Balancing Football and Fatherhood, Single Parent Simon Fletcher Saves His Violence for Sundays
But Simon Fletcher is not most men, and he didn't hesitate to become a full-time father. "It was something I just knew I wanted to do," he says. Fletcher was a sophomore when he began dating Glenda Baker, then 20. In the fall of 1983 she discovered she was pregnant; Ashley was born during the Christmas break of Fletcher's junior year. "Glenda and I were never married because her daddy thought she was too young," says Simon. For nine months Baker cared for Ashley at her parents' home in Houston, with Fletcher paying only occasional visits. But in October 1984 she called and asked him to take custody so she could attend nursing school in another city. "I didn't know what she was talking about at first," recalls Fletcher. "I said, 'Do you want money or what?' She said, 'No. I just want you to come and get her.' "
Fletcher's accomplice in caring for Ashley was his roommate and teammate, DeWayne Bowden, a longtime buddy from their hometown of Bay City, Texas. "We'd go to the training table together in the morning, and I'd feed Ashley, then he'd bring her back to the room so I could eat," says Fletcher. "I had to put her on people food right away. The training table was the only place I could afford to feed her." Meanwhile, the Cougars were gearing up for a run at the Southwest Conference championship, and only Fletcher and Bowden knew where Ashley was living. One night assistant coach Pat Donohoe came by for bed check. "We used to hide her in the bathroom if she was still awake at curfew," says Fletcher, "but he heard her cry and came in to see what was going on. It was beautiful. He wound up walking the hall with her to put her back to sleep."
Houston won a share of the championship, and Fletcher obtained custody of Ashley just before the Cotton Bowl game on New Year's Day. After choosing him in the second round of the NFL draft in April, the Broncos opened negotiations with Simon's agent, Harold Odom, who wanted a package worth $1.5 million over five years. But as the opening day of training camp drew near, Fletcher urged Odom to cut a deal. "If I don't make this team, I'll be gone," he told him. "I've got a daughter back in Houston counting on me to make some kind of living." In the end, Fletcher signed with the Broncos for an estimated $1 million over three years.
With unusual speed and agility for a man his size, the 6'6" Fletcher has the look of a blue-chip investment. "The best pass rushers the Broncos have ever had were Lyle Alzado, who's with the Raiders now, and Rulon Jones, who's still with us," says defensive line coach Stan Jones. "Fletcher has the potential to be as good." Playing mostly on special teams now, Simon plans to buy a house after the season, but in the meantime he and Ashley live in a two-bedroom apartment near Denver. Fletcher rises at 6:30 a.m. and runs a bath for Ashley as he showers. While she plays in the bath, he fixes breakfast. Then he dresses her and drops her off with two friends, Scott and Wendy Smith, while he goes to practice. In the afternoon, he picks her up and makes supper, which is usually just a child-size version of what any self-respecting defensive end would chow down on. "I chop it up real good and let her go for it," says Simon. On game days the Smiths take Ashley to Denver's Mile High Stadium to see Daddy tenderize the opposition.
Ashley's mother, now working as a nurse in Port Arthur, Texas, visits about once every two months, staying in a nearby hotel. Fletcher dates occasionally but selectively. "If I find a girl who doesn't want Ashley around, then there's no problem," he explains. "I just don't date her anymore." For Fletcher, sorting out priorities is never a problem. "I love being a family man," he says. "I've always been one to stick around the house. Now I've got somebody to keep me company."