Finding Your Band of Brothers
How does football provide an apt metaphor for the Christian's walk? Jeff Kemp, former NFL quarterback, shares life lessons he learned from his years playing professional football.
About the Guest
Jeff Kemp is a champion for strengthening relationships and teams. He’s dedicated to building benevolent men, fathering and marriages.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Jeff joined the National Football League (NFL) as an undrafted free agent. He and his dad, the late Vice-Presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, became the first of only six sets of NFL father-son quarterbacks. Growing u...more
How does football provide an apt metaphor for the Christian’s walk? Jeff Kemp, former NFL quarterback, shares life lessons he learned from his years playing professional football.
Finding Your Band of Brothers
Bob: As a former NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp knows a little bit about facing the blitz. He says those approaching linebackers would look a whole lot scarier if you didn’t have an offensive line there to protect you.
Jeff: You have to have brotherhood; you have to have teammates to get to the blitz. Christian men should have more fun and more friendship with their buddies than anyone else, and you ought to be honest and have that guy put his arm around you and say, “I respect you; thank you for telling me about your weakness. I’ll be praying for you. Hey, there’s something I need to tell you about my life.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
There are too many guys today who try to be the lone quarterback, who try to face the blitz on their own, and when it comes it flattens them. We’ll talk today about how you can be ready for the blitzes you’re going to face in your life, and I’m not talking football. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
A quick reminder that Father’s Day is almost here, and if you’ve not yet purchased a present for your father...
Dennis: We have something you can buy for him.
Bob: Well, I was actually going to talk to my kids, because I have a specific thing I’d like them to get me. Have you seen these mugs that—
Dennis: They can get it for you because you produced it. It’s a Stepping Up video series. That’d be a great Father’s Day gift.
Bob: I have that. I have it on my shelf at home.
Dennis: You produced it. So what do you want, Bob?
Bob: Have you seen these mugs that are supposed to keep your drink hot or cold for 24 hours?
Dennis: Oh, are you talking about a Yeti?
Bob: Yes; I don’t think we should say the brand name, you know, on FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Why not? They’re good; I got one for Christmas. You didn’t?
Bob: I don’t have one. I’m still—you see what I’m using here? I have the 49-cent refills.
Dennis: That’s pitiful. Let me see that. Good night!
Bob: I know. You get the 49-cent refills at the gas station, and I’m just thinking it would be nice to have one of those really nice thermal ones.
Dennis: Well, somebody knows one of the Lepine kids. Would you drop a hint and tell them to…
Bob: “This is what Dad would like for Father’s Day, and you can all pitch in on it.”
Dennis: “I’ll tell you what; there’s a size of those little Yeti tumblers that’s the size Bob likes. He likes the industrial size.”
Bob: “I want the 30-ounce.”
Dennis: You have to take it to a car-wash to get it cleaned.
Bob: So, here we are talking about Father’s Day this week, not only to remind you to get something for Dad for Father’s Day but also because it’s a good opportunity for men to pull back and just say, “How am I doing in the job God has assigned to me to be a man, to be a husband, to be a father,” and everybody who’s listening who’s a male fits into one of those three categories: he’s either a man, or a man and a husband, or a man and a husband and a father. He fits somewhere in there.
Dennis: And he’s going to fit with what we’re talking about today, because we’re going to talk to a former NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp, who is vice president and catalyst for helping others here at FamilyLife.
Jeff played in the NFL for eleven seasons at quarterback, and he knows a little bit about facing circumstances that are adversarial.
Bob: He is one of only two father-son teams who played in the NFL at quarterback.
Dennis: I’m trying to think who’s the other one.
Bob: That would be Archie and his two sons, right?
Dennis: Yes, that’s right; I’d forgotten about them.
Bob: So Jeff Kemp and his dad Jack were both NFL quarterbacks, and he’s written a book called Facing the Blitz and had an opportunity recently to kind of talk about how facing the blitz as a quarterback is a metaphor for what it’s like for every man to face circumstances that can be really difficult to fix. I think all of us are going to learn from Jeff’s wisdom on today’s program.
Jeff: So, in 1991 my life was pretty smooth and comfortable.
