to be a father.”
By the end of the visit, the ultrasound technician prints so many requested pictures that the thread of photos curls down to the floor and begins piling up like ticker tape. When the baby holds still just long enough to photograph its face, Marquise asks for doubles. “So I can put one on my locker,” he says. “I need the motivation.”
The day before, when Marquise had arrived at Levi’s Stadium for the 49ers’ critical NFC showdown with the Green Bay Packers, his game jersey wasn’t hanging in his locker. “Babe,” he texted Morgan, “I’m not even playing today.” Since his breakout season of 2017, Marquise has struggled to stay healthy and productive, slowly slipping down the depth chart as the 49ers upgraded their receiving corps by trading for Emmanuel Sanders and drafting Deebo Samuel and Dante Pettis. Still, the healthy scratch comes as a shock and embarrassment to Marquise, who has flown his grandma in from Texas for the game.
The past few years have, if anything, been one long lesson about learning how not to be in control, a concept that can be especially tough on two elite athletes. The irony isn’t lost on Marquise: Just as his dreams of fatherhood were devastated in 2017, his football career took off, and now, just as the 2019 49ers are surging toward the Super Bowl, his football career seems to be winding down just as parenthood finally draws near.
The inequity might be hard to reconcile for most people. Not for someone who has cradled both a football and a dying child in his arms. “The boys have definitely given me perspective, especially when it comes to my job,” Marquise says. “It just makes me think about my future. It really, really encourages me to prioritize my family more and more.”
Which explains all the moving boxes in the Goodwins’ condo in downtown San Jose. As Marquise rehabs lingering knee and foot injuries and sorts out his growing disconnect with the 49ers, Morgan has decided to return to Georgia to be closer to her family and her doctor for the remainder of the pregnancy. She’ll also get a head start on planning their January baby shower.
The first box she has packed sits in the guest bedroom by the front door. It’s full of baby gifts they’ve collected over the years. There’s a burnt orange Texas Longhorns bib, NFL beanies that say “Itty Bitty MVP,” hand-knit hats and bags that say “Welcome to the World.”
All of it remains heartbreakingly unopened and unused.
But not for long.
ON SUNDAY, JAN. 19, the 49ers take the field in Santa Clara for the NFC Championship Game without Marquise, who is, at this very moment, more than 2,000 miles away in Atlanta emceeing the games portion of the Goodwins’ elegant, intimate baby shower. There’s a baby-bottle-chugging contest, a competition to see who can design the best onesie and a steady stream of cautiously optimistic family and friends sweetly singing their greetings and prayers directly into Morgan’s now prodigious baby bump.
The 49ers in December cleared a roster spot by placing Marquise on injured reserve. There’s always friction when a player gets shut down late in the season, particularly when the team has emerged as a Super Bowl favorite. But Marquise says the experience has been humbling. A month after going on IR, when asked about his season-ending knee injury on the day of the baby shower, Marquise does a deep squat and springs high into the air. He vows that in a few weeks he’ll start training for the 2020 Olympic trials.
He had hoped to attend both the shower and the 49ers game, but after realizing that wasn’t feasible, he’s in no mood now, with guests arriving, to debate critics on social media suggesting he’s in the wrong place. “At Texas, Mack Brown told me if winning games is your biggest accomplishment in life, then I’ve done you a disservice and this university has done you a disservice,” Marquise says. “As long as I have the respect and understanding of my teammates, that’s all that matters.”
A few hours later, when the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl, Marquise celebrates by popping champagne back at their apartment complex. When he flies back to California to travel with his teammates down to Miami for the Super Bowl festivities, the 49ers inform him that he isn’t on the official team charter. Instead, he and other players in the same situation are told to fly on a different plane with staff and family members, leaving later in the week. Marquise flies back to Georgia, buys his own ticket and finds his own hotel room. “If I’m a part of the team, how is this even happening right now?” he asks. “I put my wife first, and at the end of the day I got penalized for it.” The 49ers say they were surprised by Marquise’s sentiment. They also say Marquise was not singled out at the Super Bowl and they feel good about the support the organization provided to the Goodwins. (As expected, the 49ers traded Marquise to the Eagles during the draft in exchange for moving up a few spots in the sixth round.)
And so the highlight of Super Bowl LIV for the Goodwins is a video from Miami of Marquise cooing, “Hey baby, waaake up, Daddy’s here,” and the baby practically pushing through the skin of Morgan’s stomach in order to follow his voice. “Other than that,” he says, “I had a s—ty experience at the Super Bowl. It was terrible.”
The 49ers can relate. Leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter, San Francisco gave up 21 points to the Chiefs and lost 31-20. The 49ers still had a chance to take the lead in the final two minutes on a long rainbow bomb by Garoppolo, but Sanders, running the same deep post route that is Marquise’s specialty, couldn’t quite get to the ball before it dropped, harmlessly, to the end zone turf. “We all looked at each other and thought the same thing: ‘Babe woulda caught that,'” Morgan says.
