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‘When Your Heart Is on the Field:’ Mama McNabb’s Musical Triumph of Spirit

Jan 14, 2013, 11:51 AM EDT

Plenty of great songs have been written by parents about their kids over
the years, from John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” up until Jay-Z’s
“Glory.” However, since these songs and most like it are written about
children too young for us to know much about them personally, it’s hard
for us to truly relate to these songs, being forced to take the artist’s
word for it when describing the beauty of their offspring. That’s why
it’s so special to hear a song like “When Your Heart Is on the Field,”
written by one of the NFL’s most famous mothers, about a son that Eagles
fans have come to know the greatness of quite first-hand: Donovan

Simply put, the song is a stunner. Written by Wilma “Mama” McNabb
and performed by singer Tené Williams, the song is a triumphant account
of the vicarious experience Wilma has gone through watching her son on
the football field for 13 years, “From his first game to stadium lights /
From fall to inspiring winter nights.” Mama recalls the work of
“Wearing his jersey, making him signs,” and how every game she’ll “be
watching, feeling so proud / Whether he wins or loses with his home
crowd,” the simultaneous feeling of pride and total helplessness evident
in every heartfelt couplet. It all comes together on the chorus: “And
you know that love is real / When your heart is on the field.”

Though the song is performed by Williams, her soaring, Whitney
Houston-worthy alto nestled lovingly over twinkling piano, subtle
strings and a gentle snare shuffle, the song is still unquestionably
McNabb’s. It’s hard not to get flashbacks to Campbell’s Chunky Soup
commercials of yore listening to lyrics like “Emotions fill the air /
Something comes over me / At the end of the day when the clock ticks
away with speed.” And at the song’s climax, if you don’t get chills when
Williams hits the high note on “Always telling him reach for the stars /
He’s already touched the SKY-Y-Y!!” then you just might not bleed green—or any other color, for that matter—after all.

Of course, at the center of it all is Donovan himself. “You are my
son my champion,” Mama sings, and though of course the champion part
isn’t literally true, all becomes clear when she sings later “He leads
his team, everything goes as planned / The final score doesn’t matter /
I’ve already won, I’ve been a champion because he’s my son.” And no
doubt all Eagles fans would feel the same way, substituting the word
“son” for “home team’s quarterback.” Listening to the song, your mind’s
eye wanders back to inspiring memories of #5 in the huddle in so many
pivotal Eagles games, his eyes saying to his teammates “Get on my back,
boys,” his legs saying “I can handle the weight.” By song’s end, you’ll
be swaying and singing along with the final, anthemic call-and-response
hook: “Heart, heart / The field, the field.”

“This song has been ringing in my head for 13 years, while my son
Donovan played as an NFL QB,” Wilma McNabb has said of her masterwork. “Listen to the words, and I am sure you
too will understand the emotions we get, when your heart is on the
field.” Now we know, Mama, and we’re much richer for it.