Serendipity is defined as "a development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way." It's the perfect way to explain how Marcus Williams, a Saints safety and elite pro athlete from California, and the Grueningers, a Chalmette family of five, can connect.
It all began on a trip to Disney World three years ago while standing in line for a ride.
"We met this family that was right behind us or in front of us, I don't really remember, but it was a two-and-a-half-hour wait," said Stephanie Grueninger. "We just got to talking and it turns out we told them we were from New Orleans. They said, 'Oh we're Saints fans and we come down to visit a few times a year for the games.' They were from California and that was that. Last season she called me. Her name is Nicolem, she called me all excited saying one of their son's friends that he played high school ball with got drafted by the Saints."
That player: Marcus Williams, who was new to New Orleans and in need of an apartment.
"She gave Marcus our phone number and from there we gave Marcus ideas on where to live," Stephanie Grueninger said.
"She gave me the number and I just said, 'Hey this is Marcus, can you assist me in helping me finding an apartment?'" Williams recalled. "And she did."
"We just wanted to make sure he felt comfortable because his family was still in California," said Troy Grueninger, Stephanie's husband. "I really don't know what it would feel like to move somewhere and not know anybody.
They met in person for the first time in October for the Saints game against the Lions and occasionally after that. With each interaction the bond grew stronger from acquaintance, to friend, to now family.
"We meshed and we all hung out like one big family," Stephanie said. "His mom said, 'I know he's got you and your mom. Y'all look out for him.' We just want him to know that he had us and the kids love him."
"Now we're hanging out, come over here, they cook dinner. It was a great dinner. We ate and just talked and got that connection," Williams said. "From there they come to the game and then we just see each other all the time. I love the kids. They have energy just like me, so we're one and the same."
Like any family, when adversity strikes - like it did at the end of last season - they give support, and in some cases, protect a loved one.
"I feel like almost like he was my son. I guess stuff bothered me, things on social media, and I felt like I had to defend him like he was my family and had been for forever," Stephanie said as her eyes teared up. "I just looked at it like, I know the person he is, and I wouldn't want things that were said to be said about anyone, much less someone like him."
It's the offseason now, so Marcus has a little more free time and spends some of it with the Grueningers. He's attended a few of the kids' baseball and softball games and even showed up at their school to talk to their classmates.
For the lifelong Who Dats, it's pretty cool that they have a friend on the team. For Marcus, Stephanie and Troy and the kids offer an escape as a Saint in a football-obsessed town.
"Now I actually have a family away from football. I don't need to be talking about football all the time. I can come here, let loose, hang out with the kids and the family. It just lets me be myself like I would be at home and not just all football, all sports. Because away from sports, I'm Marcus Williams. I'm not number 43 for the Saints Marcus Williams."
"Last season it was on a whole other level because we were able to cheer on Marcus. So the kids sat their through all the games and wanted to watch because it's like 'Go Marcus.' It did it made it really exciting for the whole family."
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