Three Times – Thomas Davis Sr. – Carolina Panthers

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Panthers Linebacker Thomas Davis

There is a well known saying in English that says “third time’s a charm” or “third time lucky”.  There is another one that says “three strikes and you are out”.  So which of these opposing statements is true? For Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, both had their day in court.  But the fact that he is still playing as a key part of a highly regarded defense means that something is going on that has allowed him to persevere through trial and difficulty. Today is the first of my features on players in the Conference Championship games. We shine the light on Thomas Davis and the remarkable journey that he has been on in his NFL career.

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Davis has suffered and returned from 3 ACL injuries on the same knee.

A first round pick (#14 overall) Davis has spent his whole career with the Panthers after they drafted him as a safety out of the University of Georgia – the only Division I college to offer him a scholarship. He became a starter in his second season and continued to start for the next 3 seasons, starting all 16 games each season. That brings us to 2009. As you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, Davis was putting together another stellar season. But in the 7th game of the year, Davis tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). That wiped out the rest of his season, and put him on a long rehab process to regain the strength in his knee.  Then in May, the Panthers were having some Organized Team Activities. Davis tore the ACL in the same knee. Davis first report to his wife, Kelly, was that he was done. But after talking it over and praying, Davis decided to rehab and try to get back to the field, despite another  lost season, and more rehab to come. During this time, Davis shares that he knew that God was using this for a purpose. He says “God strategically does things for a reason. He did this because He knew I could handle it. What am I going to do now that this happened? Am I going to sulk and be disappointed and fade away, or am I going to come back stronger and work my butt off to get back on the field and play the game I’ve invested in and the game I love playing?

So Davis worked hard to regain his strength and get ready to return to the field. And then 2 games in to the 2011 season, Davis faced strike three. He injured the ACL in the same knee yet again.

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Thomas Davis with his wife Kelly who has been a strong support through the injuries

No player had ever come back from 3 ACL injuries to the same knee. (since Davis’ third injury, one more has made it – Terrell Thomas who I blogged about a couple years back) Davis settled in to thinking that his career was over. Three strikes and you are out. Davis decided to rehab again and try to see if the third time would be the charm that would allow him to return to the field and stay healthy. During this time, Davis had strong support from his wife, helping him rehab and taking care of him as through his pain. (you can read more about it in this story from panthers.com.) What could he learn through this time? How could God use these injuries to teach Davis something about God and about himself.

Each year, Sports Spectrum puts out a video featuring the faith story of an NFL player to show as a halftime alternative at Super Bowl outreach events that churches and ministries may put on. Thomas Davis is the player featured this season. Check out the trailer for this years “Power to Win” video

 

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Thomas Davis earlier this season preserves a Panthers victory with a late interception.

 

Here are my takeaways from Davis’ story:

1- No Strike Count – As mentioned earlier, the saying “Three strikes and you are out” didn’t apply to Davis’ ACL.  He became the first pro athlete to return from 3 surgeries on the same knee to play again. Despite the temptation to quit, he kept persevering and rehabbing. He earned another chance.  Likewise, God grants us endless chances to turn to Him and turn away from our sin. It is not a three strikes and you are out deal with Him either. The difference is that we don’t have to earn another chance from God. As long as we have breath, He will lovingly pursue us and show Himself to us. If you have ever thought that you have done too many bad things for God to love you or forgive you, it gives me great joy to tell you that it simply is not true.

2 –Third times’ the charm –  With each ACL injury, it seemed like Davis’ luck was all bad. But with each ACL injury, Davis will tell you that God taught him something valuable. He learned lessons like the joys of fame and celebrity are fleeting, that it was important to be a good husband and that God was calling him to give back to the community.  So in the end, not only did Davis’ injury heal each time, but Davis grew closer to God and God used his story and the lessons Davis was learning to point others to Christ.

As Davis and the Panthers move toward the NFC Championship game this week, Davis’ amazing story has an increased platform. But no matter what the outcome of this season, Davis’ amazing journey has encouraged many that God can do amazing things in our lives and He does them not for our fame but for His purposes.

TBT – Intercepted – Paul Krause – Minnesota Vikings

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NFL All-Time Interception Leader Paul Krause finished with 81 picks.

Nothing can demoralize a team or a fan base quite like an interception when they are driving down the field. Regardless of whether the team is working to take the lead or score to put a game out of reach, when the pass is intercepted, it is like a punch to the gut of those invested in the game and it can give hope or relief to the intercepting team because their lead is safe or because their hope is no longer lost. Vikings know this well having seen their Super Bowl hopes in 2009 dashed by a Tracy Porter interception in the closing moments.

