There was a morning newspaper to be delivered back in Anniston. Loretta Wallace, Ford’s grandmother, doesn’t like to miss her Anniston Star route. She considers it a responsibility.
So does Victoria Pope, Ford’s aunt who lives in Anniston, and Oxford’s Jasma Ford-Bass, big sister by a year to Ford, a star senior defensive end for Auburn who once lived and went to school in Oxford.
News of Auburn’s 34-28 victory and berth in the SEC Championship Game a year after the Tigers went winless in league play had to hit porches back home.
“I love my grandson,” Wallace said, “but I've got to go do that paper route, because I’m committed.”
So she, Pope and Ford-Bass did what they do six days a week, unless a family member is needed to sub. After the nearly two-hour drive home, they reported to The Star’s loading dock about 3 a.m., picked up papers, and took to their routes.
Wallace was off to West Anniston.
Pope headed off to the Greenbrier Dear Road area.
Ford-Bass and husband Terry Bass deliver in Oxford, around McIntosh Road.
They delivered their papers, went home and went to bed at 7 a.m., never quite feeling the lag from having been up all night. That’s how it is after a win, and Auburn has had a dozen of those this season.
“After celebrating with the family, when we get back, it’s nothing to deliver those papers,” Ford-Bass said. “It feels great to deliver those papers.
“Literally, we’ll deliver those papers with a big smile on our faces.”
Ford’s family sprung from Calhoun and surrounding counties. His parents, James and Debbie Ford, each work multiple jobs. They moved to Odenville after Ford’s freshman year at Oxford High to be closer to work in Birmingham.
Ford, of course, finished his high school years at St. Clair County, where he made the Alabama Sports Writer’s Association’s Class 4A All-State team as a senior. Scout.com ranked him the nation’s No. 26 defensive end prospect.
He signed with Auburn, where he instantly worked into the playing rotation in 2009. He got one start and played in every game in 2010, Auburn’s national-championship season.
Injuries slowed him in 2011 and 2012, but he has emerged as Auburn’s top defender this season. He has a team-high 8.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries during No. 2 Auburn’s improbable run to its Jan. 6 Bowl Championship Series final showdown with top-ranked Florida State.
Most notably, Ford made key sacks that clinched Auburn’s dramatic victories over Texas A&M and Georgia. He sacked A&M’s Johnny Manziel twice to end the Aggies’ last-gasp drive, and Ford hit Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray as Murray tried to throw into the end zone on the game’s final play.
Ford is expected to play a key role in the BCS game as Auburn tries to pressure Jameis Winston, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy quarterback.
That Ford and Auburn are in this position is “exciting, coming back from where they came from last year with the losing season, then they came back up,” Pope said. “Then, with his injuries, and then him coming back and playing and getting back on the line and still being able to start, it’s been something.
“He said he does it for the family because we cheer him on so hard. He says it makes him try even harder.”
Ford’s accomplishments are keenly felt back home. His sister, aunt and grandmother are among family members who had matching, navy-blue hoodies made. Ford’s jersey number, 30, is on the hand pouches in white numbers.
“It’s been really exciting since from in his childhood,” Wallace said. “You knew there was something special about him.
“I mean, as a little bitty boy, I mean, like about 2 years old, he was about the fastest runner of the grandkids. It had got to where, if I got sleepy, I had to tie him to my arm because he’d be off somewhere.”
His sister has an extensive collection of memorabilia, including the cap Ford wore after Auburn beat Missouri to win the SEC championship Dec. 7.
It’s a special cap, especially after Ford-Bass waited for her brother to get through an unusually long battery of postgame interviews. She sweet-talked a security guard into letting her go to the team bus.
“I stood there that whole time, waiting for him (Ford) to come out,” Ford-Bass said. “There was this nice security guy, who didn’t know me from Adam, but he let me back to the bus to see him.”
Ford “took that hat off his head and put it on my head. I mean, I cherish that moment,” Ford-Bass said. “I really do.”
It’s not possible for members of Ford’s family to make every game. Besides delivering papers, Wallace and Pope work for a cleaning business, and Ford-Bass is a certified nursing assistant, doing home health for a hospice.
But they make most games. Pope and Ford-Bass made the Texas A&M game in College Station, which is about 12 hours away from Anniston. Their husbands subbed in for their paper routes on Friday and Saturday nights that weekend.
Pope made similar arrangements for the weekend of Auburn’s game vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, La., which is about eight hours away.
Ford-Bass missed the LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee games.
But they make home games and close road games, and count on it. They’ll be on their paper routes hours after the games.
“They come, and they leave in the middle of the night,” Ford said.
This year, it’s been fun. Ford-Bass said she was “grinning from ear to ear” while delivering papers after Auburn beat Missouri for the SEC title.
“With something like that going on, it makes it go a whole lot faster,” she said. “I think I do it faster after a game than I do during the week, after getting a full night’s sleep.”
It was never more fun than after the Iron Bowl, when a replay review placed one second back on the game clock in the fourth quarter … long enough for Chris Davis to return a missed field goal 109 yards or the game-winning touchdown.
Then-No. 4 Auburn’s upset then-No. 1 Alabama in the game that decided the SEC West Division champion and put Auburn within reach of the BCS final.
“My customers be on their porch, because that they knew that Dee was my grandson,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t imagine them being up so early. I was like, ‘Why are you all out here so early?’ They were like, ‘War Eagle, baby! War Eagle!’
“They were hyped. They wanted that copy. They were on their porch, and there were like, ‘I want to see it in writing.’”
Neither Ford-Bass nor Wallace nor Pope expects to make the BCS title game in Pasadena. To follow the family’s tentative plan to rent an RV and travel, they’d have to miss eight days of work.
But they hope to deliver good news in the wee smalls of that Tuesday morning in January, after the game. It’s a feeling they know from having delivered news of Auburn’s last BCS title, in the early hours of Jan. 11, 2011.
“It was awesome,” Ford-Bass said. “We were just grateful and happy to deliver the paper and have somebody in there who could contribute to this win.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.