As the National Football League kicks off its 100th season tonight, with a game celebrating the league’s oldest rivalry in a head-to-head match. It seems fitting that I launch my football blog season with a Throwback Thursday post in honor of the Bears-Packers rivalry. And so tonight, I start the season off with a look at Wide Reciever Carroll Dale.
Carroll Dale was drafted with the 86th pick in the 1960 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He spent 5 seasons with them, 3 as a Tight End before transitioning to Receiver. He was traded to the Packers where he was a key part of 3 consecutive NFL championships, including Super Bowl I & II. He was named to 3 straight Pro Bowls as well after the ’68, ’69 and ’70 seasons. He played a total of 8 seasons with the Packers, and after 1 final season with the Minnesota Vikings, Dale retired. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. All told, he amassed over 8,000 yards and scored 52 touchdowns in his career. The football stadium at his high school in Virginia is named after him.
Playing for those early Super Bowl era Packers teams means that Dale played for legendary coach Vince Lombardi. He recalls one exchange that he had with Lombardi. Lombardi said “In the New Testament, St. Paul talks about three words, ‘Run to win.’ Then he looked at me and said, “You’ve heard those words before, right Carroll?” I said, “Yes.” After the game, which we won 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders, I went home, and searched in my Bible and found the words Lombardi talked about: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Lombardi, perhaps inspired by this verse, also famously said “Winning is not everything — but making the effort to win is.”
Dale was a high school student when he came across the bible verse that helped guide his life. I appreciate it because this verse has meant a lot to me in my life, too. It is Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He considered it in the context of his life, saying “I didn’t think being a Christian would make me a successful football player, but having this first helped everything else fall into place,”. It all comes down to priorities. In a message he shared a few years ago while speaking at a church, he said “Priorities, putting first things first, is a life-long message. It’s not just for athletes.” His priority is putting God first. Sounds like an important reminder to me!
Here are my takeaways from Dale’s story:
1- Priorities – What a treasure that verse in Matthew 6 is! Seek God first, and all the other things will be taken care of. This verse comes at the end of a chapter where a lot of conversation centers around worry. We worry a lot. For me, I worry about being a good husband, a good father, a good employee. Am I a positive influence over the people I have influence over? Will my mistakes catch up with me, or lead people down a wrong path? Several years ago, I was offered a chance to work a dream job, kids ministry at a church I had been attending. I wanted to take it, but for some reason, I knew I wasn’t supposed to. As I prayed and considered my next steps, I felt led to go to a Missionary Training Program and go into full time missionary work. It was scary, it was out of my comfort zone, and I chose it, turning down a job that I really wanted. And at missionary training, I learned a lot about God and grew in my walk with Him. I also met the woman who would (a year later) become my wife. And now, years later, I am doing a job I love – Elementary ministry at a church, and I am still married to this amazing woman that I met at missionary training. I have 4 amazing daughters that teach me and hold me accountable for what I teach them. Has life been perfect? no. Have there been hard bumps in the road? yes. Will there continue to be those? I’m almost certain. But this verse reminds me that my responsibility is to make God number 1 in my life. I can’t do that on my own, but in His grace, He helps me remember to “Seek Him first and look at His example of righteousness”. And the other details in life will work out according to His plan. And His plan is the best!
2- Run to Win – Paired along with that last thought, I know that my efforts to follow God on my own will fail. But He has somehow worked it out that He will help me to follow Him. It is not our abilities that please God. It is our willingness to ask for His help and live in obedience to Him. Putting Him first and seeking Him every day is how we run this race of life to win. And because of Him, we are victorious. We are victorious over the challenges and hurdles that without Him would overwhelm us. It is only because of Him. He is the victor and has won for us. We get the benefit of His redemptive work. So let’s run to win, knowing that He has secured victory for those who choose to live for Him.