But a Vikings great – Paul Krause – broke some other teams hearts, too.  He is the all time NFL Interception leader with 81.  And while I won’t say it is an unbreakable record, I can tell you that no one will even come close for a long time.  Here is Krause talking about his record and his place in the Hall of Fame.

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Krause was drafted by the Redskins, and although he starred with Washington, he was traded to the Vikings in 1968.

As you can read in this article from TheGoal.com, Krause grew up in Flint, Michigan.  He played collegiately at Iowa where he starred as both a receiver and a defensive back. But the Washington Redskins made Krause a second round draft pick as a safety.  He intercepted 12 passes as a rookie including 7 games in a row (tied for second longest streak all-time).  After 4 seasons and 28 interceptions with the Redskins, he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings and as you can read in this article from Redskins.com, the Redskins know that they made a mistake.

And what a mistake it would be.  Krause who played in 2 Pro Bowls in 4 years with Washington, went to 5 more Pro Bowls, won NFL Championship (1969) and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

But just like many quarterbacks were caught unaware and had their plans upended by Krause’s work, Krause had his life turned upside down a few years ago.  In his words from TheGoal.com, he says “About two and a half years ago my wife was in a car accident. A friend called to say she hadn’t arrived and when I went out to look for her I found a helicopter rushing her to a nearby hospital. She had to be revived twice on the way there. Somehow I knew she would live, but for five and a half months she was in a coma. The battles did not end when she left the hospital, either. An injury to her brainstem has changed her personality some and she has to have care 24 hours a day. I have experienced just about every emotion you can imagine during all of this and I still don’t know why it happened. But I trust that God knows and when I get to heaven, I’ll ask Him. For now I know that my wife and I have grown closer and our whole family continues to prayer for her recovery.”

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Krause was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998

His faith in God sustained him throughout his career and continues to guide him in life after football both with his recovering wife and in his community involvement.

Here are my takeaways from Krause’s story

1- If you believe in God – Pray– In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, Krause shared how the doctors told him that his wife would not survive her accident.  He says “The doctor told me ‘if you believed in God, start praying.’  I never believed that she would die and I’m glad she’s here today“. I am learning a lot about the power of prayer and how God hears us.  James 4 talks about how sometimes our motives are not right for what we pray about.   But when we are connecting with God and our motives are for His glory, how sweet it is to know that the Creator of the Universe is listening.  He has the power to exceed our expectations and show up in amazing miraculous ways.  The bible also invites us to pray without ceasing, which means that we can never pray too much.  Let’s take advantage of this amazing, miracle working resource that we have and let’s pray for His presence and His glory to be seen through our lives and story.

2- Interception – We all have our dreams and ways that we imagine life working out for the best.  But sometimes, our plans are intercepted by heartache, injury, sickness, circumstances and all sorts of unexpected problems.  But our God is a master coach and game planer.  Let’s keep trusting Him, rely on Him for strength and peace in the midst of challenge and let’s have confidence that He has a plan in place for our victory.

3- The Can’t Take it Away – Krause, in his video, talks about how he isn’t sure he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but now that he is, it cannot be taken away.  The same can be said about God’s plan of salvation for us.  We do not deserve it.  It is crazy to think that we could somehow be in a position to receive the gift of eternity with God in heaven.  And yet that is the joyful reality that we can know.  If we have chosen to make God Lord of our Life, if we are living our life for Him then we are offered exactly that gift.  And it can’t be taken away from us.  Once we have chosen to follow Him we can be assured that we will be with Him forever.  What a gift it is!

TBT – True Heroism – Bart Starr – Green Bay Packers

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Green Bay Greats – Starr and Favre on Thanksgiving Night in Green Bay

On Thanksgiving Night, the Green Bay Packers honored a legend.  Brett Favre had his number retired by the Green Bay Packers, where he spent the majority of his career – a career that will likely see him chosen as one of the class of 2016 for the NFL Hall of Fame.  He is deserving of the tribute that the Packers gave him, and since he also played a couple of successful seasons with the hometown vikings, I can say some nice things about him without alienating anyone here.

Also on hand was Packer great Bart Starr – the first great quarterback for the Packers.

