Leaving a Legacy of Enduring Faith
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NFL players Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, and Josh McCown talk about the lasting legacy of their years together in Detroit, not just playing football but also letting their light shine.
Bob: You would think being drafted as a quarterback into the NFL meant that your life was headed in a good direction. But it didn’t take Dan Orlovsky long to recognize that, although his football career was looking promising, the rest of his life wasn’t.
Dan: I was heading down a path of becoming everything I did not want to become when it comes to being a husband and being a dad. I was going to cheat on my wife at some point, whoever that wife was going to be; I was going to cut down my kids, and belittle them, and intimidate them, and kind of become this version of myself that was my greatest fear.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 8th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to hear from Dan Orlovsky today and teammates Jon Kitna and Josh McCown about how God did a work in all of their lives, and a lot of their teammates’ lives, back in 2006. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Does it matter to you who is in the opening game of the season, whether you like these teams or care about the teams or not, or are you just going to watch the first game of the season—I’m talking about football, you know, which is getting started here—does it matter what two teams are playing, or will you just be there no matter what?
Dave: I’ll be there no matter what.
Ann: Yes, he will.
Dave: It’s exciting. Again, I’m not the guy that sits on the couch and watches every NFL game; but I do like to watch an occasional game, and I get excited. You know, you get your Diet Coke® and you jump over there on the couch. Again, I’m a guy that, for 33 seasons, was on the sideline and never got to do this. I didn’t realize how wonderful it is to lay on a couch, watch the replay, yell at the screen—none of that I could do.
Ann: I was so surprised that you liked it; because I thought, “Oh, this is going to be so hard for you to transition out”; and you’re loving it.
Dave: Yes; I was never a fan, and now I’m a fan. Before, you’re there—you can’t experience what the typical fan experiences—and I think it’s fun.
Bob: What about wings or particular food that you’re going to have—pretzels or—
Dave: Oh, all of it.
Ann: He’s a popcorn guy.
Dave: —and pretzels and wings.
Bob: Well, we’re talking about football because football’s been a big part of your life. For 33 years you were the chaplain for the Detroit Lions. You played college football at Ball State; you were a college all-star playing for Ball State.
Ann: Hall of Famer.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: Thank you, honey; thanks for throwing that in. [Laughter]
Bob: You, in your years as chaplain, you saw God do some great things in players’ lives; but we’ve been looking this week at the 2006/2007 season for the Detroit Lions, which was a remarkable year—a year of spiritual renewal and revival in the locker room—that really centered around, as we’ve already heard this week, two guys who came into the team, already sold out for Jesus.
Bob: That’s Jon Kitna and Josh McCown.
Bob: Then, there was a third guy who shows up, who’s a quarterback; and he wasn’t in the same place, spiritually; was he?
Dave: No; on a football team, there are different positions; and they really spend a lot of time in those positions. There’s the quarterback room, which had a quarterback coach; Jon the starter; Josh the backup; and Dan, the third-string rookie, really in his second year. They’re spending a lot of time together; it becomes a small group in a sense.
Dan is watching Jon, who’s this on-fire strong man of God, and Josh, the same thing. I’d never seen that, in all my time in Detroit—these two quarterbacks who had, not only these unique walks with God, but they also understood: “We’re not here just to win football games here. We’re here to win a locker room to Jesus,”—they were on mission, and Dan got to watch them. Dan started to ask questions, like, “What is this faith that you guys have?”
Ann: It’s interesting, too—you may be listening to this, thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to listen to this; because it’s about football.” But we all interact with people—in our workplace; as moms, maybe you’re at school functions and watching your kids do things—we all are on a mission; it’s not just football.
Dave: This story really isn’t about football; it’s a lot bigger.
Bob: This is a God story. We had a chance recently to get these three guys together—Jon Kitna, Josh McCown, Dan Orlovsky—and revisit what happened in Detroit in 2006/2007 and the transformation that was just about to take place in Dan Orlovsky’s life.
Dave: I want to get back to Dan’s story a little bit; because Josh and Jon, you came to me—I think one Saturday, mid-season/Dan would know for sure—but you said, “Hey, man, I think if you share the gospel tonight at chapel, Dan’s ready.”
Josh: —before the Green Bay game.
Dave: Correct; I was just like, “Wow! That means, not only are you guys praying and sharing with Dan in the locker room in the quarterback room, but you’re seeing some movement.”
