MIAMI – C.J. Beathard stood in the middle of the mayhem at Super Bowl LIV Opening Night here on Monday evening, surrounded by thousands of reporters, fans, magicians, pranksters and celebrities as the buildup to the big game kicked into full swing.
Outfitted in a black stocking cap and a 49ers sweatshirt, and sporting a thick beard, Beathard cracked a smile when talking about his football fortune.
The Franklin, Tenn. native and Battle Ground Academy graduate knows he's come a long way. In just his third NFL season, he has a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.
"It is something you dream about as a kid, being in the Super Bowl," Beathard said. "This is a dream come true."
A moment that should be a time filled with happy emotions, however, has been anything but for Beathard and his family.
As nearly a dozen members of his family prepare to make the trip to South Florida for Sunday's Super Bowl, C.J. Beathard is still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact one won't be there – his younger brother, Clay.
It's why his voice sometimes cracks, and his eyes well up with tears.
In Beathard's mind, the nightmare of December 21st still won't go away. That's the night his 22-year-old brother was fatally stabbed outside a bar back home in Nashville. Police say he was defending a female friend.
C.J. Beathard said he's leaned on his faith and his family over the last month. He's also received spiritual encouragement from former Vanderbilt product Jordan Matthews, his teammate with the 49ers, and the team's Bible study leader.
"This has been the hardest month of my life, without a doubt," Beathard said Monday night. "It is like a pain that you just kind of carry on with you all day. You'll be feeling alright for a little bit, and then reality will hit you and it comes back. It's tough. … People keep telling me that it gets easier, it gets better with time, but that time hasn't come yet. I'm still healing.
"The biggest thing that has helped me get through it, other than my family, is my faith in Jesus Christ and knowing that my brother was a big believer, and he wasn't afraid to wear that on his sleeve. I know that I'll be with him again one day up in heaven, and he is living with no stress right now. I'm just trying to deal with it the best I can, but it's been tough. It's been really hard."
Beathard said the support from back home, and especially the BGA community, has meant a lot to him and his family. He wanted to convey his thanks.
Nashville police arrested 23-year-old Michael Mosley and charged him with criminal homicide in the deaths of Clay Beathard and Paul Trapeni III, his former BGA teammate. Another friend and BGA graduate, A.J. Bethurum, also suffered injuries to his eye and arm that night.
Beathard still gets emotional thinking about it. Last month, a tribute he posted on Instagram prompted an outpouring of love and support.
"It is crazy, the impact Clay had on people, all the lives that he's touched," Beathard said. "I knew that he was a special kid before, but so many people have messaged me on Instagram and told me: Hey, I want you to know this story about Clay and how he changed my life. It brings me to tears every time I hear something like that. It is just really cool to hear all the lives he touched."
Beathard on Monday night also credited Matthews, a 2014 NFL Draft pick out of Vanderbilt who has played with the Eagles, Bills, Patriots and 49ers during his career, for helping him spiritually.
After an early season stint with the 49ers ended in October, Matthews was re-signed by the 49ers on December 11, ten days before the tragedy. Matthews, who heads up the Bible study on the team, said he wants to pour into Beathard words of encouragement any time he gets a chance.
As reporters interviewed members of the Chiefs and 49ers on Monday night, the two teammates were located not too far apart on the grounds at Marlins Park, site of Super Bowl LIV Opening Night.
"Mainly, I just wanted to be a friend, honestly," Matthews said. "What C.J. went through was an unspeakable tragedy. And I tell people all the time, you come the closest to those questions about God and eternity whenever you have a child, or whenever you have somebody in your life pass away.
"I don't see C.J. as a quarterback. I don't care if C.J. ever throws another ball in the NFL. He is my brother in Christ, and there is so much more to him than being a football player. … The Word says to grieve with those who grieve, mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice. And we mourned together, and it was a real moment. We are still going through it. Only C.J. can really speak to how he is doing in that situation but being his brother through this has really impacted me in a huge way, too. And I love him to death.
"I believe there's been a lot of healing. It has been hard for him, but I know C.J. is going to impact a ton of people through this situation. We just have to keep praying for him and keep building him up."
Beathard said Matthews has a huge impact on him.
He said he's appreciative of the support from his 49ers family as he deals with his emotions.
Beathard, who has played in 13 career games, including 10 starts, since joining the 49ers in 2017, hasn't suited up for a game this year. He's been among the team's inactives, a back-up behind quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens.
With a 49ers win on Sunday, however, he'd get a Super Bowl ring.
And he can only imagine how proud it would make his kid brother, who was the starting quarterback at Long Island University after playing at BGA himself. Clay Beathard was the 2014 Tennessee Titans DII-A Mr. Football winner.
"Clay, he was my best friend, along with my other brother Tucker," said C.J. Beathard, doing his best to fight his emotions. "He was so proud of me, and he believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. He always believed in me no matter what, whether I was first team, third team, not on a team, or whatever.
"Clay had my back on everything, and I felt the same way about him. I've always been so proud of him and loved him so much, and that will never change. And I know he's in heaven right now looking down on us."