ASHBURN, Va. -- The moment didn’t need many words, but Don Cousins found them anyway. He hugged his son, let go and then hugged him some more. It wasn’t just that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had finished off a career-best day. It was the journey traveled to reach this game, a trip no one knew whether it would be possible for Don to make this season.
That’s why, in that moment after the Redskins’ 47-14 win over the Saints, the words he found were few.
“Thank you, Kirk,” Don recalled saying. “Thank you for enabling me to experience this day.”
His son had completed 20 of 25 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns. But more than that, it was Don Cousins’ first game this season after undergoing six weeks of radiation treatment on the cancer that had been diagnosed during the summer. At one point, Kirk said, he did not think his father would make it to a game.
However, Don recently finished treatment and had started to feel better, more energetic. Then he noticed a scheduling coincidence: Kyle Cousins also would be in town this weekend. He’s a program director for Neurocore, a behavioral health company that works with the Orlando Magic. The Magic just happened to be playing in Washington on Saturday night, and Kyle, who occasionally travels with the team, made this trip.
“I said to my wife [MaryAnn], I haven’t seen either boy in a couple of months or longer, going back to August,” said Don, whose daughter, Karalyne, lives near the parents in Michigan. “I said maybe I’ll try to go out there this weekend because there’s a chance to see both of them.”
But they kept it a surprise from Kirk, with the help of his wife, Julie. Don flew in Saturday, then headed to Cousins’ townhouse, knowing his son had to leave soon for the team hotel. Early Saturday afternoon, Don Cousins arrived at his son’s house.
“It was a great moment,” he said. “A big hug.”
They speak on the phone on a regular basis, Kirk peppering him with questions on drives home from practice. His dad, meanwhile, knew the magnitude of Sunday’s game. Another loss and the Redskins would have been 3-6 and headed for a game at undefeated Carolina.
“I thought in some way it would be encouragement,” Don said. “It would be one more thing that would put a bounce in his step as he went into the game and a little extra joy. One thing I want him to do is to enjoy the place he’s at in life and to enjoy the journey. He’s demanding of himself and has high expectations.”
Don spent six weeks at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for his radiation treatment, catching Redskins games on his computer. He has metastatic squamous cell carcinoma and needed surgery to remove much of the cancer in his lymph node. But because some of the cancer was outside this area, he also needed radiation treatment.
He lost 30 pounds -- his taste buds haven’t yet recovered -- and a lot of energy, but not his faith. Doctors have been upbeat about his recovery.
“At this point they’re very optimistic; my prognosis is very positive,” he said. “They’re very confident they got everything.”
Father had coached son in football throughout much of his life, starting with a flag football team in fourth grade, and even in high school. Kirk’s football journey was a shared one.
And his father knows enough to point out this fact about Sunday’s game: “It wasn’t just watching Kirk execute well, it was seeing other guys team-wide. They had to go into the locker room thinking we did it -- with an emphasis on we.”
Before the game, Don had told Kyle that for a change, it would be nice for the Redskins to enter the fourth quarter with a big lead so he could sit back and enjoy the day. He echoed a desire shared by the fan base. Wish granted: the Redskins led 37-14 entering the fourth, though even then Don told Kyle one more score would make him feel better.
“We’ve had some nail-biters,” Don said. “I said to my wife, ‘If cancer doesn’t get me, I’ll have a heart attack.’ "
After the game, he and Kyle made their way to the front row of the stands hoping to catch Kirk’s attention. They did, leading to hugs and probably a few tears.
But it won’t be the last game Don attends. He hopes to be at one or two more. In fact, he scheduled his follow-up visit in Houston for Jan. 4-5; the Redskins play at Dallas on Jan. 3. If the Redskins get hot, it could be a game that decides their playoff fate.
Regardless, it’ll be hard to top Sunday for the Cousins family.
“To have both boys there and for Kirk to play well,” Don Cousins said. “It was a memorable day for me.”