IOWA CITY — Marshal Yanda’s mom is headed to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. Next Tuesday. The game is five days later.
“I wish I could be there Monday,” Ruth Byrd said, with a laugh. But she meant it.
“This may never, ever happen again. So I’m going to take it all in, and see and do. We’re not down there to party. We’re there to inhale it all, yes. I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
Yanda is the offensive guard from Anamosa and the University of Iowa who is a vital player for the Baltimore Ravens. They play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Seldom has someone been so glad to miss out on a trip to Hawaii as Ruth. She went to Honolulul last year when Yanda played in the Pro Bowl, and Yanda would be back in that game Sunday had the Ravens not reached the Super Bowl.
One of the enduring images of Baltimore’s three-game run through the AFC playoffs was Yanda shoving Raven ballcarrier Ray Rice and potential tacklers past the first-down marker on a 2nd-and-10 run in overtime in the AFC semifinals. That put the team within field-goal range for kicker Justin Tucker, and three plays later he kicked the 47-yard game-winner.
Byrd and her daughter, Katie Yanda, attended the Indianapolis-Baltimore playoff game in Baltimore the week before. Then Mom watched the wins over Denver and New England in her Iowa City home with husband Bill Byrd, where she operates a day care for 10 children during the week. (When Ruth and John Yanda of Anamosa were married, they raised Katie and Marshal on a dairy farm five miles northwest of that town.)
“On Sunday we were screaming and hollering,” Ruth said. “The excitement was really great Sunday night.
“But on Monday morning, I was an emotional roller coaster. I was bawling half the morning. It finally sunk in. You kid around about going to the Super Bowl. But he’s really going.”
Mom’s excited. Why shouldn’t she be? You support and prod your child through the lows, and celebrate the highs. Look at Yanda now during Ravens games. He comes to the line of scrimmage snorting fire, every play. But there were moments of doubt on the road to the Super Bowl.
Yanda always wanted to play at Iowa. But his high school grades and ACT score weren’t sufficient, so he spent two seasons at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, playing ball, lifting weights, and attending class. Iowa State had a scholarship offer for him after his sophomore season at NIACC. But Iowa came in late, the day the Yandas were headed to Ames to seal the deal with ISU.
Iowa had five offensive linemen already in that recruiting class, but then-offensive line coach Reese Morgan and head coach Kirk Ferentz saw something they liked in Yanda and made room for him. That autumn, Yanda began a two-year stretch as a Hawkeye starter. He was a captain as a senior in 2006.
“When he started right when he came to Iowa, I thought I better start watching the NFL because it looks like that he might be going there,” Ruth said. “But as a plan, this is what you’re going to do and do and do because you’re going to make it to the NFL, no. Because so many things have to happen in the correct order to get there.”
Yanda got there. Baltimore selected him in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft.
“When Marshal got drafted I was so upset the next day,” Byrd said. “I didn’t even know where Baltimore, Maryland was. I was having a really hard time with it and I called his agent. He said ‘Ruth, don’t worry about it. The Ravens are a premier organization in the NFL. He couldn’t have gone to a better place.’ And he was right.”
Ruth and Katie, the director of the hotel at the Grand Falls Casino Resort in Larchwood, Iowa, have been to Baltimore many times in the last six years. Yanda started 12 games as a rookie, and has become one of the faces of the team as a 6-year veteran. When he was a free agent before the 2011 season, the Ravens made retaining him a priority, and signed him to a 5-year, $32 million contract.
“When we were on the farm we didn’t go anywhere but to work, and to the State Fair once a year,” Ruth said. “When we first went to games out there (in Baltimore), I would just grab Katie and say ‘Nobody gets to do this. This is crazy.’ The whole stadium is going nuts, and the music, and the fire, and here comes Marshal. Just a kid from Iowa.”
That kid is 28 now, with a wife (the former Shannon Hunt of Epworth) a 2-year-old son and a 3-month-old daughter. His mom doesn’t push him like she once did. He’s a Pro Bowl player who clearly doesn’t lack in focus or desire.
“I really, truly love watching him play football because he works so hard at it,” Ruth said. “And he’s fun to watch.”