I shared the gospel that night. I didn’t always have an invitation at chapel, but I did; I closed it and said, “Hey, tonight’s your night; give your life to Christ.” I hear nothing. You know, you guys go to meetings; I go home.
Next day, I’m on the sideline—I don’t know if you remember this—but Kit, you’re running over to go onto the field after a punt/offense taking the field—I’m standing there. Dan has the headset on, Josh is up there, and you literally run by me—Kit, you remember this?—and you go, “Hey, man, ask Dan what happened last night.” You run on the field; and I’m like, “Who is thinking about this right now in an NFL game?!”
Jon: It’s probably why we’re 3-13.
Dave: Yes, exactly! [Laughter] I walk over to Dan during time-out; and I’m like, “Dude, what happened last night?” He goes, “Dude, I gave my life to Christ! I’ll tell you later.”
So, Dan, talk us through this; what happened?
Dan: Well, we have to go back in time a little bit; because we talked about meeting Josh and Jon, and then their initial dive into the locker room. I’m watching them; and my thoughts are starting to kind of figure out, “Okay, there’s something different about them.” I start to ask them questions about the way they live their life and why they live their life. They’re both incredibly open and transparent about it all.
I’m that annoying young player that/I’m asking more non-football questions than football questions, really. They really both decide to/they start inviting me into their lives and start answering the questions with actions. Kit kind of takes me under his wing of discipleship, and I start going to Kitna’s house a couple times a week—correct me if I’m wrong—I want to say five a.m. or something like that. It’s five o’ clock in the morning; I’m going to Kit’s house.
He starts me off—I remember the first time we did it, he said, “I want you to read
1 John, Chapter 1.” I’m like, “Alright; where’s 1 John?” [Laughter] I was on this journey. I didn’t want to believe in Christianity strictly because the quarterbacks of my team did it and I thought that was my way to play in the NFL for a long time. I asked a lot of unique and difficult questions. I really dove into this studying—because I’m like you, Wilson, in many ways—skeptical and try to prove people wrong type thing. I read 1 John, and Kitna’s discipling me through it. Then he asked me, “Alright, now you’re going to read Acts”; so I read Acts.
We’re going on this journey, month after month; meanwhile, sprinkling in Bible study on Thursdays and the couples study—me, as a single person—on Monday nights. I’m going to all these studies. Kit is discipling me, one on one, in the mornings; and then, obviously, we’re with each other almost every single day. We’re playing golf with each other all the time; we’re playing hoops with each other all the time. In many ways, they were discipling me with the actual Bible; and then they were discipling me with their actions, and their words, and their everyday life.
That September 23, 2006, was my second year. I’m pretty into—I’m on fire at this point—and pretty into my discipleship and whatnot. We’re in chapel that night. I’m sitting somewhere in the middle of the room. I just remember you going like, “Guys, I don’t normally do this, but it’s put on my heart that I should give someone the opportunity or anybody the opportunity to accept Christ tonight.”
I remember sitting there and going, “No way. [Laughter] I think Wilson’s talking to me, but I’m not going to say anything.” He’s like, “Alright, close your eyes and repeat after me…” I’m just looking around, and no one’s doing anything. I’m repeating the prayer, but I’m like, “I feel like this is strictly to me.” I’m getting this nudge in my back to actually say something. I’m like, “No one’s touching me; I feel like he’s talking to me.”
That is the night and the process of me giving my life to Christ. I didn’t tell anybody that night. I woke up the next morning; and I remember running around the field in pre-game and just having this freedom—this weight lifted off of my shoulders—this joy. I remember Kit coming up to me and being like, “What’s up with you, man?” I was like, “Nothing.” I was like a nine-year-old, who just got some kind of cool video game or something, “Nothing.”
You know, through a couple minutes of conversation, I told him that I’d given my life to Christ. He and Josh actually both got me this Bible. You guys probably can’t see it, but yes.
Josh: It’s the archeological Bible; I’ll never forget that!
Dan: Yes, you guys gave me this Bible shortly thereafter and wrote personalized notes in it to me: “Brothers in Christ” or “Born in Christ”—really cool stuff.
Dave: Yes, it was pretty cool. The other day, Dan, your text to Jon, and Josh, and I—the group text—was if you would have been drafted somewhere else, you don’t know who [you’d be] today. What did that mean?
Dan: I was heading down a path of becoming everything I did not want to become, when it comes to being a husband and being a dad. I don’t think I would have been bad at it, but I knew I was going to become what I didn’t want to become with it. I was going to cheat on my wife at some point—whoever that wife was going to be—I was going to cut my kids down, and belittle them, and intimidate them, and kind of become this version of myself that was my greatest fear.