I was going into my eleventh year of the NFL. I had a great wife, Stacy, we had three children at the time, three sons; we’ve since had a fourth. We were comfortable financially, lived in a great neighborhood in Redmond, Washington, had a great school for our kids, a great church. Life was easy.
My wife started praying a prayer that I wouldn’t have let her pray had I known she was praying it. It was, “God, could you do something to stir up our lives so that our kids can experience faith in action?”
That’s a risky prayer. The season started off with an interesting twist, because I was going into my eleventh year, but I was the fourth quarterback in the depth chart in the summer, and they only keep two to three. So that was something good to pray about as a family, and then I ended up making the team—“Thank you, God; you answered that prayer”—but then we had two number one draft picks that were paid a lot more than me and were a lot taller, and the owner of the team liked them a lot more than me. I beat those guys out, and when the starting quarterback got hurt they didn’t play them, they were going to play me.
So now I’m a starter, which is a new set of things to pray about.
A few weeks down the road, we’re three and two, we’re going into a game against the Raiders on Sunday night football, and my wife is praying that I’m not going to read the newspaper because the paper says, “If Kemp doesn’t have a good game and the Seahawks don’t win, then there’s a good chance that the team will want to keep these two number one draft picks and then bring their starter, David Craig, off injured reserve, and there won’t be room for him and they’ll cut Kemp, unless he wins. It’d be hard to cut him if he wins.”
So she prayed I wouldn’t read the paper and feel that pressure, but I didn’t need to read the paper to feel the pressure! You feel it anyway.
So we go into the game, we’re playing pretty well, we’re winning in the fourth quarter, and darn it if I didn’t let my mind have a little bit of a lapse, and I thought, “This is a good game. I needed a good game. We’re winning. This is great.”
We go into overtime, the Raiders came back.
I threw a pass to a friend of mine, and over time—his name’s Ronnie Lot—
—safety on the wrong team. Used to be a friend on the Niners, but he wasn’t that night. Very next play, they kicked a field goal, beat us in overtime, we lose, and I’m cut two days later as a starting quarterback in the NFL. One day you’re playing, two days later you’re out of the league. Pretty quick rejection in a very conditional performance-based business.
But as if your business isn’t conditional and performance-based, right? We’ve all felt this.
So that night at dinner prayer Kyle, six years old, is saying a prayer, “Dear God, thanks for the food, thanks for Daddy, please give him a new team; I want him to be on the Eagles. Amen.”
We’re scratching our heads, “Well, where does this come from?” Kyle isn’t even a pro football fan, we haven’t had one conversation about the Eagles. It turns out that his soccer team was named the Eagles, because he likes Isaiah 40:31, the Bible verse about wings with eagles, and he named his soccer team the Eagles so he thought his daddy should have a team with the same name, so he prays that I’m on the Eagles.
Next morning I had a call from Harry Gamble, GM with the Eagles; he says, “Jeff, Randall Cunningham broke his leg, and Jim McMahon sprained his ponytail.
“How soon can you get out here?” I’m on a flight the next day, and everything turns around really quickly. Four weeks later I have completely relearned a new system and we’re down in the house of pain, Houston, Texas, playing the Houston Oilers. They have the number two defense of the league, Warren Moon is their quarterback, we have the number one defense of the league, and Jim McMahon is our quarterback and I’m his backup.
So, Jim McMahon is getting pounded by the Oilers’ defense, and all of a sudden he’s knocked out of the game. It takes a lot to knock Jim McMahon out of the game. Which means I have the privilege of coming in and quarterbacking the Eagles against this ridiculously tough Oiler defense.
It’s a 20-yard line, third down, late in the third quarter, and I’m standing over the ball, and I’m looking at their defense thinking, “This play is a seven-step drop, longest we have, deep corner route to tight end Keith Jackson—there’s no way I’m going to have time to take a seven-step drop and get the ball to Keith on this play. There’s no way this is going to work.”
