FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Marriage Under the Shadow of the NFL

with Jeff Kemp | January 31, 2013
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A drive for success runs deep in the Kemp family. Jeff’s dad Jack was the stuff of legend, both in the NFL as a Super Bowl winning quarterback, and as a powerful and influential United States Congressman. So it was no surprise that Jeff was driven to succeed. But how does one move from success to significance? Jeff shares what football taught him about handling life’s blitzes, and how God opened his eyes to true significance in Christ.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • A drive for success runs deep in the Kemp family. Jeff’s dad Jack was the stuff of legend, both in the NFL as a Super Bowl winning quarterback, and as a powerful and influential United States Congressman. So it was no surprise that Jeff was driven to succeed. But how does one move from success to significance? Jeff shares what football taught him about handling life’s blitzes, and how God opened his eyes to true significance in Christ.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How does one move from success to significance?

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Marriage Under the Shadow of the NFL

With Jeff Kemp
January 31, 2013
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Bob:  Jeff Kemp remembers the last time he threw a pass as the quarterback for the NFL Seattle Seahawks. 

Jeff:  I had the ball and threw the ball from about my 15 yard line.  A defensive back on the other team, dove in front of the ball—intercepted it.  They kicked a field goal and beat us in overtime.  I was cut the next day.  Mid-season, Daddy loses his job. 

So, now, we have the chance to pray at the dinner table—and Kyle was seven, I think—and Kyle said, “Dear God, thank you for dinner.  Thank you for Daddy.  Please give him a new job.  I want him to be on a new team.  Why don’t you put him on the Eagles?  Amen.”  [Laughter]  That next morning, after his prayer, I got a call from the Philadelphia Eagles.  They had just had their quarterback get hurt, and they needed me. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 31st.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll hear from former NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp, today about the lessons he learned as a quarterback—the wins, the losses.  Stay tuned. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  I was going to ask you whether you are more excited about Saturday or Sunday this week, but I think I know the answer to that.  [Laughter] 

Dennis:  You know the Super Bowl is a lot of fun—

Bob:  Yes. 

Dennis:  —and it’s a big event.  I’ve been to a couple of them.  I’ve done a chapel for the—

Bob:  —for the losing team. 

Dennis:  No! 

Bob:  They won?! 

Dennis:  Oh, I’m one and “0”.  It was a lot of fun.  It was a lot of fun, but I am more excited about Saturday because it’s going to be a Super Saturday to encourage men to step up. 

Bob:  Hundreds of churches—locations all around the country—that are going to be hosting the FamilyLife Stepping Up® Super Saturday one-day event for guys.  One of the reasons we are mentioning this is because if you’re not signed up to go, there’s probably a Super Saturday event happening near you.  You ought to call a couple other guys and say, “Why don’t we go to this?” 

Dennis:  And get their sons, if they’ve got a son who’s 14, 15, or 16, to go with you.  It’s only a few hours on Saturday. 

Bob:  Even if it’s not happening at your church where you go normally, it’s happening at somebody else’s church.  Go!  They’d love to have you come. 

Dennis:  If we’re talking to a wife, or a mom or even a single lady, who is dating a guy, get your man to this deal.  Let me tell you something.  The women, who have seen these videos, they—I hate to say this—but in some regards, they are more excited than the guys are.  The reason is they know what it’s going to do for their man. 

Bob:  Yes. 

Dennis:  It’s going to encourage him to be a man.  Here’s the deal, folks—I want you to think back over the past month.  How many things in the past month encouraged the man in your life to be a man or you, as a man, to truly step up and embrace what it means to be a man who is following Jesus Christ?  There just aren’t a lot of things that encourage us, as men. 

Well, this day is not called Super Saturday for nothing.  It is going to be a super encouraging day for you, as a man. 

Bob:  Our hope is that it will be catalytic—that following this day, there will be men, all across the country, getting together with four or five other guys—friends of theirs—and going through the Stepping Up video series that we’ve put together—that’s a ten-week series; because, honestly, we want to see 2013 be a year when guys step up.  We want them to read Dennis’s book, Stepping Up, go through this material.  We think God will use it powerfully in their lives. 

Dennis:  And to give you a little idea of the kind of messages you’ll hear—the kind of stimulating thoughts you’re going to hear—we’re going to feature a friend, Jeff Kemp, on the broadcast today. 

Bob:  A NFL quarter—well, former NFL quarterback.  He played in the league—

Dennis:  He did. 

Bob:  —back in the—when was it?—back in the 80s? 

Dennis:  80s and 90s. 

