Life Lessons Gleaned From the Football Field
About the Guest
Are you feeling hammered by life? Former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp defines a blitz and tells how, in football as in life, the most dangerous moment in the game is often the one with the most opportunity. Jeff recalls some of the blitzes of his own life.
Jeff KempJeff is dedicated to strengthening families and strengthening teams. He is passionate about advancing collaboration to support marriages, families and children. In 2012 Jeff joined FamilyLife as Vice President and Catalyst for Helping Others. FamilyLife is a national ministry leader in marriage conferences, radio outreach and empowering resources to heal and strengthen families. Jeff founded and led Stronger Families in the Pacific Northwest from 1993 to 2010. Stronger Families united communitie...more
Are you feeling hammered by life? Former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp defines a blitz and tells how, in football as in life, the most dangerous moment in the game is often the one with the most opportunity.
Life Lessons Gleaned From the Football Field
Bob: The power of a father in the life of a son or a daughter is profound. That means that the loss of that father is also profound. Here’s Jeff Kemp.
Jeff: God is an amazing Father who puts us in families for a purpose. A lot of us don’t have perfect or amazing dads, and so many of us today don’t even have our dad around; but I did. He was a big force, and we were close. But to lose this voice of encouragement—this blueprint of influence and leadership—was just huge, Bob.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do we make adjustments, as sons and daughters, when someone as powerful as a dad is no longer in our lives? We’ll talk with Jeff Kemp about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you remember when our guest today—when I introduced him to our staff back the first time he spoke here?
Dennis: Yes. [Laughter] It was another illustration of how you took a great guy and just kind of pointed out his flaws.
Bob: I don’t know what I was thinking that morning but—
Dennis: I’m not sure either. [Laughter]
Bob: It was like I’d not had my oatmeal or something because I did not honor him appropriately.
Dennis: We’ll let our guest give his side of the story. Jeff Kemp joins us here on FamilyLife Today. Jeff, welcome to the broadcast.
Jeff: Thanks Dennis. It’s great to be with you, and I’m trying to get used to being with Bob again. [Laughter]
Dennis: I understand.
Bob: Still a root of bitterness here. [Laughter]
Dennis: You were an NFL quarterback. So, what did—how did Bob—
Bob: NFL quarterback for 11 years.
Dennis: That’s right. So how did Bob introduce you? Do you remember? I’m sure there’s a root of bitterness somewhere in your heart.
Jeff: It’s been a good humorous story to add to my arsenal of humiliating moments. [Laughter] I was excited to come to FamilyLife. Stacy and I had been to a Weekend to Remember®, and we’d been listening to the radio show and raised our kids on this stuff. We look up to Bob Lepine and Dennis Rainey. We come out here. You guys kindly offer me the chance to speak to and inspire the team.
Bob is on his iPad®, pulling up Wikipedia® and football stats. [Laughter] Now, it’s my fault because I’m the one that threw those incomplete passes and interceptions because: “Our speaker today completed 51 percent of his passes. Is that any good?” And most guys are thinking Peyton Manning, 90 percent. [Laughter] “And he threw about as many interceptions as touchdowns. Is that good? No! No! Andrew Luck doesn’t throw any interceptions—they are all touchdowns. Well, anyway, he’s our speaker for today. Welcome him.”
Bob: He played for the powerhouse of Dartmouth. That’s where he was—
Dennis: You had some fun with it.
Bob: I did have some fun with it, and you showed appropriate humility when you got up to speak.
Jeff: I think I said: “Of all the introductions I’ve ever had, that’s one of them.”
Bob: “That was one of them.”
Dennis: Well, Jeff has joined the team, here at FamilyLife, in 2012. He and his wife Stacy have been married since 1983. They have four sons / two daughters-in-law. He has just finished a book called Facing the Blitz.
I’ve got two questions for you, right off the bat. First of all: “What is a blitz?” And then secondly: “What’s the most difficult blitz you’ve ever faced in your life?”
Bob: Are you talking football blitz or are you talking—
Dennis: I’m going to let him answer it; but what’s a blitz, first of all?—because we have a number of listeners, who are going: “Blitz? I know what a blizzard is, but I’m not sure what a blitz is.”
Jeff: Well, at the end of this interview, I hope that women/men, football fans/non-football fans all identify with the blitz and know that this book and this message is for them.
Dennis: They will.
Jeff: From a football standpoint, the blitz is the most dangerous moment of the game for the quarterback and the offense. What happens is—the defense, which normally has four 300-pound guys rush the quarterback, chooses to send a couple extra guys. Their goal is to create a sack, an interception, a fumble, an injury. But with that very dangerous moment is also a phenomenal opportunity because they cannot cover as many receivers. They are vulnerable to a run that might break through for a touchdown, or a quick slant rod, or a long post route to the middle of the field. Some of football’s greatest plays have come on the blitz.
The blitz is a defensive attack that provides an offensive opportunity. If the offense knows what to do—and does it swiftly enough and sacrifices well enough—they can make a great play out of what seemed to be real trouble.
Bob: There was a blitz moment—I don’t know if this is the one that comes to mind when you think about facing your greatest blitz—
—but I know you talked about one. Wasn’t it a Monday night game against Houston, where you were playing quarterback?
Jeff: Yes, Monday night football. I was on the Philadelphia Eagles. We were playing the Houston Oilers. They had the second best defense in the league / we had the first best defense in the league—defenses were dominating. They knocked one of our quarterbacks out of the game—Jim McMahon. I joked that he sprained his ponytail [Laughter]; but no, he actually got injured and knocked out of the game. So, I got the privilege of jumping into this new team I’d just joined three weeks earlier.
Dennis: You actually referred to the Astrodome, where you were playing, as “the house of pain”—
Jeff: It was “the house of pain.”
