There are hundreds of stories of great athletes with which I have been blessed to be involved. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been the venue for such fellowship. I have gotten to know well some of America’s most outstanding personalities in a variety of sports and at different levels of competition.
The press has not always represented the real character of some. The press was critical of Tom Landry, saying he had no sense of humor. I had an opportunity to see his true personality. For example, one night Tom and Deacon Dan Towler, fullback for the LA Rams, and I sat in a hotel with those two badgering each other. Tom recounted a play when he was a defensive back for the New York Giants playing against the Rams, with Dan as fullback. The Rams were on the Giants’ 1-yard line. At that time the goal posts were on the goal line. Tom said everyone on the field and in the stands knew Dan was going to get the ball. He did, tucked his head, and plowed into the goal post. The impact knocked Dan back and almost out. Tom walked over to Dan and looking down said, “If you try to come through my hole again, I will kill you next time.” Dan laughed harder than either of us.
The character of former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne showed through when we were walking on the campus of a retreat in Indiana. He had resigned as the Nebraska coach. He was melancholy as he said, “Five years ago I told one of my coaches if he would stay with me five more years I would resign and do all possible to see he got the job.” He continued, “At the end of the five years I had just won two consecutive national championships, had the best incoming group of recruits I had every had, and didn’t want to retire, but I gave the man my word and retired.” Then his true self came through as he spoke of the blessing related in Psalm 15:4, “He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
Retiring at that stage did hurt him, but he kept his word.
I will protect the anonymity of this man who was one of the first black people to play on the PGA Tour. He was playing in the pro/am round preceding the Atlanta golf tournament. One of his friends told me he was struggling with some issues and asked if I would talk with him when he came. We were introduced and sat together as we snacked. He opened the conversation by saying he had an emptiness inside. A perfect setup. I said, “There are a lot of people here who would love to play against me, but if you, with your ability and skills could come inside me and play through me, I would be a winner.”
Then I related how there was a spiritual transaction where one could enter him and live through him a fulfilling life. I further shared how Jesus Christ could do exactly that. Following a brief interchange, he prayed that request.
Some weeks later I got a call from his wife asking what I told him that changed him so. She wanted me to tell her what I told him. I did and she followed him in faith.