Brian Flores is leaving the New England Patriots for the Miami Dolphins.
But as he heads to South Florida, I think he’s going to miss North Attleboro.
Flores, who last Sunday led the Patriots to the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history, touched many hearts when he told his story at the Hockomock Area YMCA’s annual Legends Ball, where he, like other Patriots before him, was honored for his contributions to the community.
Flores was born 37 years ago to Raul and Maria Flores. Maria was just 18 years old when she and Raul emigrated from Honduras to Brooklyn.
Raul was a merchant mariner, gone for 8 to 10 months a year, leaving it to Maria to raise Brian and his four brothers. That was no easy task in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood — one of the highest-crime areas in all of New York.
The boys’ school was right across the street from the Flores’ apartment so Maria would watch vigilantly as her sons left classes, making sure they stayed out of trouble. It wasn’t easy. Gangs abounded in Brownsville, and one brother was mugged.
But the boys thrived, Brian earning a scholarship to prestigious Poly Prep through a program for promising student-athletes from lower-income areas, making the daily hour-long commute from Brownsville. His younger twin brothers, Danny and Luis, followed in his footsteps to Poly Prep.
Brian then attended Boston College, starring on the football field, before landing an assistant’s job with the Patriots.
It was a slow start for him, working long hours doing little more than running errands for $20,000 a year while sleeping on an air mattress in a friend’s attic. But by 2008 he earned coach Bill Belichick’s trust enough to become a member of the coaching staff, working on special teams.
He switched over to offense and eventually defense. This past season, he was the defense’s play caller after defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to become head coach of the Detroit Lions.
But it was in December 2015, about a month before the Patriots lost to Denver in the AFC championship game, that Brian got some devastating news: Maria found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
With the assistance of the Patriots, Flores put his mom in the care of a team of oncologists at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was still living in Brooklyn when she began her chemotherapy regimen in January 2016, and she would stay at Flores’ house for weeks at a time. That summer, he bought a condo in North Attleboro so his parents and his brother, Christopher, who is autistic, could move to Massachusetts full time.
The condo has become the place where the family gathers for holidays and other celebrations. It is also the place where Brian would stop every day after long hours coaching – at 9 or 10 p.m. or even later – to visit his mom, to see how her day was and tell her he loved her.
While Maria continued chemotherapy and radiation, Christopher, 18, found a second home at the North Attleboro-based YMCA, where he competes in sports leagues and takes day trips through a program for individuals with special needs and their families.
When he received his Legends award, Brian spoke of how much the Integration Initiative meant to his youngest brother and his entire family. The program helped Christopher physically, but more importantly, socially, as he transitions into adulthood. Brian moved many in the audience to tears while talking about his love for his brother.
Christopher’s future has become especially important to Brian.
In mid-2017, 18 months into her treatment, Maria’s cancer was deemed to be in remission. She traveled back to Honduras that summer to visit her family. But during Thanksgiving that year, she complained of a bad headache and fatigue. A CAT scan at Mass General revealed what was really going on: The cancer was back, and it had spread to her brain.
After several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Maria made the decision this past October to stop her treatment. So, while his professional career has reached new heights, he also knows what lies in the not-so-distant future.
Before the Super Bowl, Flores told reporters he planned to call his mom an hour before kickoff, just as he does before every game.
“I will do that again before the next game,” Flores says, “and I’ll do it for as long as I can.”