IN THE DRIVING RAIN, on the eve of their February due date, Marquise decides to squeeze in one final workout at a track in southeast Atlanta. Now less than 20 hours away from Morgan’s scheduled C-section, Marquise has already started referring to Dwight Phillips, his coach and the 2004 Olympic long-jump champ, as Uncle DP. The blissful soon-to-be-dad’s feet seem to barely contact the earth as he glides through a final series of 200-meter intervals while using his recovery time to practice his air cradles.
After his last sprint, Marquise shouts toward the sky, “We about to bring some magic into this world!”
For several seconds, he leaves his face tilted into the rain, cleansing himself in the storm.
THE BLOOD-STAINED Nike Reacts Marquise wore to the hospital in 2018 on the day the twins died are still sitting, untouched, in his closet. And while deciding what to wear to the hospital this time, in February 2020, he briefly considers them as a symbolic way to close the circle. They’re a strong connection to his boys, and someday he might clean them. But he probably won’t ever wear them again. So instead, Marquise reaches for his Yeezys and the hope of new beginnings.
Just after 7 a.m., after Morgan returns from her epidural, Marquise’s shoe selection becomes a moot point. Having never been this far along in the birth process, he laughs after realizing his scrubs include blue footie coverings for his shoes. The Goodwins are so relaxed and giggly, they pose for a bedside selfie with their doctor before Morgan is wheeled down the hallway to the operating room with Marquise and camera in tow.
Morgan shivers from the epidural, and the nurses wrap her head and neck in a blanket, giving her the look of a saint. Marquise stands by her right shoulder. The opaque plastic sheet separating the Goodwins from the team of doctors performing the C-section allows them to make out general shapes and light and movement while distorting the graphic, physically demanding procedure in a dream-quality way.
“I see a lot of hair!” shouts the doctor.
“OK, a lotta pressure now, Mama,” warns another.
Morgan’s entire body rocks forward. “Feels like an elephant on my chest,” she gasps.
“The head is out,” someone yells.
Marquise leans around the plastic barrier.
With his voice cracking, he cries out, “Oh my god, oh my god …
“It’s a girl!”
Morgan’s eyes and mouth pop open with excitement, until the sound of her daughter crying reaches her ears. The song she’s been waiting to hear for so long takes her breath away. And after one vocal, rushed inhale, her entire being seems to exhale fully, for perhaps the first time in years. She doesn’t say a word. Doesn’t need to. Nothing could better describe the weight of the burden she’s carried for the past three years, or the magnitudes of joy she’s experiencing right now, than the utter peace and stillness of her repose. “Mo’s the courageous one,” Marquise says.
A single tear leaks out of the corner of Morgan’s eye and runs down the side of her face. Marquise reaches out and gently places his palm on her forehead, but he doesn’t dare touch the tear on Morgan’s cheek. He leaves it right where it is.
You don’t wipe away these kinds of tears.
Tears of joy.
UNABLE TO STAND even the thinnest of barriers, Marquise pulls his scrubs and shirt off so he can hold his daughter against his skin. While the doctors sew up Morgan and prepare her for post-op recovery, Marquise wraps the baby up, cradles her in his arms and performs the best route of his life, walking proudly back to the Goodwins’ hospital room with his daughter. For the moment, the room is empty and still. The rising sun has just started to bask the space in golden light. And for the next 10 to 15 minutes, the entire universe consists of a new father rocking his baby girl. “In an instant, it was like our souls all matched,” Marquise says. “I always knew one day fatherhood would be great, I just didn’t think it would be this great.”
Marquise looks around the room, wanting to soak it all in, not to replace or forget but to layer every new joyous memory over all the pain and emptiness that preceded it. Directly in front of him is Morgan’s hospital bed covered in that old green blanket. Behind him are the boys’ three heart-shaped urns standing guard over their little sister’s framed birth announcement:
February 19, 2020
5 lbs, 13 ounces
Marquise moves his gaze from his boys to the chubby-cheeked infant cooing softly in his arms. He can feel one part of his life ending and the other beginning. Staring at her face, the more he fixates on the smaller details — the impossibly intricate swirl of flesh of her ears, or the way the side of her tiny nose forms a perfect little heart — the more he can feel his soul expand.
“My heart,” he says, “is a million times bigger and softer than I ever thought.”
Hearing activity in the hallway, knowing their first daddy-daughter moment is drawing to a close, Marquise lowers his face slowly and kisses Marae gently on the forehead.
The storm is over.
“Our little Rae of light,” the new dad whispers softly to his daughter.