FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Early Years:Love, Life, and Marriage

with John and Nancy Bramlett | January 26, 2009
Play Pause

NFL star John Bramlett learned to be tough early in life. After a girl named Nancy caught his eye, the two were married. Listen as the couple talks about the ups and downs they experienced as they tried to balance a budding NFL career and family life.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • NFL star John Bramlett learned to be tough early in life. After a girl named Nancy caught his eye, the two were married. Listen as the couple talks about the ups and downs they experienced as they tried to balance a budding NFL career and family life.

  • 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.

NFL star John Bramlett learned to be tough early in life.

MP3 Download Transcript

The Early Years:Love, Life, and Marriage

With John and Nancy Bramlett
January 26, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Nancy: I knew that he was lying, and I tried to jump out of the car, and I really did try to do it, and I know that there comes a time sometimes you don't care – you can get to that point – you really don't care.  And he grabbed me and pulled me back in the car, and I think that's why I told him, I said, "You know, there may come a day that I would not love you anymore."

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 26th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  John and Nancy Bramlett's marriage needed help and hope.  We'll find out how they got it today.  Stay tuned.

[musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition, and it's probably appropriate that we start today's program with Day 22 of our 40-day Love Dare.  We're right in the middle of the Love Dare, and this is from the book that was written by Steven and Alex Kendrick and featured in the movie, "Fireproof" that comes out on DVD next week.  And the verse that starts off today's chapter in the book is Hosea 2:30 – "I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  Then you will know the Lord."  And the chapter on Day 22 is entitled "Love is Faithful."

And, by the way, any of our listeners who would like to get a copy of the book, "Love Dare," can go to our website,, and we have copies available there, and we are posting each day's assignment on our website as well.  Today's assignment, if you are following along in the Love Dare says this – it says, "Love is a choice not a feeling.  It's an initiated action not a knee-jerk reaction.  Choose today to be committed to love your spouse even if he or she has lost most of their interest in receiving it.  Say to them today in words similar to these – "I love you, period.  I choose to love you even if you don't love me in return."  And for some of our listeners that may be a tough assignment but I hope you've been following along. 

I hope you have led up to this point with the kinds of acts of kindness that we have already talked about and, again, if you're interested in getting a copy of "The Love Dare" book, go to our website,, and we can make arrangements to have it sent to you, and this is the kind of a book that might have helped the couple we're going to talk to today, Dennis, and I'll let you introduce our guest, but I will tell our listeners that the husband you're going to meet, his nickname in high school and college and eventually in pro football was – do you want to tell them?

Dennis: "Bull."

Bob: And with good reason.  I mean, he had earned that reputation both on and off the field.

Dennis: Well, let me just read a little bit about Bull.  "Bull could outsmoke, outdrink, outcuss, and outfight almost any man in Memphis.  He was a legend."  And he has the Southern accent to convince you …

Bob: To prove that he's from Memphis.

Dennis: … that he grew up from Memphis. 

Bob: You're talking about John "The Bull" Bramlett, who played pro football for the Broncos and for Miami for the Patriots, I think he was a pro bowler a couple of years.

Dennis: Was runner-up Rookie of the Year behind a little quarterback by the name of Joe Namath, and he – well, he and his wife, Nancy, have an incredible story that we're going to hear on the broadcast today.  It is a story of God's love and the hound of heaven redeeming broken lives and broken people.

And, you know, I just think our listeners right now need to hear this, because they are in some impossible situations and, in fact, what they may want to do is they may want to call and get a copy of this broadcast and give it to a friend, maybe their spouse, because they need to hear about this kind of redemption occurring in their lives.

Bob: Yes, you can go to our website, which is for New Testament about today's program, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and someone can tell you how you can get the CD of our interview with John and Nancy, and we're going to hear Part 1 of that interview right now.  Here is our conversation with John and Nancy Bramlett.

Bob: [from audiotape.]  Where did you go to high school?

John: Humes High School.

Bob: Humes High.  Where did you go?

Nancy: Central High School.

Bob: So you didn't meet each other in high school?

Nancy: No.

John: Not at the school.

Bob: How did you meet?

John: It was a …

Dennis: Well, actually, what I want Nancy to tell the story of – you got a phone call from a guy who was asking you what his opinion was of …

Bob: … of a certain guy?

Dennis: Of a certain guy?

Nancy: Real clever, real clever fellow.  He called and wanted to know what I thought about John Bramlett, and I, of course, knew it was John Bramlett.

Dennis: Now, wait a second, the voice at the other end asking about what you thought about John Bramlett was …

Nancy:  Right – was John Bramlett.

