Thanks to the sacrifices of Jennifer Kruger, family is the ultimate team sport for famous football family

Published: Saturday, May 10 2014 2:05 p.m. MDT

The boys would watch their sisters dance or play volleyball, and the girls watched countless hours of baseball, basketball and football — especially football. When Paul Jr. started Kruger Cares to help children struggling with illness or tragedy, it was his siblings and parents who pitched in and helped him succeed.

“If you see one Kruger, there are probably going to be a couple more with them somewhere,” Jennifer laughed. “If they’re alone, it’s probably because they’re in another state.”

Jennifer points out a Saturday the family shared in April. Paul Jr., who plays for the Cleveland Browns, and Joe, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, both flew home that weekend. The entire clan got up early so they could be at the finish line in Salt Lake City as Erica finished her first half marathon. That night, the entire family attended Jessica’s debut mixed martial arts bout.

Jessica said her mother wasn’t thrilled when she decided to take up MMA competitively.

“I can see in my mother’s face that this is not something she really understands,” Bergstrom said, who has two children, ages 3 and 18 months. “It’s a little tough for her, but she knows that it’s something that I want. So she’s front and center at my fight.”

And when it was finished, she jumped the fence and found the always-accepting embrace of her mom.

When Paul helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl two years ago, he had a replica of his ring made into a necklace and had “Momma” engraved on the back of it.

“My mother has probably sat through more games and more practices, she’s been there through times in the hospital, through surgery, when I had great experiences and when I was struggling,” Paul said. “She has just really been dedicated to me and my other siblings, so I wanted her to know that she won the Super Bowl too. She was there and it was just as much a victory in her life as it was for me. … That was her moment too, not just mine.”

Her children said among the lessons she taught them are how to live with integrity and the importance of being loyal. Her commitment to her faith has sustained them, and her dedication to each of them has made her children more devoted to one another.

“Just seeing how much dedication she puts into each child,” Paul Jr. said of what impresses him most. “It really has been eye-opening as I’ve gotten older. Her care and concern for each one of us, I don’t know how she stayed sane.”

Both David and Joe recounted how their mother didn’t allow them to wallow in self-pity, even as children.

“She would let you cry for a certain amount of time, but she toughened us up,” David said. “She helped us become strong men. When we were older, we could mentally handle things. When we had challenges, we were already prepared, we’d already been taught that there are going to be hard times in life. You can feel sorry for yourself, but you eventually have to get back on your feet and get going.”

David said she emphasized being polite and respectful to women. Joe said when he and his brothers would fight, his mom made them hug each other, apologize for hurt feelings and even exchange I love yous. Jessica and Erica said they’re grateful their mother never allowed fights to fester.

Jennifer Kruger, like most moms, has struggled. She’s been frustrated, overwhelmed, baffled and blind-sided.

But never, not even for a minute, has she ever regretted her decision to make motherhood her career.

Suggestions that she’s somehow less accomplished don’t bother her because nothing diminishes how she feels about her choice, her life and her children.

“It would if I allowed it,” she said of feeling marginalized because she doesn’t have a career outside her home. “But I don’t allow it. There is power in being a mother. There is power in the influence a mother has in the lives of her children. And if you take it seriously, and you dedicate yourself to it, just like you would a career that you’re earning dollars for, it’s amazing what can happen with your children.”

Twitter: adonsports

EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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