Bob:  I don’t know how many of our listeners realize this; but Jeff is a part of the team, here at FamilyLife. 

Dennis:  He is.  Jeff’s dad, Jack Kemp, ran for Vice President of the United States.  Jeff’s a graduate of Dartmouth, earned an MBA from Pepperdine University.  He is a great teammate, here at FamilyLife; and as you’re about to hear, he talks about handling life’s blitzes.  Ladies, if you don’t know what a blitz is.  It’s where the quarterback drops back to pass; and there is this terrifying, thundering crowd of onrushing defenders who are trying to take you out. 

Bob:  Big fellows who are coming after you. 

Dennis:  Big guys—called a blitz. 

Bob:  Here’s Jeff Kemp. 

[Recorded message] 

Jeff:  When I was 11, my dad was playing football for the Buffalo Bills.  My mom took me on a special trip to New York City and to Shea Stadium, and I got to watch Dad play.  This was the last season of his life, 1969. 

As he was running down the sideline, as a quarterback, with the football—he was very courageous.  He didn’t duck out of bounds, like some of the quarterbacks these days, or slide.  He ran right into the middle linebacker, over on the sideline.  It knocked him out cold.  Five minutes—he was lying down—like face down—in the mud, not moving.  We were watching this, and it was scary.  Dad stayed in the hospital overnight.  He didn’t fly home to Buffalo with the team.  But we’ve always kind of had a positive memory of it, in a humorous way, because Dad shared the story throughout his campaigns that the headlines in Buffalo’s newspaper read, the next morning, “X-Rays of Kemp’s Head Reveal Nothing.”  [Laughter]  I think he had like eight or nine concussions in his career; I had about six or seven.  So, we’ve got a lot in common. 

In 1991, it was my last season of football.  We’d had a very nice life that God had blessed us with.  I met Stacy in ’83.  We were immediately discipled by a great group of Christian people on the football teams that we were in—went to some great churches.  We were living up in Seattle and had a pretty comfortable life.  We had three little boys. 

Stacy was praying this prayer that God would do something to stir our lives, in a certain way, to where faith would be more real—where it would demand more of us in a way that our kids would see—because kids don’t really see all the challenges of walking with Jesus, and how much we need Him, and, “Thanks for this vacation to Disneyland,” and, “Thank you for our big backyard,” and, “Thank you for this dinner.”  Where does the faith come in? 

She was praying this prayer that God would stir up our lives and help grow the faith of Kyle, Kory, and Kolby.  Since that time, Keegan has come along.  I didn’t know about the prayer; but the season started off with me, as the fourth quarterback, going into training camp in my 11th year.  They only keep three quarterbacks.  Here I was, I thought, at the peak of my career—but also knew that it was unlikely I would make the team.  That created some stress and some pressure and an opportunity to pray and see our faith grow.  We prayed about it, all summer long—“Daddy made the team!”  “Thank you, God.  We depend on you.” 

Then, the starting quarterback got hurt.  Instead of me being third-string—I was better than the two guys ahead of me that were paid a million dollars each, and they really wanted to keep them—but I was the older guy who wasn’t paid as much.  I was ready to play.  So, they made me the starter.  Now, we had a new set of pressures because there was an awful lot of pressure on the backup quarterbacks.  You don’t really get long—there’s not a long leash on the backup quarterback.  If he doesn’t play well, they yank him out.  So, there was a lot of faith experience with that and praying for Daddy. 

Things were going pretty well.  We won some games; we lost some games.  But there was high pressure in the sixth game of the season.  The headlines in the paper said: “Kemp needs a great game to survive because the starting quarterback is coming back the next week from his injury.  And they have these two first-round quarterbacks that they probably want to keep.  So, if Kemp wins, he might get to stay on the team.  If he loses, he won’t.”   Obviously, it was not just me playing.  It’s the quarterback and the whole team.  Stacy was praying I wouldn’t see the newspaper article in the hotel that morning.  I didn’t see it, but I felt the pressure anyway.  I knew exactly—I knew what the situation was.  It’s a very dog-eat-dog competitive world. 

The game was going pretty well—and there is a spiritual principle in this—as it was going well.  We were winning over the Los Angeles Raiders.  We’re in the fourth quarter.  I’m thinking:  “This is good.  I need a good game.  We’re winning.  This is going to help.  I should probably be starting again next week; and my stats are pretty good, too.”  I gave myself a little credit for having played a good game.  It was one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my life. 