Bob: Was he trying to disguise his voice at all?

Nancy: Well, of course, not, but he was being clever.  But he thought he was disguising his voice.

Dennis: He was an athlete, so he thought he could get away with this, right?

Nancy: That was it.  That would be correct.

Bob: And what did you think of John Bramlett?

Nancy: I said, "Oh, I just thought he was just darling" – I don't know what I said.  We're talking a long time ago, but I think I told him I thought he was great or whatever, and so, of course, that's all he was wanting to know was what I thought about him.  So I told him, of course, that I thought he was great.

And so that's really kind of my introduction of him wanting to find out, I'm sure, what I thought about him.

Dennis: Well, it didn't take him long to ask you out for a date because within a couple of days, wasn't it, he asked …

Nancy: That's right.

Dennis: He asked you to go to church?

Nancy: That's right, and that's about the only place that I would go with him was to church, because I knew of his reputation was quite known throughout the town.

Dennis: And so why did you take her to church?

John: Because that's where she wanted to go, and that's where I had to go on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.

Bob: You grew up in a church-going family?

John: Oh, yes.

Bob: Every time the doors were open, you were in church?

John: Every time the doors were open, we were in church, but none of us were in Christ.

Bob: And your reputation, by the time you're calling and asking Nancy out for a date, you're 16, 17 years old at this point?

John: Yes, about 16, mm-hm.

Bob: And what kind of a reputation did you have around your own school?

John: Bad.

Bob: What were you known for or as? 

John: Tough, hard-nosed, mean.

Bob: Yeah?  And the girls' daddies wouldn't let their daughters go out with you.

John: Right.

Bob: So you had to …

John: I had to go to another school

Bob: … go fishing in other ponds?


There was a point in your relationship – you guys had been dating how long when you decided to run off to Texarkana?

Nancy: Two years.

John: Two years, yeah.

Bob: So you were in high school still?

Nancy: I was.

Dennis: Seventeen years old at that point?

Nancy: You're right.

Bob: And, John, had you just graduated from high school?

John: I just graduated – 18, yeah.

Bob: And in the two years of dating, Nancy, there had to be some red flags all along the way saying …

Nancy: Oh, yeah, he was exciting.  I had never dated anybody like him, and he was – it was exciting because I never knew what was going to happen when I was with him.

Dennis: Exciting in what ways?

Nancy: Because of fights or what he was going to do or where – what was going to happen.  I mean, it was an exciting time.  Of course, the '50s were a fun time and good times, but, like I say, I never knew what we going to happen when I was with him.

Dennis: You know, you're talking about it being exciting, but he was getting in fistfights.

Nancy: Yes, he did.

Dennis: And all that – were you a bit of a rebel yourself with your parents?

Nancy:  No, I really – oh, no, huh-huh.

Dennis: Oh, come on.

Nancy: No, I really wasn't.

Dennis: But you're hanging out with …

Nancy: I know.

Dennis: … with a guy who is getting into all these fights.

Nancy: That's true.  I was dating him at football games.  We were going to ball games, after ball games, but, no, I really wasn't a rebel.

Bob: Would he drink around you?  When he was with you?

Nancy: Yeah, oh, yeah.

Bob: And did you drink?  Did you join in?

Nancy: No, I did not drink.

Bob: Why not?

Nancy: I didn't drink, didn't smoke.  I just didn't.

Bob: Did it bother you that he did?

Nancy: Not really, because everybody drank – the guys, you know.  And I'm sure there were girls that drank, too, but that just wasn't part of my life.

Dennis: Well, you added the ultimate excitement to it, and I'll let our listeners decide about Nancy over here – whether she was really a rebel or not, because you convinced her to elope.

Nancy: Dennis wants me to be a rebel.

Dennis: No, I'm just looking at the evidence of what's taking place in your life, and I know it was a long time ago.

Nancy: Well, that was definitely being a rebel – to run off and get married.  You are so right about that, and that was so different from anything I would do, because nobody could believe I would do such a dumb thing, really, for sure.

Bob: When did this idea even first come on the radar screen of running off and getting married?  Had you been thinking about it for a while?

Nancy: Well, he was going to go to school, see, to Memphis State, and I guess that was going to be the thing – he was going to be going to school, and I guess we thought, "Well, he's going to be going off to college," and we decided, well, then we would get married.

Bob: Well, now, wait, going off …

Nancy: Now, a lot of people were running off and getting married during that time.

Dennis: So how did you pull it off, John?  You got your brother to drive you all the way across Arkansas?

John: Yes.

Nancy: Got married and came straight back.