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Starr leads Green Bay to Victory in Super Bowl I

Drafted in the 17th round (200th pick) by the Packers in 1956, on a recommendation from the basketball coach of the University of Alabama, where Starr played collegiate football, Starr split time at QB for the Packers until 1959 when Vince Lombardi took over as coach of the team.  He made Starr the starter and together, they would lead the Packers to great success.  They won the NFL championship in `61 and `62.  They would miss the playoffs for the next 2 seasons before becoming the only team in NFL history (still to this day) to win 3 championships in a row including the first two championship games that bore the new label “Super Bowl” .  Starr would win the League MVP in 1966.  He would finish his career in 1971 finishing as a 2 time Super Bowl MVP, 4 time Pro Bowl player, and voted #51 on the all time greatest players list by NFL.com.

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Starr had his number 15 retired by the Packers in 1973. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Starr would go on to be the Packers head coach for 9 seasons, starting in 1974.  During that time, the Packers would qualify for the post-season only 1 time,winning the Wild Card game before losing in the next round.

After football, Starr had his number 15 retired by the Packers,  in 1977, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He now also has an award named after him.  The Bart Starr award is presented annually to the NFL player who “demonstrates good character in the home as well as leadership on their teams and in their communities”.

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Starr is co-founder of Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London Wisconsin.

Starr also co-founded the Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London, Wisconsin which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

It would be easy to look at the success that Starr had on the field and the amazing impact that he has had on lives off the field and look to him as a hero.  But he, himself speaks against that idea in this article from BeyondtheUltimate.com.  Here you can read Starr talk about the sports heroes that he looked up to and how they all pale in comparison to Jesus – the only true Hero.  This made me think of a great song by Christian songwriter Steve Taylor.  His song “Hero” speaks to this point.  Part of the lyric goes:

Growing older you’ll find that illusions are brought
And the idol you thought you’d be was just another zero

Starr has been a hero to many, but he is careful to use his place and position to point to the one true Hero that we can know in this life – Jesus!

Here are my takeaways from Starr’s story:

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Coach Starr is the third longest tenured head coach in Packers history with 131 games coached

1- Perfection is Hard to Attain – We have all had people that we have looked up to in our life that have let us down.  It is a real danger for me with this blog.  My goal is not to idolize the athletes that I write about, but to focus on how God has worked in their life, or how He is working through them to impact others.  There are some that I have planned on writing about, but as I research their stories, I come across something that gives me pause to feature them and there are some that I have blogged about here that have been in scandals or troubles brought on by poor decisions.  Every time we look up to someone, no matter who it may be – a famous athlete or a big brother – we don’t have to look to far to find that like me, they are flawed people in need of the same forgiveness and grace that I need for this life to have any meaning. and so…

2- Jesus IS that hero – Starr talks about it in the article.  He says “In my effort to succeed as a football player, I went through difficult times, but my experiences paled in comparison to what Jesus endured during His life”.  He continues, saying “Regardless of the successes I have experienced, if my life does not exhibit God’s love, it becomes less meaningful.”  As we see that all others will at some point let us down, and as we come to grips with the truth that we also will let others down, it reminds us that our focus should be on Jesus.  He is the one that will NEVER let us down.  Let HIM be the Hero you try to emulate!

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David Claerbaut’s book on Bart Starr

3- Faith grows through testing –  In his book Bart Starr: When Leadership Mattered, David Claerbaut shares a tragedy from Starr’s youth that formed in him a reliance on God and a strengthening of faith.  At the age of 13, Starr’s younger brother Hilton (Bubba)  cut his foot on a dog bone while playing hide and seek.  3 days later, he died of infection (Tetanus).  Claerbaut writes “From Childhood forward, Starr would have to call on his iron will fed by his faith that God did all things for a reason… His faith kept him from despair… `It was a very difficult period.  Anything less than strong faith and I do not think you could get through something like that”.  Tragedy and unspeakable heartbreak is not a stranger to many in this life.  Without Christ, the pain often is unmanageable and leads to despair.  With Christ, the pain still exists, but there, buried in the heartache, is the unmistakable glow of hope.  Hope that reminds us that this life is not all there is.  Hope that reminds us that there is One more powerful than death who wants us to know Him and lean on Him because our strength is nowhere near enough to carry us.

 

TBT- Thanksgiving double feature – Running for God’s Glory – Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith

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Happy Thanksgiving from Living Up to My Name!

