Originally created 05/07/99

Falcons lost most faithful of fans to cancer

Inge Casey's daughters ruffled through pictures of the family's January trek to the Super Bowl on Thursday when they came across the one taken inside Pro Player Stadium on game night.

Kickoff was almost two hours away. The orange and aqua seats were mostly empty. Twilight had yet to settle over the Miami sky as Inge, confined to a wheelchair with her debilitating bone and lung cancer, carried that nervous expression she always seemed to have whenever her Falcons played.

This would be the Falcons', and Inge's, ultimate stage. The Super Bowl! The one game that Inge believed the Falcons, her Falcons, would eventually get to, no matter how ridiculous the idea sounded when each season began.

So there she was. A nervous bundle of energy, the culmination of a whirlwind week and unbelievable season.

"Her face that whole week was just glowing," her daughter, Denise Scott, said Thursday, as gospel music permeated inside living room and family albums were dispersed through the kitchen.

"That's a memory no one will take away."

Inge died peacefully early Thursday morning, finally succumbing to the disease that infiltrated her body almost a year to the day. This day was inevitable since December when her doctors stopped her chemotherapy and diagnosed her cancer as terminal.

That still doesn't make her passing any easier to accept.

In the days before her death, Inge opened our eyes to life.

It turns out that emotional week zapped most of Inge's strength. Cancer took its toll, but the week's bustle, the shopping, the interviews, the general game angst drained her.

The weeks following the Falcons loss, the 50-year-old Georgia Peach with a sparkling smile would be bedridden, the pain of rising from her bed and walking across her Evans home too great. The tumor metastasized last May, spreading quickly from legs to chest, bones to lungs without warning.

Still, Inge attended all of the Falcons' home games last season but one, covering her chemo-induced scalp with wigs and bathing caps so as not to attract attention to herself.

But this is the type of woman you would want to know, would want your children to envy. She reared two lovely daughters and celebrated her 30-year anniversary with husband James a week ago Friday. She was loyal and charming, committing her passions to a Falcons team that would reward her diligence with two Super Bowl tickets.

Cancer crippled her body, but it couldn't ruin her spirit. Couldn't take away her dignity.

She taught us that devotion runs deep, and no thing, not losses, not trades, not a terminal illness, could diminish a strong faith.

Still, cancer plays no favorites. When it wants you, it takes you.

Luckily for Inge she was able to fulfill one final wish, watching her Falcons play in a Super Bowl. Luckily for us all, we were introduced to a woman, albeit briefly, who taught us to enjoy the time we have here, to not allow obstacles envelop you.

Inge's final weeks were especially difficult. Her lungs began filling up, and linebacker Jessie Tuggle called to offer prayers. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, who helped Inge meet with Falcons players before the big game, called and cheered her up.

Inge, though, knew her battles would end soon. One by one Wednesday night, Inge said good-bye.

First came oldest daughter Mary-Anne Carter, who has taken the last two weeks off from work to help her mother and father with the household chores.

Inge could barely speak above a whisper, so when she told Mary-Anne thanks for cooking dinner, Mary-Anne, as strong a woman as you'll find, started balling.

"She's fighting for her life and she's thanking me for helping her out," Mary-Anne said, shaking her head, smiling and crying at the memory.

Then came Denise, who kept cajoling her mother to breath. To eat. To drink. When Inge didn't say much and close her eyes, Denise would say "Mom, can you hear me?"

Inge would open her eyes again and shake her head up and down.

Then came husband James, who met Inge while he was stationed in an Army base in Heilbronn, Germany, in the late 1960s. James introduced her to American football, and when the couple transferred to Fort Gordon, Inge fell in love with these Dirty Birds.

Team pictures cover the walls of their Evans home. The Super Bowl ball Inge had the Falcons sign is encased above the television. A new Falcons birdhouse, which Inge bought at the NFL Experience, hangs from the ceiling. The Super Bowl tickets, with an "I Was There" pin, dangles from the wall.

It was James who helped her with the oxygen machine each day, and it was James who gave her morphine each morning.

James would also read to her Falcons stories. They watched the draft together last month. And James helped Inge renew their season-ticket order for the 12th straight season.

Somehow, though, without Inge Casey waving her pom-pons and showing off that smile, this season won't feel as complete.

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.


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