And we all know this—when you give yourself a little credit, there’s a spiritual twist that goes on.  All of a sudden, you’re vulnerable.  Well, not only that, but the coaches started calling conservative plays and, then, playing conservative on defense.  The other team roared back.  We played boring.  Had three plays, then, out; three plays, then, out; three plays, then, out.  They caught up.  Game went into overtime.  I had the ball and threw the ball from about my 15 yard line to Brian Blades, a wide receiver.  A defensive back, on the other team, who was a friend of mine, Ronnie Lott, dove in front of the ball—intercepted it.  They kicked a field goal and beat us in overtime. 

All of a sudden, the tables had turned.  The situation wasn’t so good, and I was cut the next day.  Mid-season, Daddy loses his job.  That’s not too common in—when you’re the first-string quarterback.  So, now, we had a chance to pray at the dinner table—and Kyle was seven, I think—and Kyle said:  “Dear God, thank you for dinner.  Thank you for Daddy.  Please give him a new job.  I want him to be on a new team.  Why don’t you put him on the Eagles?  Amen.” 

Kyle didn’t know that the Philadelphia Eagles had a football team, but he had a soccer team who took a vote of what the name of the team should be.  Since Isaiah 40:31 is a family Bible verse about “…rising up with wings like eagles…and running and not be weary…” that was kind of a key verse for our family.  He voted to name their soccer team the Eagles.  So, he was playing on a little league soccer team named the Eagles, and he wanted Daddy to play on a football team named the Eagles.  That next morning, after his prayer, I got a call from the Philadelphia Eagles.  They had just had their quarterback get hurt, and they needed me.  So, the next day, I’m on the plane to Philly, mid-season.  I have nine days to learn the system. 

Then, Stacy flies out, after nine days.  During that time, she’s praying for a home to live in that will have furnishings.  We’re only going to live there for nine weeks or twelve weeks, depending on the playoffs.  We need cars to get around.  We need a Christian school with a curriculum that fits our kid’s learning disability—that he was in a unique private school.  And every one of these prayers—day, after day, after day—would be answered.  The one home that we found was ten minutes from the school that had the only curriculum, within like 600 miles, that fit what we were doing at our school in Bellevue, Washington.  Just so many things happened, but the kids and Stacy were praying daily for God’s provision in our lives. 

Obviously, it’s about more than circumstances; but it’s His source that gives us life.  So, she’s having this great answer to her prayer.  I still don’t think I knew that she prayed this prayer.  So, then, she flies on Saturday night—we had a bye week, which allowed me more time to learn the system.  I was the second-string quarterback.  She gets into town on Saturday night, puts one of the boys with a babysitter on Sunday morning, and brings two of them to the game at the City of Brotherly Love’s Veterans Stadium, where they are not brotherly or lovely.  [Laughter]  They are intense!  I’ve been booed in that stadium.  I got booed in that stadium one time for losing my contact and looking for it on the field, and they were booing me.  [Laughter] 

So, the quarterback gets hurt.  I go in the game, and they blitz me.  It’s the 49ers, a team I used to play for.  I had a lot of friends on that team; but they didn’t treat me in a friendly way, either.  I got hit by a guy’s knee as I fell forward, and he hit me on the top of the helmet.  It just knocked me out, cold.  I was out, flat, for three minutes—very similar to my dad. 

Stacy’s up there with the boys.  She’s wondering, “Oh, my gosh!  Lord, You have taken care of us.  You’ve done all of this, but you’ve now brought us to Philadelphia and without any support system.  You are allowing Jeff to get paralyzed?” because I had the neck brace on.  They brought out the stretcher.  It took a whole long time.  Key players on both teams are bowing down to a knee and praying for this injured football player. 

Kyle or Kory says, “Mommy, who’s hurt on the Eagles?”  She goes, “That’s Daddy.”  The boys start to cry.  Of course, she’s feeling worse than they because she knows more the possible consequences. 

But then, in an amazing way—as God has equipped a woman of God—she says: “Okay, you guys, do you remember when Daddy wasn’t sure if he’d make the team.  Then, he did make the team.  Then, we needed His help for him to play well.  Then, he lost his job.  Then, we needed a new team.  Then, we prayed about a house.  Then, we prayed about finding a car and a school.  Who has taken care of us all along?”  They said, “God did.”  Then, she said, “Well, God’s going to take care of us now.  Let’s pray.”  She prays with them, right there, in the stadium. 

My mom and dad were at the game.  Soon, their day shifted from kind of negative to positive because the boys were in a police car.  They asked to have the sirens turned on.  They got to go with the full siren and all the whoopee doo to the hospital to catch up with my dad, who went in the ambulance with me—and I was there.  The conclusion to the story is that x-rays of my head also revealed nothing.  [Laughter]  So, like father, like son. 