Now, that isn’t the Tony Robbins, Norman Vincent Peale, power of positive thinking you want to have at the line of scrimmage in the NFL, but all of a sudden I noticed something different. It wasn’t just linemen getting ready to kill me, there were linebackers—you know, beady-eyed, froth at the mouth, on their tiptoes, not getting ready to cover the pass, free safety 18 yards deep, leaves the two-yard line and starts kind of snaking through the linebackers like he’s going to come and try to sneak up on me.
I know what’s happening. This is a blitz.
It’s an all-out attack, and I know that in the next couple of seconds something either bad or something really good is about to happen.
But in the blitz you can keep things the same, can you? You have to adapt and you have to adjust.
So very quickly linemen start diving, running backs jump in front of line backers. Keith Jackson changes his corner route and I can’t take a nice seven-step drop and wait back there hoping things are going to work out. I have to change and make a five-step drop as fast as I can, plant my back foot, and then I have to look for Keith Jackson, my sight-adjust. So I know where he should be and I look for him, but there’s a total eclipse.
The free safety’s in my face and he’s diving at me like this.
Helen Keller was once asked on a college campus, “Is there anything worse than being blind?” She said, “Oh yes; it’d be so much worse to have your eyesight but lack vision.”
I didn’t think of that thought in the middle of this play, but afterwards I did have vision, because my coaches had trained me what to do in the blitz. They trained the linemen, they trained the running backs, they trained Keith Jackson. We’d seen it on film. We were prepared to adapt immediately to the situation that was presenting itself. It wasn’t just danger, it was also opportunity.
And that’s what blitzes are.
So what happens in this game is I hit my fist up and I look for Keith and I can’t see him, but I have a vision of where he should be and what I should do, and I throw the ball right by his earhole. He hits me, lands on top of me, and I’m waiting to hear; is it going to be really noisy, which is good for Houston, or really quiet, which is good for Philadelphia?
And I roll the free safety off of me, wipe a little bit of spit of his off my face, and all of a sudden it’s total quiet, because we scored the only touchdown in the game and went from losing 6-3 to winning 13-6 because of this one blitz that turned into the best play of the game.
The crisis is danger and opportunity. I’ll give you an example from my life. After I played for the Eagles and had that good season, I won a few games for them at quarterback, got a lot of help from linemen and receivers and defense and special teams, I came back to training camp the next year, signed a big contract, and got cut, last day of training camp.
I thought I’d had a good job. They said, “Thanks a lot. You’re out of the league.”
I came home and for four weeks I waited for a team to call me and say, “Hey, we had a quarterback get hurt; could you come play backup for us?” And no one called. My prayers weren’t getting answered.
Now I was praying those prayers about my circumstances, you know, like, “God, makes things better,” “God, fix this,” and He lets us pray those prayers, but I think you might be realizing that there’s a bigger and better, more noble prayer than, “God, fix my circumstances.” It’s, “God, fix me and my heart so my character can handle whatever circumstances come,” because on the best testimony is always offered when your life is hard but your faith is strong.
So anyway, I’m waiting. No prayers being answered, no teams calling me up. And then the Seahawks had a quarterback get hurt. I live in Seattle, my kids are in school there, we’re in the home, my wife—she’d moved the kids to Philly the year before, it was really complicated getting into schools in the middle of fall, and then going home nine weeks later.
So I think this is an answer to prayer. I’m going to call the coach of Seahawks, tell him I’m in town, and I said, “Coach, I’m in town, I’m in shape, I’m ready. Sign me.” I left it on his answering machine. He calls me back on my machine, says, “Hey, Jeff, I heard you got cut from the Eagles. Sorry about that. We’re going to sign a guy from the World League. Good luck.” Click.
My heart kind of falls out and I get all upset, and I go out to the front porch of my nice, four-bedroom home in America. I’m one of the richest people in the world, not because I’m in the NFL, just because I have a hot shower and a roof over my head. I go out on my front porch after 11 years in the NFL, and I sit down, slam the door, and I said, “God, this sucks. This isn’t fair and I’m mad.” I might have said something else.
I said, “I’m not going to pray. I’m just going to sit here and feel this stinking pain.” Most of you mature men have never had a pity party before, I’m sure.
