Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
To celebrate the day, it is time for a Throwback Thursday post where I will focus on former players from both teams that face off in the final game of the day. Today, we look into the stories of Steelers safety Donnie Shell and Colts punter Hunter Smith.
Donnie Shell – S – Pittsburgh Steelers 1974-1985
Shell had an outstanding career on the football field. He was selected to 5 Pro Bowls, 3 All-Pro teams and was a member of three Super Bowl Championship teams with the mighty “Steel Curtain” defense that dominated the era of football. He played 201 career NFL games, all with the Steelers. He was a ferocious hitter on defense and for that skill was given the nickname “Torpedo”. According to Wikipedia, he now serves as the Director of Spiritual Life at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC.
But one of my favorite parts of Shell’s story is the hard hitting impact he made on a young teammate in 1977. Shell’s new roommate at training camp was an undrafted defensive back named Tony Dungy. As you can read in this article from billygraham.org, Shell played an important role in Dungy choosing to live his life for Christ. Dungy was a quarterback in college and was learning a new position in the NFL so he was with Shell a lot, learning how to be a defensive back. He calls Shell “probably the most on-fire Christian guy I had ever met at that point in time” Shell shares the story like this:
“He (Dungy) really thought he wasn’t going to make the team. I saw the concerned look on his face. And I said, ‘Well, you know, maybe in this instance you’re putting football before God and before the things He wants you to learn from what you’re going through.” Dungy responded “‘Man, I never thought about that. “His testimony about that is in the first book he wrote, about how that moment turned his life around spiritually and helped put his priorities in order.”
You can read more about Torpedo’s story here.
My takeaway from Shell’s story is this:
You Never Know the Role You’ll Play– The story on Tony Dungy talks about the many people that influenced Dungy in his Christian Walk. Donnie Shell was one of those people. Here was a guy he was just meeting, someone who was looking to make an NFL team. And Shell suggests that maybe football is not the most important thing that Dungy should be focussed on. Maybe God is trying to show him a lesson. We are great at making up excuses. I know that I am. It is easy to find reasons to back-burner our faith around others. But there are many examples of people who didn’t shy away from these conversations – people who put God first in everything and that means talking openly about Him and the role He plays in their lives. God has a path laid out for us and it is not simply a path to get us from point A to point B. It is also full of opportunities to share what God is doing with others around us. Are you ready to “give reason for the faith that is in you” (1 Peter 3.15). Dungy has become one of the most outspoken Christians in the sports world. He has mentored others (Michael Vick for example) on the field and in Spiritual Life. And God used Donnie Shell to help bring this to be. Who is God calling you to share your faith with? How could God use them to reach others? Let’s not shy away, let’s let the world know why Jesus is our Lord.
Hunter Smith P Indianapolis Colts 1999-2008
Hunter Smith punted for the Indianapolis Colts for a decade. He finished his career with 2 seasons in Washington. He was named to the 1999 All-Rookie Team and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006. He is the only Special Teams player in NFL history to score a rushing TD and a passing TD in the same season.
And like Shell, Smith’s off the field life also deserves some mention. He is an author having released a book called “The Jersey Effect”. The goal of the book is to “provide a proper perspective on sports. God has more for us than just sports. Our culture says sports is everything, but God says He is everything. We are trying to direct people to a healthy relationship with God“. He is a singer songwriter with Connorsvine and now with the Hunter Smith Band. Read about the story of his careers here. Check out his musical skills.
A career in the NFL means lots of travel, living out of suitcases and so a transition to country/rock band may be easy enough to do, but as you can read in this interview with Beliefnet, Hunter Smith got to live out a band tour experience traveling with Christian Band Third Day. Smith says “It was not a musical thing. It was just a spiritual thing for them as a band. They asked me to come on and lead them in Bible studies and kind of be a tour pastor–sort of Bible study leader for them. I did that a few times with them.”
And while he enjoyed playing football and he enjoys playing music, that is not where he finds his identity. This is a lesson that was driven home after winning the Super Bowl in Feb 2007. From an Indy Star article “Smith realized quickly after winning the big game against the Chicago Bears in Miami that the glory was short-lived.“Can the Colts repeat in 2007?” reporters began asking the next day.“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Can we repeat?’ ” Smith said. “We just won. Can’t we just stop and celebrate this one?”Smith had what he calls an epiphany on the flight back to Indianapolis.“This doesn’t last. There are things in life that last. And this is not one of them,” he said. “I learned about the temporal things of this earth a lot more and the eternal things. Family and God.”
My takeaway from Smith’s story
What Really Matters?- I think this is a great thing to remember and remind ourselves of daily. We get so caught up focussing on stuff that doesn’t really matter. We convince ourself that we will be so much better off if this or that happens but when it does, it is fleeting, unsatisfying and we start looking for the next thing. I think I am going to write it on signs in my car, on my desk at work, on my closet door at home – Three simple words – “What Really Matters?” This thing, whatever it may be, does it matter? Is it forever? If not, it is time to readjust the focus back to God.