When you look back at: “Man, why did you get drafted by the Lions in 2005?—and the weather stinks—and our team stunk?” As I went through this process with you guys, with Kit, Josh and Dave, what I realized was I never went to the Lions for football. If I had gotten drafted by the Bears, or the Chargers, or someone else, I more than likely would have ended up being exactly what I didn’t want to end up being.
[Emotion in voice] But because somehow God decided to put me in Detroit, and Kit in Detroit, and Josh in Detroit, and the Wilsons were there, it just changed my life. It changed my kids’ lives; changed my wife’s life. I don’t know where it goes from there; but I just know, if it wasn’t for that—if it was to 31 other teams—I’d be a loser, dude, you know, in many ways. It’s hard for me to try to put it to words, on a daily basis, how thankful I am that I went to Detroit. Because of that time, I didn’t become what was my biggest fear of becoming.
Jon: Hearing you share your heart—God knew exactly what He was doing, obviously—He always does. But to put Josh and I there at the same time—because Dan was skeptical; and Dan likes to argue; and Dan likes to bring up stuff like—before he was saved, he was really trying to stump you with questions. I’m a black-and-white person; a lot of times, that would cause Dan and I to be kind of going at each other a little bit; and Josh was always right there to kind of come and soften a blow for Dan but then, also, to grab me behind closed doors and say, “I think you were wrong there.” It was literally Paul and Barnabas type stuff.
It wasn’t just Dan; there were multiple guys in the locker room like that—that Josh would be like, “Look, man, you’re going to lose them. You’re saying truth, but the way you’re saying it, you’re going to lose them.” Josh was so good at that; he was very in tune with the pulse of guys in the locker room, collectively and individually. It was Josh’s idea, like, “Hey, let’s carpool with Trey Bly and Tom Riola,”—stuff like that—he was just unbelievable that way. I’d never seen it, and it was amazing to see how God orchestrated that.
Josh: Yes; I just think it speaks to community and why we’re supposed to do life in community, because we all have different skills. As believers, obviously, we have different gifts; and those things are needed so that God can draw people to Himself.
I think some of the things that I saw in Jon I admired—he was so firm on things and could—I was, “Ah, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.” I think those are things that I walked away from that year, but there was always a need to bring it together. The combination I think allowed us to be able to use each other’s strengths and gifts for God to amplify our gifts and glorify Himself.
Dave: Yes; it’s great to think—and I know you guys know the Word so well—in John, it talks about Jesus coming in grace and truth. That’s what I watched you model: there was a truth that was firm and strong, and there was a grace.
I’m not kidding; I’ve rarely seen the kind of joy, and laughter, and acceptance that was in that locker room with you guys at the same time. There was no compromising the truth, but there was—that’s why I said the locker room leaned toward—I mean, they’re playing cards over by you guys. They didn’t play on the other side of the locker room, they played by—
Ann: —because joy is contagious.
Dave: Joy is contagious, and they wanted to be around Josh’s joy and laughter and Kit’s truth! The gifting of the body of Christ was so real that it drew Dan and others.
Think about this—I mean, I know you know this, but the legacy of you guys—I mean, I watch you now as husbands, as fathers with your sons and daughters—
Ann: —and you each have an amazing wife—each of you—your wives are incredible.
Dave: Yes; so I would just say for Ann and I—I don’t know if we’ve ever said this to you privately—we love you guys, and we thank you for that year. It was, in 33 seasons, one of the best/if not the best year of our lives, watching you guys do the ministry. It wasn’t our ministry; it was God’s ministry through you.
Ann: We called it the Year of Jubilee.
Dave: We called it the Year of Jubilee because we ended up with a car at the end of the year, and that was pretty special too! [Laughter]
Ann: Hey, you know, the whole time you guys were talking, I was thinking of
Matthew 5:14, because you guys and your wives were this to the Detroit Lions that year: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven.” I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that lived out so well as all of you, and you’re still doing it.
Dan: I think that’s perfectly timed, Ann, because one of the most appealing things through all of it—for all of us that were part of that—was Josh and Jon never wavered. In the midst of absolute darkness, when it comes to our everyday life/what we were doing with our jobs, it was a struggle. There were multiple opportunities for those guys to waver, or a chink in the armor to be exposed, and for it to look fake. There was never a wavering of Josh’s joy. We practiced as hard as we possibly could; and we lost 35 to 14, or something like that. Never a wavering with Josh’s joy. Or we practiced as hard as we can, and we get beat by whoever. Never wavering in Kit and his truth. It was never this circumstantial thing, dependent on if we were playing good or if we were winning every game.
