Where will you be when your wildest dreams come true?
Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch was 2,700 miles from home, drenched in sweat.
Branch was in Los Angeles, mid-workout when he got the phone call, the one all professional athletes want: The one from his agent with news that a long-term, life-changing contract agreement is place.
Just a day before he was set to become a free agent, Branch agreed to a new three-year, $24 million contract to remain in Miami.
When he signed, the first Dolphins practice of the year was still weeks away. And yet, Branch knew he had to get back to South Florida.
He had work to do.
Yes, he wanted to start earning his keep. But he had a more pressing task. Now that his dream was reality, he wanted the same for the person most important to him.
So he flew back to Broward and started house shopping.
Not for himself. But for the woman whom Branch calls his “why.”
Four months later, he gave his mom, Paulette Battle, the shock of her life.
Just a few days before the start of training camp, he surprised his mother with not only a great big house, but one with a Mercedes Benz truck in the garage.
“That's the No. 1 lady in my life, the No. 1 person in my life,” Branch told the Miami Herald this week, as he readied to face the Jets in the Dolphins’ second game of the season. “She's done a lot for me. This doesn't equal up to half of what she's done in my life.”
Here’s just a glimpse of what Paulette Battle has done for Branch: She gave up her plans to attend college (like her son, Paulette is an excellent athlete) to be the family’s provider.
She worked for years at Philip Morris, and whenever someone needed something, his or her needs came before Battle’s.
“We weren't rich, that's for sure,” said Branch, who grew up with her mom and grandparents in Richmond, Va. “Knowing that she would never even let that get into your head ... She was going to make sure that food was on the table. We definitely weren't rich. But she would make sure that everything was handled.”
Now, Branch can return the favor. And he earned the right to.
Twelve months ago, Branch wasn’t even a starter for the Dolphins, playing under a one-year contract after his career stalled out in Jacksonville. He was behind Mario Williams on the depth chart, but everyone in the building knew pretty quickly that Branch was the better player.
After four losses in their first five games, the Dolphins benched Williams and inserted Branch into the lineup. It’s no coincidence that they won eight straight and nine of their last 10 after making the switch.
“We had a lot of fun last year,” teammate Cameron Wake said. “Obviously, I enjoy playing with him. I think I was probably one of the guys pounding the table to make we did whatever we could to make sure he stays. If you speak to him, this organization and the coaching staff and the city as a whole kind of fits.”
Wake added: “Miami is his home.”
And now it is for his mother, too. During interviews, Branch repeatedly hinted that he had something special planned for Battle, but didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
He didn’t. Even when they pulled up the home back in July, Branch had his mom convinced that they were looking at a house Branch might buy for himself, not one that he already bought for her.
“I'm talking, giving her little hints but she's really not catching on,” Branch recalled. “I'm like, 'I love the character of the house. There's garden in front.' I said, 'It was my No. 1 priority when I got my contract.’ I'm saying stuff like this, but she's not catching on. We're walking up to the front door. She's like, 'I love this house.' I was like, 'Do you love it?' And she was like, 'Andre, I love it.' And I was like, 'Perfect, because it's yours.'”
Two months later, Branch was at peace knowing that his success didn’t just make him rich, but enriched the life of his No. 1 fan.
“She knows that, no matter what, I'm here for her, always,” he said. “For me, it's just to keep on paying her back.”