But that was our 1991 season.  It was one of the greatest faith-growing seasons we’ve ever had in our lives.  We look back on it fondly, and our boys know a lot more about God.  They are much more close to their mom.  I have a lot of fondness for my wife and what she did for me and my career because of how she carried our family through that wild year—and sets up this talk about blitzes. 

That season, a few weeks later, we went to Houston to play the old Houston Oilers in the Astro Dome.  They called it “The House of Pain”.  They had a really good defense—they used to kill quarterbacks.  We were having one of those games where they were just destroying the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense.  We couldn’t score any points.  We were losing 6-3.  I came in the game after they knocked Jim McMahon out of the game.  So, we finally were moving close to their end zone.  We were on the 20 yard line in the third quarter—late in the third quarter.  The score is 6-3, and we’ve got to make hay this time.  We’ve got to get something in the end zone or we’re not going to win this game. 

The coaches have called a long, slow-developing play, where the quarterback drops back seven steps.  The tight end, Keith Jackson—who is a Little Rock, Arkansas, resident and has a ministry to kids in the city, doing just what Dwayne Washington does—trains them in character, and gives them confidence, and gets them into college, and helps them with scholarships—those are some of the cool things pro athletes are doing.  Anyway, he’s our tight end.  Keith is going to run a slow corner route.  As I get ready to snap the ball, it’s not just four 300-pounders coming at me, but a couple 250-pound linebackers have beady eyes, froth in the mouth—and they are leaning forward on their toes.  It looks like they might be coming toward me. 

The free safety, who is supposed to cover all the deep passes in the middle and prevent touchdown passes—he’s like a snake in the grass.  He’s kind of sneaking up and getting ready.  He’s right in the line of scrimmage when I say, “Hut.”  He’s coming free because everyone else is blocking other people.  I couldn’t go to Columbia, like Marvin’s son, who is playing football.  I had to go to Dartmouth, but I do have an education.  So, I can figure it out.  [Laughter]  This is a blitz! 

They’re trying to destroy our offense.  This is the most dangerous moment of the game.  So, we need to change.  Like Dennis said to the men, a minute ago, Helen Keller said, “The worst thing is not being blind in life.  It’s having your eyesight and lacking vision”—vision for the next generation, vision for the spirit, vision for character, vision for your purpose in life.  Well, in football, you need to have a bigger vision and know that when the blitz comes, you can convert it.  We were prepared by our coaches.  I realized, “Keith Jackson’s going to change his route, hopefully, to a quick post.  I’m going to shorten my drop to five steps.  I’m going to look for him and try to throw it.” 

Just as I looked to throw it, I couldn’t see him because there was an eclipse—a total eclipse of the tight end by the free safety in my face.  That guy had snuck up, come through the line free, and he was going to hit me; but just before he hit me, I was able to throw the ball, not to the spot I could see—because I couldn’t see Keith Jackson—but I had been trained, by the coaches, on where Keith should go.  Kind of in faith, I threw the ball to that spot.  Keith gets there, catches it, and scores a touchdown.  I’m on my back when I find out that it’s deadly silent in the Houston stadium.  That’s good news for the visiting Eagles.  We win the game because of that one blitz that allowed us—a vulnerability in the defense—that we converted for a touchdown. 

And that analogy swings around to remind us that—as Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”  He could have said, “You will have blitzes.”  There will be cancer.  There will be lost loved ones.  Blitzes are going to come—the economy, our health, marital blitzes, affairs, drifting from one another because of the busyness of a consumer lifestyle.  But the other part of a blitz is that God uses all things together for our good, if we’re called according to His purpose and make loving Him the number one purpose.  Blitzes can turn into great things. 

Think of the cross, the grave, three days in the ground—Jesus letting Lazarus not just die but stay in the tomb for four days.  He did so because He didn’t just want them to think, “He is a really nice friend of Lazarus, who could help him get healed from his sickness.”  He wanted to show them He’s the actual giver of life itself, the Creator of everything.  He is setting the stage for the Gospel—where we can all come back to life from our sinful life and have eternal life with God.  The blitz is opportunity for God to do good. 


Bob:  Well, we’ve been listening to our friend, Jeff Kemp, who is a former NFL quarterback, and who reflects on time in the league; but also, talks about the blitzes we face in life. 

You’ve had seasons where you felt like every play—there were linebackers coming at you; didn’t you? 

