TOM LANDRY: A MAN OF GOD AND FOOTBALL
When I read of the death of Tom
Landry, 75, who led the Dallas Cowboys to 20 straight winning seasons, 13
division titles, five Super Bowl appearances and two championships - my mind
went back to 1983 when I had the privilege to interview him just before one
NFL championship game.
To the millions of Americans who
watched him on TV, Landry always seemed in control of the situation. Dressed
impeccably in a tie and fedora hat, he was always extraordinarily calm,
whose face seemed absolutely emotionless. Why? ''My players had to believe I
was in control,'' Landry once told the AP. ''It would hurt them to see me
But often he was not invincible.
For the three years before my interview, the Cowboys lost the championship
game needed to get into the Super Bowl. For these reasons, his attitudes on
winning and losing were particularly interesting.
He gave God credit for victories,
but never gave Him credit for losses!
''I believe that my talent comes
from the Lord, and whatever success I've had is because of my belief in
God,'' he told me. ''I believe He has a plan for my life, and uses my
influence to further His kingdom. But God doesn't take sides on football
How then, does God work?
''I rely on Him to give me
concentration and to be prepared to do as well as I can.'' For example, in
the middle of a game, ''something will come to mind and I'll make a decision
to call a play. I don't know where the idea comes from - whether God placed
it in my mind or not. But I know He prepares us to meet the trials of
According to Rev. Leighton Farrell,
his pastor at the time, when people asked Coach Landry if he prayed for
victory, he replied, ''My prayer is not to win, but that every person might
play to the best of his ability, and that there be no major injuries.''
The day before I saw Landry in
Dallas, Philadelphia's head coach, Dick Vermeil, who led the Eagles from
mediocrity to the Super Bowl, resigned though he had years left on his
contract. ''I am emotionally burned out,'' he said after a losing season.
Asked about that, Landry said, ''If you put your whole priority on winning
football games, you can be burned out when you lose.''
Before he committed his life to
Christ in 1958, winning football games WAS Landry's highest priority. During
a Bible study in the off-season, at his home, he decided to transform his
nominal church-going Christianity ''where God got lost in the shuffle,'' to
a point where Christ would be the No. 1 priority in his life.
He said, ''I did not have a flash
on the road to Damascus'' (a dramatic conversion, like St. Paul). And the
impact was gradual. But in reading the Bible daily for 15-20 minutes, he
developed a new way of looking at people, his family and at winning and
losing. He was no longer as excited by either victory or defeat, and began
exuding a calm confidence that inspired others.
And he created an atmosphere in
which players could grow spiritually as well as physically. First, he
invited players and their wives to join a tea Bible study. And a chapel
service was organized before every game.
The approach worked. Former star
quarterback Roger Staubach testified at his funeral, ''He was our rock, our
hope, our inspiration. He was our coach. Probably there were some players
that didn't love him, but all respected him. He was committed to us and you
don't find that type of commitment in life very often.''
His son, Tom Landry, Jr., told the
congregation filled with Pro Football Hall of Famers and Super Bowl
champions, ''Tom Landry was everything the world believed him to be. He was
a man of virtue, of high moral character, a man whose talents and hard work
propelled him to the top of his profession. Tom Landry never strayed from
his ideals. He remains a consistent shining example to all of us.''
Shortly after I interviewed Coach
Landry, the team lost the championship to the Washington Redskins, led at
the time by Coach Joe Gibbs, another committed Christian. After the victory,
every Redskin fell on his knees on national TV and recited the Lord's
Prayer, led by Gibbs.
A day later, I called Landry and
asked him if he had prayed for victory. He laughed and replied, ''There's
nothing wrong with praying for victory, but God might get divided if there
are Christians on both sides!''
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.