A Father, A Son And The Boyds' Hometown Sunday

Tyler Boyd starts Sunday's win diving into a Heinz Field end zone.
Tyler Boyd starts Sunday's win diving into a Heinz Field end zone.

Brian Boyd, wearing his son's No. 83 Bengals jersey, wasn't quite in his seat yet to watch Tyler Boyd walk to midfield at Heinz Field for Sunday's coin flip and the start of another passion play with the Steelers.

But when you've missed everything for the last eight years and you've been watching your son play on a TV you're sharing with your fellow inmates, it's OK you missed it when he won the toss because you saw both of you win the day.

Brian Boyd was most definitely in his seat when Tyler Boyd made one of his special plays that linger with you. He, quite naturally, converted a third down and then refused to go down - Pittsburgh style - when he bounced off Steelers linebacker Melvin Ingram and steamed into the end zone with the first touchdown that sent the Bengals on their way.

Brian Boyd's cousin got them the tickets and came up from D.C. Brian would have got them, but his cousin wanted to treat even though he'd be wearing a Steelers jersey. Was he really going to wear the Bengals jersey, he asked Brian.

"Even though I grew up a Steelers fan, I love my son more," Brian Boyd says. "I told my cousin, "Yes, I'm going to show my support.'"

"I get excited every time I see him play. Even when he was little. I'm always going to support him."

It's not the first time Brian saw Tyler play Heinz. The means streets of Clairton are just 13 miles away as the crow bends around the Monongahela River. He thinks it was his junior year when he saw the Clairton Bears win the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League playoffs ("The Wipple," Tyler says) on the way to another state title his son would craft at Hershey Park.

"He did everything," Brian Boyd says. "He passed. He ran it up the middle. He caught it."

Then Brian Boyd was gone. He signed a plea deal that sent him to the Federal Correctional Institution in McDowell County, W.Va. One of 42 people indicted in a sweep of a major drug distribution network, the papers said, and Brian Boyd had one last appointment the day before he left.

"I told him," Brian Boyd says, "not to follow in my footsteps. If I found out when I was in there that he had gotten into trouble, it would have killed me."

But there he was Sunday, cheering as Tyler Boyd bounced the Bengals into the lead just like he was leading the Beard from down river.

"Then I started looking around and some people were yelling at my cousin, 'Hey, you brought a Bengals fan,'" Brian Boyd says, cackling all the way. "He said, 'That's his son.' Then when they figured out I was his father, they were saying, 'Congratulations.' They were pretty nice."

Congratulations all the way around. Tyler Boyd knew his father growing up, but he barely remembers when he lived with him. Now they're starting to get the years back since Brian was released in time last year to see Tyler play in the NFL for the first time in his five seasons.

Another win. This one over Tennessee at Paul Brown Stadium.

"It's kind of picked up where it left off in terms of the fluidity of the relationship," Tyler Boyd says. "He didn't come back any different (to me). That's what I love about it. He's a great guy. He wants to be around. He's not there because I'm in the league. He wants to show his appreciation and support me."

Boyd's mother is a force of nature. While she kept Tyler and his older brother Brian off Clairton's mean streets that engulfed their father, Tonya Payne was a full-time social worker. At various times she supplemented the household income by also tending bar, as well as serving as a scorekeeper at basketball games, and then working an overnight shift as a caretaker at a mental health facility.

When Buffalo fans sent the donations flowing in the wake of Tyler's 49-yard touchdown catch on the final snap of the 2017 season that put the Bills in the playoffs, the former scorekeeper turned youth league director converted the Western Pennsylvania Youth Sports Association into a year-round, multi-sport organization. When her son signed a $43 million extension two years ago, the number of teams and kids kept growing.

"She was the disciplinarian," Brian Boyd. "I guess I was maybe easier on them because they were boys."

If you want to know how Tyler Boyd bounced off Melvin Ingram for his first NFL touchdown and first NFL win back home, it goes back to Brian Boyd and the Clairton neighborhood.

Some guys want to make a play. Guys like Boyd have to.

"I can't even tell you," Tyler Boyd says. "Where I'm from, it's either ball and you get offers or a lot of people tend to go into the streets. But that wasn't really my second option. I wanted be somebody. I wanted to make something out of myself. My mom and my step-pops, they did a great job after he left to take me down the right path."

Brian Boyd, 49, played for Clairton, too. He was pretty good, but before he graduated in 1991, he tore up his knee. He still has a pin it and he wasn't going to get an offer.

The thing is, Tyler could see what was going on. Brian would always check in and give him what he needed, but it came with a lesson.

"Where we come from, that's all you see is drug deals," Brian Boyd says. "Me being his father, I couldn't sugar- coat that … I would explain to him, 'You can't do this. You've got to be better than what I'm doing."

Brian Boyd says he wasn't an addict, but he was addicted. Addicted to the money.

"We were struggling, we needed help in that area. I've got a daughter. I know what that means," says Tyler Boyd, who was also listening to his father's warnings. "That's any father. Every father wants to put all the pressure on their self and not their kids. Coming where I come from, it's hard. It's a struggle."

Both knew deep down a price would be paid. Tyler Boyd can't imagine how hard those eight years were for his father. He visited maybe once or twice. Brian would call when he could to ask about family. "He's got two daughters on his other side. My (seven-year-old) daughter. He missed my transition from high school to college. Then from college to the league."

But last Sunday was so much better than all the other Sundays. Sitting with this cousin. The rest of the family a few rows away and they would get together and chat. The Steelers jerseys congratulating him.

"It killed me every Sunday," Brian Boyd says. "I could sit there and watch every game. Monday night. Thursday night. You have to share a TV, but when they found out he was my son, they'd put the game on. It got to be they'd come get me. 'Hey Brian, your son's playing.' Hopefully the game would be on and you just wouldn't have to catch the highlights. there. Sometimes after I would go back to my room and I would sit. Depressed. I missed his whole college (experience). I won't lie. It affected me."

But Brian Boyd has some advice: "Stay focused."

He made a promise to his mother before she died not to go back to prison. He visits Clairton only to see family. He lives not far away but it may as well be a million miles away. Tonya calls him when Tyler's daughter has a dance recital or anything at school.

"I'm doing pretty well. I'm just working keeping my head above. I pretty much keep to myself," Brian Boyd says. "My mother said, 'You need to make that promise and you need to not leave your kids anymore.' I can't go through it anymore."

He works as a home health care aide doing laundry and cutting grass and in order to stay busy, he landscapes after hours and on his days off.

And he watches his son beat the Steelers at Heinz for the first time. At some point this season, he'll take another trip to Cincinnati. They call. They text.

"He'll call me before a game and wish me good luck," Tyler Boyd says.

"I'll wait a few days after a game before I call," Brian Boyd says. "I know he's beat up and looking to rest."

But the days of hurting sound like they're gone.

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