I sat there soaking in my pity, feeling sorry for myself, grumbling, whining, ignoring God on purpose for just a little while, and then my wife came out, and this is one of the keys to the blitz: Keith Jackson and linemen helped win that game by coming together to help me in the blitz, right? In this case, your greatest teammate is your wife, and my greatest teammate is my wife. Now you need some men, because it’s a man you’re going to go start telling about your pornography challenge, or the woman at the office you’re struggling with, or temptation toward that woman.
You need to have close men, true teammates, although accountability with your wife in the right timing and pace, aiming toward total honesty with your wife, will set you both free for a better marriage, but you have to have a brotherhood of guys. That make sense, guys?
Christian men should have more fun and more friendship with their buddies than anyone else, and you ought to be honest and have that guy put his arm around you and say, “I respect you.”
“Thank you for telling me about your weakness. I’ll be praying for you. Hey, there’s something I need to tell you about my life.”
That’s happened to me. I’ve shared one of my things I was afraid to share, and the guy immediately turned around and said, “Thanks, I love you so much; I respect you. Let me tell you about something I’ve been struggling with. Will you pray for me?” And all of a sudden we were both stronger, the sin had less hold on us, and we were ready to go forward.
You have to have brotherhood, you have to have teammates, to get through the blitz. But don’t forget that your ultimate teammate is your wife, and so my ultimate teammate, Stacy, comes out while I’m sitting on the porch whining in my non-prayerful pity party, and she goes, “Oh, Jeff, I can’t imagine how much this hurts, but after all we’ve been through I just want to encourage you that God has always been there, every single time we face something difficult, and He always had a purpose and He had a plan and He unfolded it, and He’s good.”
I looked at her and I said, “I know that!
“I just can’t believe it’s finishing like this. My career. I just want to finish with some dignity.”
At that point she realized she needed to apply some tough love, not just the soft love. So she says, “Well you know, as I recall, when Jesus lived a perfect life and left this world, He didn’t receive any dignity. Maybe you need to let go of that desire.” And being a disciple of Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine and all the mature husbanding coaching I’ve gotten over the years, I looked at her and said, “Maybe you need to go inside.”
She did, but then someone else was speaking to me. The Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, God Himself broke into my blitz and my pity-party with a very soft and sweet but truthful reminder from my wife, I had the worst moment of my life, blitz-wise. I’ve since lost my dad to cancer, I ran a non-profit and we ran out of money and had to fire myself and a bunch of people so I could stay alive.
Today it’s thriving fabulously and going through that blitz is what set me free to join FamilyLife. I wouldn’t have quit had God not crushed it through a blitz to set me free to do more of what I’m good at and less of what I’m bad at. I’ve been through some tougher blitzes than this one, and many of you guys have been through blitzes way tougher than mine. I’m not trying to make any sort of special case over me. I am not anything special and this blitz isn’t even that bad, you know—whining over losing your twelfth year of football.
But you know what it feels like to lose a career, right? Not just to get cut, but to be kicked out of the league for good. So I’m feeling it, and in a matter of about 20 seconds, my worst moment of life turned into my best, because I had this epiphany, and this amazing thought goes into my head of Jesus Christ, from one Sunday being called, “Hosanna, hosanna, the Savior, the King, take over, get these Romans out of the way, bring Your Kingdom in, we worship You, You’re the star.”
Within a few days it’s, “Give us Barabbas, and crucify Christ.”
All of his guys scatter and leave Him, and He’s sweating drops of blood in the garden, saying, “Lord, I’d rather not drink this cup, but if this is the only way to accomplish Your mission, I will do it. Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
And then they trumped up some charges and they falsely convicted Him. He claimed to be God and He actually was, but they wanted to crucify Him for that. And then they beat Him to where there was hardly any recognition of His face, and they ripped all the flesh off His back as they scourged Him. They put a mocking crown of thorns on His head, and He dragged His cross until He couldn’t any longer and someone else carried it up the hill, and then they hung Him, crucified Him, on purpose.
He was facing the blitz for my salvation and reconciliation with the Father, and for your reconciliation with the Father, to overcome all of Satan’s brutal damage in this world and gain the greatest victory ever.
From the then on the example has been set that bad can turn to good in the hands of Jesus Christ, and the blitz isn’t just danger, it’s also opportunity.
