Houston Chronicle article
May 9, 1992

Faith on the Field

Former Dallas Cowboys coach praises ministry to athletes

by Carey Kinsolving

Former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry’s admiration for Washington Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs is unabashed. No small part of the reason is that they both are equally serious Christians.

“It’s pretty hard to hate the Redskins with Joe Gibbs as the coach,” Landry told a Fellowship of Christian Athletes fund-raiser at the Touchdown Club recently. “It was a lot easier when George Allen was the coach (of the Redskins).”

Landry – although former Buffalo quarterback Jack Kemp was in the audience – admitted he cheered for the Redskins in their victory over the Bills in this year’s Super Bowl.

Two years ago, Landry was inducted into the Touchdown Club Hall of Fame. Landry said Allen, who since has died, was still talking about the pass from Clint Longley to Drew Pearson that beat the Redskins in 1974 and spoiled Thanksgiving for Washington fans.

Landry recalled his spiritual journey starting with his boyhood years in Mission, Texas. His parents taught him to attend church. But as he climbed through the football ranks, he experienced a “restlessness and emptiness,” first as a player and then as a coach.

In 1956, Landry coached defense for the New York Giants team that defeated the Chicago Bears for the National Football League championship. Vince Lombardi, who later became one of the game’s greatest coaches as leader of the Green Bay Packers, directed the Giants’ offense.

But even as he neared the top of his profession, Landry wondered why his happiness at his achievements didn’t seem to last. He considered leaving football.

Two years later, Landry shared his restlessness with a Christian friend who invited him to a Bible study in Dallas. Landry said he knew the Christmas and Easter stories and didn’t think he needed to study the Bible. His friend, however, persisted.

Landry found he was challenged by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”

Landry said God opened him to the gospel. “I’ve often said that if they would have told me you’re saved by grace, it would have saved me a lot of time,” Landry said. “It took me a while to get through all the facts to really understand the Bible and what the gospel of Jesus Christ was all about.”

Sounding like a Bible expositor, Landry recounted a story from the New Testament book of Acts. A fearful Philippian jailer was about to commit suicide when he assumed his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake. In those days, jailers who lost prisoners were executed.

After the Apostle Paul assured him that his prisoners had not run away, the jailer, moved by their kindness, asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” Landry said, quoting Paul’s response.

Landry said he was 35 years old at the time, had attended church all of his life and yet never entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. “I thought that when you went down to join the church that made you a Christian,” he said.

Football had been his No. 1 priority. Now, he said, God was No. 1.

When Landry became head coach of the fledgling Dallas Cowboys in 1960, he said he was a rookie head coach and a rookie Christian, “a terrible combination.”

In 1962, Landry began three decades of boosting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when he attended a summer camp with 1,200 coaches and athletes in Estes Park, Colo.

“I saw that week of inspiration and perspiration and saw what took place during a short period of time in the lives of coaches and athletes,” Landry said.

FCA hosts weeklong summer camps in 53 locations where 10,000 athletes train under the supervision of professional and college athletes and coaches. Amateur athletes hear pros talk about how their faith makes a difference on and off the playing field. They meet in small groups to discuss how biblical principles apply to today’s problems.

In Northern Virginia, Dan Britton, FCA area director and professional lacrosse player for the Baltimore Thunder, works with athletes from 32 schools. Athletes from junior high school to college meet weekly in “huddles” for prayer, Bible study, outreach programs and special projects. Last year FCA athletes in Northern Virginia raised money to distribute turkeys to needy families during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“The big key to FCA is that kids get blown away by being loved for who they are,” Britton said. “That’s the Christlike way, and they’re not getting it at home, with their friends or at school.”

 

Donrey News Service article
September 27, 1991

Florida State coach finds stadium to be a huge pulpit

by Carey Kinsolving

Coach Bobby Bowden of the No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles faced the huge challenge of No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, with a possible national title on the line. So how did he spend the weekend before?

Witnessing for Jesus.

The Seminoles were idle so Bowden flew to West Virginia to speak to a group of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I don’t have any more business flying up there than the man in the moon,” Bowden said, acknowledging something even higher was motivating him. “I’ve got to catch a plane, land in between those mountains up there, which scares me to death, drive for two hours, make my talk and fly back here in time to be on TV Saturday night.”

On Sunday, Bowden preached – he prefers to say, “I just talk” – at a Methodist church. And he talked to a journalist about his priorities in life.

“Football stadiums are the biggest pulpits there are,” he said. “Christ has done so much for me, the least I can do is witness for him.”

Bowden fell in love with both God and football early in life. When he was 4, his dad took him up on their roof to watch high school football practice across the street. When Bowden was 10, he said, he “trusted Jesus as Savior.”

Now he belongs to the First Baptist Church in Tallahassee but rarely attends because of speaking engagements at other churches.

“Sometimes I speak three times on a Sunday. I don’t go ask people ‘Can I speak to your church?’ but I don’t turn down invitations. I feel like God has given me everything, and I’ve got to give him something back.”

Bowden, no Sunday Christian, said he tries to instill that same “giving back” attitude into his players. He said he prays with his players and brings in special speakers to help mold their spiritual lives.

“I look at this as an important part of their education,” he said.

Heisman Trophy prospect quarterback Casey Welden, fullback Edgar Bennet and Matt Friar are three of several committed Christians on Bowden’s team.

Although the Associated Press poll ranks the Seminoles No. 1, Bowden relegates football to No. 4 in his life. God, country and family come before football. “If winning is your top priority, you’re in for a tough career. Nobody is going to win them all.

“Football is a way God has given me to feed my family, pay my debts and witness for Jesus Christ. I’m going to do my best to win along the way.”

Bowden hasn’t always won. After four consecutive winning seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers posted a 4-7 record. Bowden took his children to campus only to see himself hung in effigy. “See Daddy up there in the tree,” he told them.

During such bleak days, a West Virginia friend offered encouragement with a statement that now serves as a motto for Bowden. “The best steel goes through the hottest fire.”

“God was putting me through ‘the hottest fire’ to make me what he wanted me to be,” Bowden said. “I never lost faith in him and continually prayed and searched the scriptures for strength not to fail. God delivered me.”

In spite of seeing both good times and bad, three of Bowden’s sons are college football coaches. So every Saturday during the fall, Ann Bowden, Bobby Bowden’s wife of 42 years, agonizes over four football games.

She won’t go to sleep until she finds out how everyone has done, Bobby Bowden said. This season Ann Bowden has had sweet dreams. The Bowden clan is 12-1 for the season.