Dennis:  I have been blitzed a few times.  In fact, I’ve said, recently, when I became a follower of Christ, I wish someone would have shown me the fine print in the contract that says:  “You know what?  You’re about to enter into a lifetime of facing blitzes, challenges, suffering, valleys.”  Here’s the message:  As a man, if you don’t have a game plan—if you don’t know who the main Coach is—I mean capital “C” Coach, as in Jesus Christ—and you’re not submitting to Him, you’re going to be a casualty in the midst of the blitz. 

What we’re calling men to do, here, coming up this weekend, Bob, is to show up on Super Saturday, at a church near you.  If you don’ know where one of these Super Saturday events is located—where we’re calling men to step up—go to  You can click on a map there and find out where, in your community, you can attend one of these. 

But life is coming at us, and you need a plan.  We’ll give it to you in that day.  Then, we’re going to unveil for you, really, what is a tremendous resource for men, going forward, and how you can grow—as a young man, a single man, a husband, a father, a grandfather—and how you can know exactly what you’re game plan is for life and then live it. 

Bob:  If you think of living life, as a man, as the game—then, Saturday, Super Saturday—is the pre-game rally for the team, where guys are going to get together—

Dennis:  Training camp. 

Bob:  That’s exactly right.  You’re going to get some training.  You’re going to get some equipping so you can head into the season of life, ready to run the plays.  Then, our hope is that guys are going to huddle up, once a week, with other guys for the next ten weeks following Super Saturday and continue to go through training camp—continue to get instructions in the huddle as they go through the Stepping Up video series for men that we’ve put together. 

Dennis:  In fact, Bob, if a guy isn’t able to come to Super Saturday but wants to start one of these groups, where men huddle up—half a dozen guys going through a video a week for ten weeks—tell them how they can get a copy of that. 

Bob:  First thing you have to do is get an order of wings, every week, because if you’re going to get guys together—it’s either wings, or cheese dip will work, or there’s got to be—I don’t know what else you put in there. 

Dennis:  You should first order the kit, though, Bob. 

Bob:  No, no, order the food.  Get the food—

Dennis:  You always begin with—you begin with food. 

Bob:  Let’s get the important stuff taken care of first.  [Laughter]

Dennis:  We travel across the country together, and the city is defined around where—

Bob:  Exactly. 

Dennis:  —you go to eat! 

Bob:  Exactly, and it ought to be defined that way. 

Dennis:  So, guys, get the wings; but first—

Bob:  Go, online, at  Click on the link that you see there for “STEPPING UP”.  That will give you information about the ten-week series that we produced and about the one-day event kit.  Of course, the day after tomorrow is Super Saturday.  So, we have a whole series of events taking place, all across the country, tomorrow; but you can host one of these Super Saturday events in your community anytime you want to.  You can do it a month from now or two months from now, if you want.  The event kit gives you the event in a box. 

So, if you are looking for a one-day rally for the guys in your church—a way to launch things with men’s ministry—go to and click on the men’s “STEPPING UP” link to find out more about the Super Saturday event kit and about the Super Saturday ten-week study that is designed as a follow-up to the event; or it can be done as a standalone, whichever you’d prefer to do.  Again, the website,; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or if you’d like to order over the phone: 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.  Stepping Up features people like Dennis Rainey, and Crawford Loritts, and Voddie Baucham, features James MacDonald, and Tony Dungy, and Bill Bennett, and Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll. 

In fact, Mark and his wife Grace were here in Little Rock.  That’s where we filmed his part of the Stepping Up series.  We also had a conversation with Mark and Grace about their marriage, while they were here—talked about some of the challenges they faced, as a husband and wife, and how God has led them through that to a strong, healthy marriage relationship. 

This week, we’re making available the CD of that conversation with Mark and Grace Driscoll to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation.  We are listener-supported, and we depend on your donations to help keep this program healthy.  Your donations cover the cost of producing and syndicating this national radio program.  So, thanks to those of you who have been able to help in the past. 

This week, if you are able to make an online donation, just go to  Click the button that says, “I CARE”.  Make your donation online.  We will send you a copy of the CD of our conversation with Mark and Grace Driscoll.  Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone.  Just ask for the CD when you get in touch with us.  We’re happy to send it out to you.  We just want you to know we appreciate you.  We’re always happy to hear from you, and we’re grateful for your partnership with us—your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today

And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to, again, hear from former NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp—about how we face the blitzes that come in real life—whether you are a quarterback or not, you’re going to face some blitzes.  Jeff Kemp talks about that tomorrow.  I hope you can be here for that. 


I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and 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

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