Matt Breida doesn’t pronounce water as “wooder,” doesn’t use the phrase “youse guys” and like most Americans would struggle if asked to spell the Schuylkill River.
But the 49ers rookie running back has Philly hard-wired into his system and will have a gaggle of screaming relatives in the stands Sunday wearing his red, No. 22 jersey. His parents are from North Philadelphia – “Philly born and bred!” Terri Breida says with oomph – and he was raised watching the Eagles on Sundays.
Like most Philadelphians, the Breidas loved Brian Westbrook, cheered Donovan McNabb and, in the words of his father, Mike, thought Terrell Owens was “a butthead, but also a heck of a player.”
Matt was born in Brandon, Fla., in 1995.
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Two days after his delivery, he was adopted by Mike and Terri, who had moved to the Tampa area after Mike got sick with a life-threatening case of meningitis. One of Matt’s biological parents is white, the other black. The Breidas are white and both currently are in wheelchairs.
Money always was tight in their household, especially after Terri had to quit her nursing job when severe arthritis seized her back and legs. Which partly explains why their son is perhaps the most driven member of the 49ers’ rookie class.
An honor student at Georgia Southern, Breida graduated a semester early so he could concentrate on acing the NFL scouting combine. He wasn’t invited. And two months later, he wasn’t drafted.
Instead he signed a free-agent deal with the 49ers and joined a running backs group that included fellow rookie Joe Williams, whom the team’s new coaching staff hand-picked in the fourth round. During spring practices, however, Breida was the young runner who caught everyone’s attention.
“He’s just going for it,” coach Kyle Shanahan said early in training camp. “You’ve got a guy who comes in who’s undrafted. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, which you love. He’s trying to prove himself every single day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a run play, a pass play, whether he’s in protection. The guy loves competing.”
That was the working-class Philadelphia ethos shining through.
Both Mike’s mother and father worked in North Philly factories – “My dad always worked two jobs,” Mike said – so that Mike and his sisters could go to the Catholic schools in the neighborhood. Before he became ill, Mike said he worked 50-plus hours a week while also taking night classes in business.
Terri, meanwhile, started working straight out of high school. Unbeknownst to her, her parents were setting aside $50 from each of her paychecks until there was enough for her to go to nursing school.
Matt Breida may not have their genes, but he picked up that ethic.
In high school, he was up at 6 a.m. to work out, then he was off to classes followed by more training.
“He wouldn’t get home until 6:30,” Mike said. “He had a 12-hour-plus day. Even during the offseason he kept crazy hours.”
During one of his junior varsity games, Terri noticed her son was holding his water bottle in his left hand. Was there something wrong with the right? He said he was fine and scored two, two-point conversions later in the game. But a trip to the emergency room the next day revealed a broken bone in his forearm.
Mike: “He had to have been in a heck-of-a lot of pain. He has a high tolerance …”
Terri: “… a high, HIGH tolerance ...”
Mike: “… Yes, a high, high tolerance for pain.”
The Breidas are characters.
Their Philly accents have very much survived two decades in Tampa and Matt says it becomes even more acute in his mom when he or his younger brother, Josh, who also is adopted, does something wrong.
“When my mom gets mad at me she’ll use my full name and I’ll really hear it,” he said.
Terri says she and Mike went to every one of Matt’s police-league games when he was a grade schooler, were in the stands at each high school game and attended Matt’s home games at Georgia Southern.
She says she knows they “embarrassed the hell out of him” the way enthusiastic, doting parents do, but she also knows that he always would look into the stands during pregame warm-ups to find out where they were sitting.
They won’t be in the crowd on Sunday. “We just don’t have the money to get up there,” Mike said.
Matt, however, said they are the reason he’ll be on the field in Philadelphia.
“It’s me not wanting to let them down,” he said. “Because they gave me the chance to have the life that I’m having right now. I always wanted to succeed for them, always wanted them to know that they made the right choice in adopting me and my brother. That’s what drives me.”