TEMPE, Ariz. — When Missy Murray looks at her son Kyler, she doesn’t just see the 23-year-old quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals or the boy who wanted to play Uno after big wins or the child who color-coded his toys.
She sees her father, Master Sgt. Carl W. Henderson Jr.
Kyler never met his grandfather, who died in 1989 after spending more than 35 years in both the Navy and Army, but Missy has kept Henderson’s legacy alive through stories and reminders — plenty of reminders — that she sees her father in Kyler.
“Kyler is so much like my father that sometimes I just do a 360 because he’ll say things like my father, he talks like my father,” Missy said.
“It just blows me away, that I tell Kyler all the time, I’m like, ‘You are not my father,’ because he talks just like him, his personality, it’s just unbelievable.”
On Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, Kyler honored his grandfather with a pair of custom Nike cleats that supported the Call of Duty Endowment — a charity created by the popular video game that “helps veterans secure high-quality jobs after their military service” — during Arizona’s My Cause, My Cleats game. The cleats, designed by Dominic Ciambrone aka “The Shoe Surgeon,” honored Henderson’s time in the military by painting them various shades of purple, including purple camouflage, in recognition of the Purple Heart that Henderson was awarded.
The shoes also represented a connection between a grandson, his mother and his grandfather.
On the back of the left shoe is “best friend,” and on the back of the right is “grandfather,” both in Korean, a nod to Missy’s Korean heritage — her mother was Korean, making Kyler one-quarter Korean — and the bond between mother and son.
“I just try to soak up everything she tells me about him,” Kyler said. “Obviously, we don’t talk about him every day and stuff like that but just, whenever she sees something in me that he would say or do, she always lets me know.”
And there’s a lot that Kyler does to remind Missy of her father.
The two share a demeanor, an approach to life, a passion for board games, a commitment to self-discipline, a thirst for knowledge and the presence of mind to think before acting.
“She says we’re one in the same,” Kyler said. “She said me and him are anal about things. Like things a certain way. Very strict on certain things. I’m not as strict as he is, obviously, him being a parent, having two daughters, I can only imagine.”
Missy described Kyler as an “undercover nerd” — a trait he gets from his grandfather.
Around the time she was 6 and 7, Missy would play Scrabble twice a week with her father, who turned it into a teaching tool. He would play words that his kids had never heard of — especially three-letter words — and he’d suggest they challenge him so he could read them the definitions.
“My dad was all about learning new words, reading, just being able to speak intelligently and eloquently and articulate,” Missy said. “I think that all passed down to generations because you look at Kyler on an interview, you think he’s been doing it all his life. It blows me way that he’s so calm. But that’s because he thinks before he speaks.”
Like his grandfather, Kyler likes board games. Always has, especially chess. When he would come home after big wins when he was younger, Kyler would take about a half-hour to get over the excitement and ask his mom to play Uno.
“I like to do those things,” Kyler said. “You don’t really see a lot of kids that sit down and just enjoy board games and stuff like that anymore.”
Kyler has always had balance, Missy said. He never gets too high, nor does he get too low. And he also inherited his grandfather’s military-like discipline, both in how he approaches football and how he can be off the field. He has always been attentive when it comes to following direction, but he also hands out instruction like a drill sergeant, Missy said.
And Kyler pays close attention to details, Missy said. As a child, he organized his toys by color, and as he grew up, he color-coded “everything,” she said.
“I tell people all the time, my dad was such a perfectionist,” Missy said. “I’m not sure that me and my brother passed the bar, but if he was alive today, Kyler is the prototypical kid that my dad would have wanted to raise because he does everything right. He never goes left. He goes right.”
And just like his grandfather, who would go the family’s encyclopedia set of to either prove his point or show his kids where he was coming from, Kyler also does his research.
Qhen his parents were starting to give Kyler’s dog, Swoosh, turkey after Thanksgiving, Kyler googled whether it was safe for dogs.
“He’s all about giving the rules and making sure the dog is following his commands, and I just crack up,” Missy said. “There’s that discipline in him that he even wants a dog to do things right.
“Those are the things that crack me up about him and make me think of my father all the time — the disciplinarian and giving us the orders and following orders by the T.
“It’s made him who he is.”
It’s made him one of the most exciting players in the NFL, which comes with some perks. Murray and his father called the custom cleats Kyler wore on Sunday the “baddest” they’ve ever seen.
Henderson wasn’t a football fan until he moved his family to Texas in the 1970s. Then, he became a “crazy Dallas Cowboys fan,” Missy said. He’d be a Cardinals fan today if he were still around, watching his grandson become one of the NFL’s most dynamic players.
When Kyler first saw the cleats last Tuesday in the kitchen of his Scottsdale condo, he was, for a moment, speechless.
“Aw, damn,” he said, before a smile crept across his face.
As Kyler held them, turned them, looked at every design, soaking up every detail, Missy brought up one more reminder: It was his grandfather’s birthday.
He would’ve been 100.
“Her being my best friend, I wanted to do this for her,” Kyler said of his mother. “It’s unfortunate that I never got to meet him, but her saying that we’re so much alike, I think it’s fitting to be able to represent him, honor him.”
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