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How One NFL Team Paid Tribute to a Very Special Fan

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Posted: Sep 16, 2020 5:45 PM
How One NFL Team Paid Tribute to a Very Special Fan

Source: AP Photo/Nick Wass

The kickoff for the 2020 National Football League season was always going to be disappointing because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, but the lack of fans turned out not to be the sport's biggest problem. Throughout the first weekend of the NFL, fans cringed and tuned out as their favorite teams and players either kneeled during the national anthem or skipped it altogether.

With a pandemic, an economic crisis, a do-or-die election, raging wildfires, skyrocketing crime, and anarchy in the streets, many fans were looking for a distraction in the NFL. What they got was a political lecture. But there was one fan who made it impossible for his favorite team to ignore him.

Mo Gaba, a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Ravens, died at age 14 in July after battling cancer throughout his childhood. Certainly, any young fan succumbing to a devastating illness would have made an impression, but in the case of Mo, the loss was almost unspeakable for the Ravens organization.

See, Mo wasn't just a fan of the Ravens. Mo was a super-fan, dedicated to his team well beyond considering them to be a distraction or an activity. Having been shuffled in and out of hospitals throughout his life, Mo took to calling into Baltimore radio stations as a child while his mother was away at work, giving his takes on the players and strategies for both the Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

Mo lost his sight at a young age from cancer in his eyes. But far from dispirited, Mo continued to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the Baltimore teams, and his status as a legend was cemented when he made history last year. During the 2019 NFL draft, Mo became the first-ever person to read a draft pick from braille.

He soon became a local legend. His call-ins on radio stations like 105.7 The Fan became something listeners and DJ's looked forward to. This summer, before he got too sick, Mo fulfilled his dream of hosting his own show on The Fan, "The Big Mo Show."

Ravens quarterback La' mar Jackson spoke of Mo before anything else during his first interview from the Ravens' training camp after the young fan passed away.

"My heart is with Mo's parents, friends, and family because he was a great kid," Jackson said at the time. "He really wasn't able to express his ability to show the world what he was made of, and I just want to say my heart goes to him. He was a great soul."

Mo's mother, Sonsy Gaba, said her son was her best friend. Jackson said that Mo's presence made him a player.

"Every time he would be out there at the practice facility, you can just feel it," Jackson said. "Whenever you go by him, you just shake his hand; you hear him talking and stuff. I wish he was able to express things more, [and] was able to see all the stuff that was going on [and] all the love he got around him. I'm just sad. His life got cut short."

Mo was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame the week he died, with the baseball team honoring him with the Wild Bill Hagy Award.

"Mo's positive energy has been constant throughout every battle and continues to bring the entire city of Baltimore together in the face of ongoing crisis," the Orioles said upon his election. 

The Ravens had something in store for Mo and his mother as well. As players across the nation participated in political protest and distracted from the soul of the game, the Ravens dedicated their field to their very best fan.

Sonsy was the first to visit M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore ahead of the first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns. On a private tour, Sonsy was shown that the team had dedicated "Mo's Rows" to her son. Countless cardboard cutouts featuring pictures of Mo filled the empty seats, where players would be able to look up to him cheering them on. And because Sonsy would want to be with Mo at every Raven's game, the team gave her a cutout as well. 

Sonsy was also asked to paint the "MO" of Baltimore in the end zone gold in honor of her son, a gesture that brought her to tears.

For the rest of the season, the name "Mo" will be the most important part of the Baltimore Ravens.