Scott Wells was hardly the first player — nor will he be the last — to request to be allowed to sit out an NFL preseason game. But his circumstances were unique. Late last summer, the St. Louis Rams’ new starting center approached coach Jeff Fisher and explained his situation. On Aug. 18, the night the Rams were supposed to play Kansas City, Wells’ wife, Julie, was returning from a trip to Uganda. They hadn’t seen each other in more than three months. And she was flying back with the family’s three new roster additions: two sons and a daughter. Could he leave to greet them?
Absolutely, said Fisher. And so as the Rams were winning their first game of the season, Wells, a 300-pound NFL leviathan, was losing it. As a knot of friends and family members looked on and cheered, he stood in the Nashville airport, bear-hugging his wife, and their brood of children that had suddenly doubled in number. …
A few days later, the Wellses held a small memorial service. Having decided that the babies should be cremated, they kept the ashes in a small baby block, next to framed footprints of the kids. Scott and Julie each got tattoos with the boys’ names. More than ever, they were hell bent on having a large family.
They began thinking about adoption, but a daughter, Lola, followed a year later. Then a son, Kingston. Both were born within a few weeks of Thanksgiving. But why stop there? At their off-season home in Nashville, both Scott and Julie noticed that at the Presbyterian academy where the kids went to school, a striking number of families had adopted children. Scott is the son, grandson, and brother of a preacher — “We all work Sundays; I just do something different,” he says — and he “took it as a sign.”
They looked at a number of options for adoption, but settled on trying to find two children in Uganda under the age of three. A desperately poor country with a staggering rate of HIV and other disease, mired in corruption — the legacy of Idi Amin’s brutal regime — Uganda was not included among the countries that ratified or follow the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
On Thursday, the extended clan will sit down for their first holiday meal as an octet. As always, the memories of Deacon and Maddox — in many ways, the catalysts for all this — will figure prominently. “Thanksgiving is always such an emotional time of year for us. We’ve been on both sides. We’ve experienced the extreme pain with the loss of the twins and the extreme joy,” says Scott.
On a crisp, fall afternoon last Tuesday, Scott resembled a coach surveying the practice field as he took inventory of the six kids in the backyard. Eli needed a nap. Jackson was playing on the putting green, javelining sticks. Caroline was buried under a pile of leaves. Lola was thirsty. Kingston and R.J. were kicking a soccer ball into a plastic net.
Looking at this six-pack of kids — different ages, genders, shades and dispositions — Wells smiled and shook his head. “We try to keep it as normal as possible. It may not be everyone’s normal. But we’re going to make it our normal.”