Growing up in Canada, thanksgiving was the second Monday in October.  It was a special day often spent with extended family and being intentional to thank God for His provision and faithfulness.  Then, as November rolled in, we settled into the cold and often snow that was going to be around for the next few months and looked ahead to the Christmas season.  But what a special day it was when on the last Thursday in November, I could come home from school and turn on NFL football.  It was not a holiday in Canada, but it was like a celebration because there was football on in the middle of the week.

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Barry Sanders was my favorite player when he played. In 1997, he had a memorable 3 touchdown performance against the Bears.

Only years later, when I would move to the US would I celebrate Thanksgiving in November, too (my wife and our  family celebrate Canadian thanksgiving too).  I still enjoy the football games, but the holiday and the family time are among the most special in the year.

So as I tribute to Thanksgiving this year, and in recognition of my Throwback Thursday series, I would like to shine my blog spotlight on 2 of the running backs I watched in my youth in Canada on U.S. Thanksgiving days.

Here is an article about the Thanksgiving Day resumes of these 2 great backs.

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Sanders retired from football after the 1998 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 1997, I attended my first NFL game. Lions versus Bears in Chicago.  Not knowing any better, I wore a Barry Sanders jersey to Soldier Field.  I heard all about it, but Sanders did not let me down.  He rushed for 161 yards and the Lions won 32-7.  Later that season, Sanders would have his best Thanksgiving day game of his career, agains versus the Bears.  He rushed for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a 55-20 Lions victory.  Here is a collection of Barry Sanders highlights.  His 3 TDs against the bears start at about the 8:30 mark but the whole video is worth a look.

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Emmitt Smith had his own 3 TD Thanksgiving Day game in 1996 against the Redskins.

But as fun as it was to watch Sanders on the field, it brings me a greater sense of happiness to share about his faith in God.  As you can read in this interview from Forerunner, Sanders strives to live for God and has surrounded himself with people to help keep him on track.  It was in college where Sanders became a Christian.  He says “Then I met some people who challenged me to a greater commitment – people who really loved God and were walking with God with no compromise. They weren’t afraid to get in my face and challenge me. That’s the point when I was saved”.

As for Emmitt Smith, who scored 13 touchdowns in his career on Thanksgiving Day games, it was a detour on his way to a concert that changed his life.  As you can hear in the video below, Smith was encountering some turbulence in his career. Check out the video.

He says “Turbulence itself will make you hold on to something”. So in the midst of the turbulence, the verse that his grandmother shared with him when he was a boy came back to him.  Proverbs 3.5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

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Emmitt Smith was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010 as the all time leading NFL rusher.

Smith was invited to attend a conference at the Potter’s House with T.D. Jakes.  It was there that Emmitt Smith turned his life over to Jesus.  He continued to become the all-time leading rusher in NFL history and an NFL Hall of Famer.  He even went on to win Dancing with the Stars season 3.  He and his wife have started the Pat and Emmitt Smith Charities to help people dream big and find a purpose for their life.  Emmitt and Pat know that Jesus is what brings purpose to life, so their desire for others to know Him motivates their charity work and every aspect of their life.

Here are my takeaways from their stories:

1 – Humility is important –  One of the attributes that marked Barry Sanders career was the lack of showboating and grandstanding.  He was known as a humble man on the field and it showed in how he played the game.  In his letter to the Galatians (chapter 6) Paul writes “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14).  Our accomplishments and all that we can attain in this life are meaningless and worthless.  Only Jesus and what He has done matters in life.  In the grand scheme of things, our life only has purpose if we are following Him!

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Sanders and Smith presenting an award together at the NFL honors. I am glad that I got to watch these 2 play in their primes. I am honored to share their stories of faith in God today.

2- Hold On! – Emmitt Smith talks about turbulence.  It made me think of a day cruise my wife and I took to the Bahamas to close down our ministry base in 2005.  It was a rough day on the ocean and the boat was full of people who were not handling it well.  They were mostly sitting down, struggling for balance and struggling to keep their lunch from making another appearance.  Many were unsuccessful in one or both of these struggles.  Everyone was kind of holding on for dear life.  I like the analogy that Smith uses here.  When life is starting to rough us up a little, we hold on to what we know to be true.  That is why I think it is so vital to teach kids about God.  Even if they have a season in their life when they are not walking with Him, if they have a little something in there to grab on to when times are tough, He will bring it to the surface again.  That is like what we saw with Emmitt Smith.  He remembered the verse that his grandmother told him when he was younger.  And sure enough, God did direct his path to a place where he could meet and know his creator.