Then I heard the words, “Forget what lies behind; press on to what lies ahead.” And it was like, “Okay, thank You. Football was a gift, I didn’t deserve it, You blessed me with it, and now it’s on to the next chapter. I want to use my life to help men be men, dads be dads who are plugged in and fathering, and marriages be the ultimate team on earth that can turn around marriage, culture, family, and the Kingdom.”
And I’ve been given the chance to do that, because I’m perfect? No; because I’m a failure, and I’ve been through blitzes, but I know who answers the blitz. Christ.
The apostle Paul explained it in Romans 5:3-5. Jesus predicted it in John 16:33, and whether you’re in a blitz now or you had one in the past, there’s another one coming, and you don’t love the rotten circumstances, but you do love the opportunity to get to know Him better, to come alongside teammates, and to turn bad into good that brings glory to Him.
Bob: Well, we have been listening to Jeff Kemp today, great thoughts on how we deal with the unexpected that is going to come our way, because we’re going to get blind-sided, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but there’s a blind side coming for all of us at different points in our lives.
Dennis: The apostle Paul wasn’t a quarterback, but it sure sounds like he might have been, because listen to what he said in Philippians chapter four. He said, “Not that I’m speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever circumstance I am to be content. I know how to be brought low”—some quarterbacks have been brought low, okay—“and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
And then here’s the kicker. This is how a man really does be a man. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s really what Jeff is challenging us to do here today. He’s challenging us to look at our circumstances, the blitzes that occur in our lives, and to pull back and go, “Now, what’s God trying to teach me? What’s the lesson here? How can I grow through this circumstance, and how can I step up as a man, love and lead and serve my wife and my family, and keep this unit, this team, together over the long haul, and make an impact on our culture?”
Because Bob, what is a nation but its smallest unit is made up of a bunch of families? A bunch of married people and families who come together to forge culture by shaping this generation and the next for Jesus Christ.
Bob: You’re talking about people like Sheldon and Linda Carpenter, who lived in Pratt, Kansas, who are today celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary? We’re proud sponsors of anniversaries, so we’re announcing anniversaries. They listen to KREJ, they support FamilyLife Today, they’ve been to two Weekend to Remember getaways, and 35 years of marriage—I bet they have faced some blitzes in their marriage as they’ve gone through their 35 years together.
I’d just say to guys, the blitzes are going to come, and the question is do you know how to face them when they do come? Do you know how to recover from the blitz when it knocks you down?
That’s what Jeff Kemp is talking about in the book that he has written called Facing the Blitz. It’s a book that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, and if you know of a man who is a football fan, he would probably enjoy reading Jeff’s book.
You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order at 1-800-FLTODAY. Again, the title of the book is Facing the Blitz, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”.
We talked about this last week, but don’t forget this month, for anybody who would be willing to get together with a group of at least ten guys and go through the Stepping Up video event—this is something you can do over a couple days as a weekend getaway for fathers and sons, maybe it’s the church men’s group doing it—but you get a chance to hear from Tony Dungy and from Bill Bennett and from Dennis Rainey and Crawford Loritts and Matt Chandler, and just a whole bunch of guys challenging you on what it means to step up and be a godly man.
If you’ll agree to take ten guys through the material and you order the ten workbooks from us, we’ll send you the video even kit free with the DVD’s and a copy of Dennis’s book Stepping Up, and everything you need to host an event like that.
So, find out more when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, we want to say a quick thank you to those of you who made today’s program possible, those of you who are supporters of this ministry, those of you who pray for us, and those of you who support us financially, whether you’re a legacy partner who gives each month, or somebody who will occasionally contribute to FamilyLife Today.
We could not do what we do without you; we’re listener-supported, the funds needed to produce and syndicate this radio program, to keep our website up and functioning, all that we need to do that comes from donations from people like you who want to see this ministry not only continue, but thrive.
We’re grateful for your financial support, and you can make a donation today easily. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make an online donation, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to donate over the phone.
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Tomorrow we’ll hear some strategies from Jeff Kemp about how to face the blitz, or how to recover once you’re knocked down. We’ll be back with part two of his message tomorrow, hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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