November 4 2019

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.”