3- Lean Not on Your Own Understanding –  It is an oft quoted passage from the Bible, but deservedly so.  What a rich truth to understand.  Trust God with all your heart – don’t rely on yourself.  In everything put Him first and He will guide your path.  May this be the desire and prayer for each of us as we strive to live for Him and follow the adventure He has laid out for us.

TBT – Falling Short – Kevin Dyson & Les Steckel – Tennessee Titans

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Kevin Dyson (87) on his way to the End Zone – One of the most memorable plays in football history

Today, the Jaguars battle the Titans in a divisional matchup between teams with young quarterbacks and generally speaking a long way to go before being considered a legitimate contender for a Super Bowl title.  So since it is “Throwback Thursday” lets go back to the Tennessee Titans and their memorable playoff run in January, 2000.  It started with one of the most memorable plays in my lifetime when the Titans WR Kevin Dyson received a lateral pass from Frank Wychek and ran 75 yards for the winning touchdown with time expiring.   Tennessee called the play “Home Run Throwback”  It has since become known as the Music City Miracle.  In case you missed it.  Here is is.

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Close only counts in ….. Dyson tackled short of a Super Bowl victory just a few weeks later.

This was in the Wild Card match-up.  They played the Jacksonville Jaguars 3 times that season, beating them all three times – the only 3 losses for the Jags all season.  The Titans advanced to Super Bowk XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams.  It was a memorable game in that it was the closest game in Super Bowl history coming down to the last play when Kevin Dyson again was stopped just short of the end zone as time expired.  Here is the play now known as “The Tackle”

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Dyson is now a high school coach and Athletic Director. He enjoys talking about how God is working in his life.

Both plays featured Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson.  Dyson was drafted 16th overall by the Titans in the 1998 draft out of Utah.  As you can read in this story from the Jackson Sun Dyson hoped to have a stellar career in football like some others that he was drafted with.  However injuries slowed his career and affected his stats from matching theirs.  He goes on to say that he knows God had a plan in that for him and that he is still trusting God no matter what happens.  He is now a coach and athletic director at a high school in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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Titans Offensive Coordinator at the time was Les Steckel. He shares about his faith in God in his book.

The offensive coordinator for the Titans at that time was Les Steckel.  I live in Minnesota so I feel I should mention that his only head coaching experience in the NFL was a 3-13 season with the Vikings in 1984.  He was more successful as a coordinator as is evidenced by the fact that he was doing that job in the Super Bowl in 2000.  He called the play that looked like it would lead the Titans to the Championship, only to fall one yard short on a great tackle by Mike Jones of the Rams.  Steckel was frustrated with the loss.  As he poured out his grief in a prayer to God, God had an object lesson for him.  In this article from CBN, Steckel recounts that moment when God told him “Les, the team fell one yard short of victory tonight.  Do you know how many people out there are one yard short of eternal victory?  I expect you to go tell them.”
Steckel goes on to talk about his he has been fired 8 times in his career.  It has been humbling and painful each time.  And yet from those experiences, great things have arisen.  In 1999, a prayer journal entry that Steckel had written talked about a call to serve in a ministry of some sort within 5 years.  In 2003, Steckel was named the President and CEO of Fellowship of Christian Athletes – a role he still maintains today.

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Former NFL coach and current FCA CEO Les Steckel

Here are my takeaways from the stories of Dyson and Steckel.

1- Highs and Lows – Within a period of a few weeks, Kevin Dyson experienced the elation of victory and the agony of defeat – both times with the ball in his hand.  In the article I linked to earlier Dyson didn’t really talk about either play at the event that he was speaking at.  Instead, he talked about how he is still a work in progress and that those things don’t define him.  The same is true for us.  We will know times of great success and times of agonizing loss.  God uses both ends of this spectrum (and the many points in between) to refine us, mold us and remind us that we need to depend on Him in all circumstances.

2- We all fall short – Les Steckel felt God tell him that his task was to tell others of their need for God.  Romans 3.23 tells us that we are all sinners, and we all fall short of what God requires.  We are imperfect people struggling and striving to live well and find purpose. And unless we believe that Jesus is our Savior and make him number one in our lives, We will struggle to find that purpose.  But when we realize that we do come up short on our own but that He has made a way for us to be forgiven and made perfect in Him, we can excitedly share the joy with others that we know a God who forgives and love us despite our shortcomings.