Dennis: To Texarkana, Texas?

John: Texarkana, Texas, right.

Dennis: Got married?

John: Got married.

Bob: Did you just say to her one night, "Honey, let's get married?"

John: That was about it.

Nancy: That was about it.

Dennis: I think you kissed her first, as I recall, in your book.

John: Yes, I think I did, too.

Nancy: Yeah, I think he did kiss me.

Bob: And said, "Honey, let's get married," hopped in the car and drove off.

Nancy: Drove to Texas, got married, and drove back.

Dennis: John, you were expecting to get clobbered by your in-laws at that point that you had taken their daughter across the state line and married her.

John: Right.  Well, I mean, you know, I was worried about that, yeah, because Ad [sp] and Pop, they were real good to me.

Bob: That's her mom and her dad.

John: Yeah.

Nancy: They really loved him, and they still do.  My dad was really – really good to him.

Dennis: From an emotional standpoint – you're tearing up here.  What's behind that?  Was he the father you never had?

John: Yes.

Dennis: What did he do that your dad didn't?

John: He was good to me, and when we ran off and got married, he – I'm sure it hurt him and Ad both real bad, but they never, never said one thing to me about it.  They were good to me and have been all these years.

Dennis: Loved you and accepted you?

John: They sure did.  They did.

Nancy: Yes.  He did, Dad always – he was the dad to him that he had never had.

Dennis: You know, just to make a point of this – I think when our children get married, and they make that commitment – as parents, there is a call upon us at that point to take those children into our lives and into our family and to begin to be to them all that God has called us to be regardless.  Now, that may be a challenging assignment.  I mean, I'm picturing myself as a father.  I would have not been too happy, John, to have seen you waltzing up the driveway – what was it, on Monday, after you'd gotten away over the weekend to get married?

John: Right.

Dennis: But he had enough picture of what love was and what a young man at your stage in life needed that he stepped in and provided that love, that acceptance, because the deed was done at that point, and what you needed then was a man to step in and love you – to love you both.

Nancy: He was that kind of man.

John: Yeah.  And he loved me.  He was an athlete, and he followed my life, you know, and followed my sports life, you know, and asked – all the write-ups in the paper, you know, and he just …

Nancy: He was proud of you.

John: He was proud of me.

Dennis: Mm-hm.  So where did you start your marriage?  I mean, you're what – 18, 19 years old?

John: Right.

Dennis: You're 17, a senior in high school.  Where did you live?

Nancy: At the university.  We lived out there with all the athletes.

John: There was an old army barracks out there on the campus, and that's where the married students lived at – the old army barracks where it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, you know, and just one little bedroom, little-bitty bedroom, little-bitty bathroom, and just a heater, a big heater in the – as you walk in the door, there's a big heater there, and then it had a little-bitty kitchen, and we were there for four years, and that's where both our sons were born, on the Memphis State campus.

Bob: And, Nancy, you had described dating John as exciting, and you never knew what was coming next, and now he's playing college football, and he's one of the stars of the team, but I have to imagine that, like a lot of couples, you see a side to somebody after you get married that you didn't see back when you were dating.  In those years at Memphis State, did you start to see a side to John that you hadn't seen before?

Nancy: Well, it's different when you're married, totally different, because then you're married to them, and you want things different, and you want things as a family, especially when children come along.  But it became more serious then because everything came apart, and I didn't know really what I was going to do then because I thought this is not what I wanted, you know?

Bob: What do you mean "everything came apart?"  What was happening?

Nancy: Well, I knew there were other women, there was going to be – the drinking got worse, fighting got worse, everything was just coming apart in our marriage.

Dennis: Nancy, what was the first incident in those four years in there that you recall where you woke up, and you go, "Wow.  This is a marriage.  I'm in something that's tough." Do you remember the incident?

Nancy: The first incident I probably can think of, and I think that I might have written about was probably that maybe I'd found a phone number in his billfold, which, I think many wives go through, might, at some point, if they know that their husband might be having an affair or might be seeing someone or whatever.

And, you know, you call that number, and you know that they maybe have gotten the phone number of another girl, but, anyway, I had called my mother, I remember, and talked to her and asked her – told her I wanted to come home, and she was very wise and told me, she said, "Now, if you come home, you're not going to come back."  And I thought, "Now, I really don't want to come home because I – you know, I just kind of want to think about that," and I knew if I did, and I knew my mother well enough that she meant that.  So I didn't go home, and it was good that I didn't, because sometimes you do things on an impulse and in anger state that you don't – and I thought, "No, I'm not going to go home," and that might have been the end, maybe, I don't know.  But I'm grateful I didn't, because I was very, very young.