That was, for so many of us—certainly for myself—that was such a defining aspect of it was: “That’s when it was real. When everything pointed for you not to be that way, you guys were that way.” It was hard to be that way, I would imagine, given the circumstances we were in. That’s what was the craziest thing to me at that time, was how the circumstances of what we were going through had no impact on your foundation of who you were.
Jon: The thing that—I tell this all the time; it’s such a part of my testimony in the Lord—which is, it was literally like watching the Bible just come to life/the reverberation effect of what happened there. Dave, you said 25, and I think it was somewhere around 25 that one year. I was at PAO three years after that; and a teammate that was in Detroit, that I’d never had one conversation with, comes up, “I want you to baptize my wife and I.” That stuff—the last I counted was 39 people that got baptized because of what happened that year.
Again, it was just so fun; because it was God; right? Ten games—we won ten games in three years. By all accounts, it’s a complete disaster. Thirty-nine people are getting baptized?—that’s not talking about, like Dan said, his family, and his wife, and his kids.
Now, you watch what Josh is doing; it’s like Jesus is walking in the NFL. Wherever Josh goes, it’s like PKEWWH!
Dave: I want to add this—I mean, we’ve talked about the legacy. What Jon and Josh—you guys don’t know—is when Dan goes away from the Lions, traded, and then comes back—how many years later, Dan, was it before you came back?—five years?—six years?
Dan: Six years.
Dave: Yes; he comes back six years later, and guess what he is in that locker room? He’s now Jon and Josh; he led like you guys led. This guy, who didn’t know Christ, now comes back and, you know, leads a revival in a different way/in a smaller way; but in the same way, hosts a Bible study at his house.
Then, Jon, you go on to coach high school football; you’re impacting kids around the country. You’re going to continue to do that through your own family and others. Josh is going to play football till he’s 60, and then maybe he’ll coach high school football; I don't know. But anyway, your legacy is continuing on. It’s the way God designed us to do life; we are called to make a dent where we’re sent.
Jon: I’m telling you—it’s such a—Dave, you were the perfect person; because you just created this space for us. You’re like, “Come to my church!” Guys are coming; and in chapel, you’re giving us opportunities to lead and have Bible study. You know what you meant to my wife and how we would just show up at your guys’ house on Friday nights for date night, and just sit on your couch, still to this day. But the space you created, not just for us but for—how many years were you there?—50 years? [Laughter]
Dave: I am the losingest chaplain in the history of the NFL. [Laughter] That’s been clarified by data.
Dan: People are getting saved, though.
Dave: They are.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to three old friends. As you said, it’s just nice to hear their voices.
Ann: Their voices, yes.
Bob: Jon Kitna, who was the starter for the Detroit Lions in 2006, who is now a high school coach in Texas; right?
Bob: And Josh McCown, who—we’re not sure if he’ll play this year or not—
Dave: He probably will end up playing again, season number 18 or something.
Bob: Pretty amazing. Then, Dan Orlovsky, who we watch on ESPN—all three of them a part of the Detroit Lions team in 2006/2007, when God did a really remarkable thing in their lives and a remarkable thing on that team during that season.
There is something about sport, and about team, and about camaraderie that comes with that that is fertile soil for the gospel seeds to be planted and for God to do a work.
Dave: Yes; and it is pretty amazing, even now, years later, to hear Dan cry and tear up when he thinks, “What if I had been on a different team?” He doesn’t even know if [he’d be] the man he is today. But God’s providence is real in his life; and it’s real in your life and our life.
Ann: That decision to follow Jesus has affected his life, and his legacy, his marriage—everything is different because of that decision.
Dave: Think about that—you know, we sat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a couple years ago with Dan and Tiffany, having dinner Saturday night at a Weekend to Remember®.
Ann: Their second Weekend to Remember.
Dave: They drove over to, and all that started because he was a Detroit Lion. Now, he’s impacting—and Jon is, and Josh, and their families—it’s really a picture of how God works and wants to, not just do something in us, but through us to impact the neighborhoods He puts us in.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the profound power of a gentle answer in the face of escalating heated rhetoric. There’s a lot of that going on these days in marriages, and in families, and in the culture in general. Pastor Scott Sauls is going to join us tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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