"Take a little Hellman's, put it on some bread, toast it lightly. Then just close your eyes and chew it real slow. It'll taste like a porterhouse."
Mardy Gilyard knew real stress growing up in Bunnell, Fla. Stress about whether the electricity would stay on at home because the bills weren't paid. Stress about whether there would be violence in the house at any given time. Stress about whether there was going to be anything for dinner that night.
When you're hungry and a mayonnaise sandwich is all you've got? Yeah, it can taste like a porterhouse.
There were syrup sandwiches in Gilyard's childhood, too. Sugar added to milk, to make it seem more like a meal. And when there was no milk, he ate cereal with water.
"I was a skinny little kid," Gilyard said with a smile. "I was like a lollipop."
The two biggest reasons why Gilyard can look back on those days with some buoyancy were his mom, Viola Gilyard Crudup, and his older brother by nine years, Otis. They got him through it without letting the daily heartbreaks break him down.
When Mardy would ask Otis for a specific kind of food, the response was often, "We ain't got none, but we'll figure it out."
"My mom, that's my girl," Gilyard said. "My brother [now a Flagler County, Fla., police officer], I don't know what I'd do without him."
"They sacrificed so much for me to be where I am now," he said.
Mardy is who he is today because of many experiences throughout his life. That included a 10-minute conversation with a homeless person at the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA) while playing for the University of Cincinnati in ‘09.
"I think he thought I was going to make fun of him or something," Gilyard said. "But I wanted to ask him about Katrina passing through."
Of course Gilyard could relate to a homeless man, after the way he grew up and the way he spent the fall of 2006.
Then-Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio had revoked his scholarship after a shoddy academic performance as a freshman. Gilyard wanted to drop out and come home, but his family wouldn't let him.
Without scholarship money but not without resolve, Gilyard did what he had to do. He lived in a loaned 2002 Grand Am, sleeping there most nights and working three jobs. He had a construction job, he sold cutlery door-to-door and he delivered pizzas.
"Where I'm from, my city's known for drugs, cocaine, dope, a lot of violence," Gilyard said. "I was happy to get out of there, and I was happy that someone wanted to send me to school somewhere. I wanted to go to the farthest place from home I could, and me doing that, everyone from back home respects that. They love that.
"They were like, 'Hey, don't come back down here. You know what these streets are like. We don't need you down here.'"
Gilyard stayed where he could do some good for himself. With his grades back in order and his scholarship returned, he caught 36 passes for 536 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. Those numbers jumped to 81 catches for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. This year his stats have been nearly identical: 80 receptions, 1,150 yards, 11 TDs.
The day Mardy got drafted by the St. Louis Rams (4-24-10), he promised his mom there will be no mayonnaise sandwiches anymore.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.