Dennis: Did you have any children at that point?

Nancy: No, we didn't have any children then.  That was, you know, we had been married for maybe a year, I don't know, not that long, maybe a year.  So I didn't.  But some girl came up to him and said something to him that he had tried to get her to go somewhere with him, and we got in the car, and we were going home in the car, and he, of course, said he didn't do it, and he hadn't – he didn't know her or whatever, I don't remember what he said, but, anyway, I knew that he was lying, and I tried to jump out of the car.

Dennis: While it was going?

Nancy: While it was going, and I really did try to do it, and I know that there comes a time sometimes that you don't care – you can get to that point – you really don't care.  And I remember it as just as clear right now as it was right now.  And it's frightening to think you can get – a person can get to that point that you don't care, you know?  And he grabbed me and pulled me back in the car, and I think that is at the point I told him, I said, "You know, there may come a day that I would not love you anymore."  You know, it could be over, it could really be over, and I think that did frighten him enough at that moment to think that it could possibly be the end, because I don't think there was anybody that really cared for him, and he knew that, like I did.

Bob: Well, we need to break in here.  We've been listening to the first part of a conversation we had with former NFL pro football player John Bramlett and his wife, Nancy, and we talked about the rocky early years of a marriage.  If there is a time and a place to give up hope that would have been it.

Dennis: And, you know, unfortunately, Bob, the Christian community really gives up on these marriages way too early in the process.  Now, having listened to this, if you had been near them, it would have been difficult to have hung in there with Nancy and tell her to stay put and to still love her husband.  I mean, you're talking about an abusive situation here.

Bob: And, again, we want to say, you'd tell her to get to a place of safety.  You'd tell her to make sure that she's protected, but to counsel somebody to stay faithful in marriage, that's hard counsel to give in that kind of a situation.

Dennis: It is, but the Christian community needs to be fighting for these marriages and standing with these couples as hopefully they'll meet the God of all redemption.  I mean, if there is a hope of a marriage like this, as we're going to hear, God is the one who resurrects dead people and dead marriages, and He's been doing it throughout all of history, and he can do it again today.  And there may be a listener right now who is listening to this story, and they're saying, "You know, you've just changed the names, and it may not be NFL football, but I am in a marriage that is abusive, that's dangerous, and I need help, and I need hope.

And I just want you to know we have some resources here to help you and to bring that hope to you. 

Bob: And one of the things I would point people to is the book we've been talking about all this month called "The Love Dare." When you don't know what else to do, this is something you can do, which is to begin to demonstrate sacrificial, unconditional love in your marriage, which is ultimately what Nancy chose to do in her marriage to John.  And then John and Nancy have both written books.

John tells his story in a book called "Taming the Bull," and Nancy talks about her marriage to John in a book that's called "It's Always Too Soon to Quit," and we have both of those books in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well.

Go to our website,, and there is information available there about these books and other resources designed to help you strengthen your marriage relationship even in the midst of great trial.  And I think we should also mention here that our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, which kick off in another couple of weeks, Valentine's weekend, we begin the spring season of conferences, and it will continue throughout the spring in cities all across the country.

These conferences have been used by God time and time again to help couples who did not know where to find help or hope to help them come to a place where they could realign their priorities, get on the same page, and move forward in a marriage that was now based on commitment and sacrificial love for one another.

There is more information about our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences on our website as well.  Again, the site is or you can also call us at 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and, as always, we want to do whatever we can to help you strengthen your own marriage relationship, and if you're at a point where you are in crisis, and you need help, get in touch with us and let us see if we can somehow get you pointed in the right direction.

Let me also say thank you to those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today by donating to this ministry.  We are listener-supported, and so those donations help defray the costs associated with the production and syndication of this program with maintaining our website, with all that we do here at FamilyLife, and we appreciate your partnership with us.

If you are able to make a donation of any amount this month, we would like to send you a copy of the book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called "Moments With You."  It's a daily devotional designed to be used throughout the year to help the two of you focus together on a particular them each day to have something to talk about that day and something to pray together about that day as well.

When you make a donation to FamilyLife Today online at, you just type the word "moments" into the keycode box on the donation form, and we'll be sure to send you a copy of the book, "Moments With You" when you make a donation of any amount, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can make your donation over the phone and, again, just mention that you'd like the daily devotional, "Moments With You."  We are happy to send it to you.  We do appreciate your partnership with us, and your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Tomorrow we're going to hear more from John and Nancy Bramlett about their marriage and about the dramatic turn of events that took place in both of their lives.  I hope you can join us 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'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.