Super Bowl tickets for Gary Gryder’s son Austin served to honor family members of all Houston fallen officers

Tom Kennedy

That event known as Super Bowl LI kept the Badge & Gun on an HPD family-oriented roll that spotlights an unbelievable opportunity, quick thinking and great seats at one of the greatest games ever played in Houston and the NFL, for that matter.

As so often is the case, our story starts with an extra job. There were plenty of those going around during the Super Bowl week leading up to the big game that became a Tom Brady production.

Sgt. Nick Wilson of Narcotics got the exciting job of protecting and driving a fellow by the name of DeMaurice F. “De” Smith, a down-to-earth individual who wants people to “call me De.” De is the executive director of the NFL Players Association. We don’t have to tell you that there was plenty for Wilson to do that represented a direct contrast to serving 30 of his 38 HPD years in Narcotics. We’re talking fun here.

Wilson got the daytime job, while his fellow narc, Blake Alorfo, drew the nighttime duty. They encountered more than their share of players, parties and excitement. “Between the three of us it became a family and a fun week to spend with these guys This was the head of the players association. Every team had a player rep and they reported to De, who handled off-the-field and on-the-field issues that the NFL has.

“He was back and forth on the phone with all the reps, with owners of teams. It was a whole different perspective of the NFL. I met quite a few players. De would say to me, ‘This is so-in-so.’ There were current and former players.

“But I tried to give those guys space. I was in plain clothes and was De’s security and took him to different functions every day. For instance, we went to the UH law center to talk to sports agents. That was just one. There was a constant flow of places and people.”

As the exciting week dwindled down to the day before the Big Game, De Smith popped Wilson the big question.

“Do you know any family of a fallen officer that I could treat? Smith asked Wilson. “I’d like to give them the opportunity to come to the Super Bowl and see the game from the NFL Players Association’s suite.”

Wilson beamed with excitement. In hindsight the least of his concerns was that “there was only a one-day notice,” a condition that caused him to laugh heartily as he recalled “the problem” and how it was solved.

He had to act fast. He quickly turned to fellow narc and HPOU board member Bubba Caldwell. These narcs are in tune with quick decisions that get the job done.

Caldwell was close friends with Senior Police Officer Gary Gryder, who was struck and killed by a drunken driver while he directed traffic at a construction site on the Katy Freeway in an extra job situation on June 28, 2008. The driver was charged with manslaughter and found guilty by reason of insanity. Now committed to a state mental hospital, he has been consistently denied parole.

Gryder was survived by his wife, Debbie, a retired HPD officer, a son Austin and a step-daughter Jennifer.

When he got the details from Wilson, Caldwell immediately knew what to do. He called Debbie Gryder to tell her about the tickets and the details about the new HPD family member named De Smith.

“The game was on Sunday and when I called it was Saturday,” Caldwell recalled. He was preparing for a Super Bowl party and, without hesitation, “I thought of the Gryder family. I was personally attached to them because of my relationship with Gary. I immediately caled Debbie. What an honor this was to be able to be a part of this. And they (survivors of a fallen officer) deserve so much. We could never repay what that family – and others like it – has given this city.”

Wilson was lavish in his praise of De Smith’s unselfishness, thoughtfulness and genuine concern for the families of fallen officers – particularly those from the Houston Police Department during Super Bowl festivities in Houston.

Caldwell made the call. He said, “Debbie, we got three Super Bowl tickets that the executive director of the NFL Players Association is giving away to the family of a Houston officer killed in the line of duty.

“I know this is short notice . . . but that’s how we work – we work better under stress.”

The entire Gryder family was awed by this honor and expressed their heartfelt feelings that they were representing the families of each Houston officer who has made the ultimate sacrifice while keeping Houstonians safe.

Caldwell voiced the simple, to-the-point instructions: have Austin, Jennifer and a third person to the Marriott Courtyard in the Galleria by noon on Sunday.

“We went to the hotel where we met De,” Austin Gryder said, referring to him, his girlfriend Samantha and sister Jennifer. “I gave him a pamphlet and the news articles all about Gary Gryder. I also gave him a Pray For Police bracelet – an entire packet. You could see it in his eyes that he was honored. He teared up. We have a picture of him holding it.”

And so began the royal treatment. They met Smith’s family and headed to the NRG Convention Center where they were among 20,000 excited fans taking part in shopping amongst the vast array of souvenirs and mementos in what amounted to the city’s biggest pre-game Super Bowl party.

“I have never experienced anything like that in my life,” Austin Gryder said. “I felt so honored and felt I was representing Tyler Martin and others like him. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m so glad they did this for us.”

Young Gryder, a criminal justice student at Sam Houston State University, seemed to be reaching deep in his heart when he told the Badge & Gun that he sincerely felt honored “that somebody would think of you and give you the opportunity to see the Super Bowl in person. If we could have taken everybody who had a fallen officer we would have done it in a heartbeat.

“I feel bad in a sense that only we were going. At the same time I was honored. We were doing it for all the fallen officers’ families. There were only so many tickets. We were going to represent all of them.”

Tyler Martin is the son of Officer Richard Martin, the latest and 113th Houston police officer to die in the line of duty. Chaplain Monty Montgomery has taken Austin and Tyler to Astros games on several occasions and the two young men have become friends. The son of another fallen Houston officer, Henry Canales Jr. also has been a part of Montgomery’s Astros fan contingent. They sit in the close-in seats often provided by state Sen. John Whitmire, the dean of the Texas Senate and an ardent supporter of the Houston Police Officers Union.

As we all now know, the game called Super Bowl LI was one of the most exciting in history. Austin said he was as thrilled as the other cheering fans present but throughout the game couldn’t help but think of the people he was honored to represent and wish they could have been there with him.

Caldwell added:  “The Gryders represented every family who has lost a mom, brother, father – any family member – in a line of duty death, who has had to deal with this before. I know Gary is so proud of this boy. He bragged on his son so much and Austin is keeping the tradition going.”