Dennis: —because their defense was so tough.
Jeff: They were. We were proving how tough they were—we couldn’t move the ball. The score was 6-3 late in the third quarter—they’re winning. Our coaches called a very slow-developing drop-back pass, which has a lot of risk for the quarterback to get hit before releasing the ball. As I was getting ready to snap the ball, I saw what looked to me like a blitz—all these guys are getting ready—beady eyes / froth in the mouth.
Sure enough, they brought extra people, including the free safety—more than we could handle. The play did turn around in a matter of seconds because players on our team dove in front of blitzing linebackers. Tight end changes his route to a much more quickly-developing post route. Quarterback—myself—I adapted and changed from a slow drop back to a real quick one. Then I looked to where the receiver was, who made this adjustment, so that I could hit him in the middle of the field—where they had no more defenders due to the blitz—but I couldn’t see him because there was an eclipse. The free safety was in my face, but—
Dennis: Well, no, there was also something taking place. You’re about six feet tall. Most of the guys on the line are about 6’4” to 6’7” / 300-plus pounds; right?
Jeff: Yes, but I mean, quarterbacks—I think Russell Wilson is one of the greatest quarterbacks around. He’s 5’1—I’m much too tall to be a great quarterback. [Laughter] Most quarterbacks are 6’5”, 6’4”/ 6’3.”
Dennis: They can see over—
Jeff: It is difficult to see over them.
Usually you see though lanes, if you’re my size. There was no lane to see through [Laughter].
I love the quote that Helen Keller gave years ago—she was asked on a college campus—I think you’ve used this Dennis: “Is there anything worse than being blind Ms. Keller?” And her answer was: “Oh yes. It’d be so much worse to have your eyesight but lack vision.”
At that moment—because the coaches had trained us of where the tight end was going to go—I knew the distance at which he was going to go / I knew the timing of the play. I envisioned where he would be. I had a first initial glimpse of where he was going. So, I planted my foot—got rid of the ball—threw it right by the helmet of the free safety in my face. He landed on top of me, and stuffed me into the ground, and then we waited: “Would it be really noisy?”—which would be good for the home crowd at “the house of pain”—or “Would it be really silent?”—which is good for the visiting Eagles. Sure enough, it was deadly silent because we scored our only touchdown of the game on a play, where I couldn’t see the receiver, but I did have the vision of where he would be. Everyone on our team adapted to the opportunity presented by that dangerous blitz.
Bob: That kind of experience in football provided for you a metaphor that you’ve carried into how you tackle the kinds of life blitzes that all of us face—because we may not face rushing linebackers coming our way—but all of us face blindsiding events in our lives that we have to learn how to adapt to; right?
Jeff: When you lose a job, you don’t expect it. When your child gets a disease that’s far more serious than you expect, you don’t expect it. When your marriage is in deep trouble—and you hear from your spouse, “I don’t know if I’m in love with you anymore,”—you didn’t expect that. Those are blitzes.
Honestly, if we believe in a God, who is all-encompassing and good, and who can take even the cross of Christ, and the grave, and three days in the grave and turn that into the greatest victory ever, He can turn our bad to good if we have His perspective on life’s trials.
Some of that perspective comes straight from Jesus, who said: “In this life you’re going to have trouble,”—this world’s imperfect / expect it—“but don’t fear; I’ve overcome the world.” There are many other places where the Bible talks about what we do when we have trials, when we have tribulation, when we have suffering / when things, circumstantially, don’t go the way we want.
God unfolds a bigger and better purpose—much of it is to get in better relationship with Him, and much of it is to change our character. Eventually, much of it is to bless others around us—which is what He put us on earth for—even in the midst of our trial.
Dennis: For, really, the past almost-40 years, we’ve been hosting what’s called the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We start Friday night with a message that is called “Five Threats to Marriages Today.” The fourth threat is a failure to anticipate trials, troubles, suffering, and problems.
As I listen to you tell the story of what took place in the Astrodome, you’ve referred back to the training you had received, in advance of facing the blitz, to know what to do when you did experience a blitz. Most married couples move into marriage, having never been trained to know how to handle the storms of life—so easily, the blitz occurs; and they become a statistic.
Jeff: Well, I agree with you. I think a big reason for that is because we’re in a consumer society, where we think everything is supposed to make us happy. Sometimes, we have a romanticized idea of how natural, and how easy, and how fun marriage is going to be. Now—Bob, Dennis, and Jeff—we’re all huge marriage fans; right?—
Jeff: —but honestly, we’re realists in this room. That’s because we’ve been married so long and, of course, seeing all the people you’ve ministered to over the years.
But you go into marriage—and you kind of expect it to be natural and easy, and that isn’t great training.
Secondly, you haven’t really been taught the blueprints, in most cases, or been exposed to a mentor couple, who has kind of role-modeled marriage really well for you. And then, of course, a lot of it is the school of hard knocks—you don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve been through it.
It would be a real blessing for more marriages to tell their blitz stories and let the young couples, [who] are going into it, know: “You’re going to face challenges and hits in your marriage. You’re going to have the differences—that were so cute when you dated—are frustrating the heck out of you now. Problems that you never expected are going to hit you, but those are opportunities to develop intimacy (A) with God / (B) with each other; and then, you’ll learn to minister to others, using your challenges as the bridge into other people’s lives.”
Dennis: A little earlier in the broadcast, I asked you: “What was the biggest blitz of your life?” Bob took you off the hook by allowing you to answer it with a sports story of the Houston Oilers and the team you played on.
I want to go back to it and ask the question, “In your life, what has been the single biggest blitz that you’ve ever faced?”
Jeff: I’m going to say two of them. You can ask me about the other one later. I’m going to start with the loss of my dad. I grew up with this larger-than-life, encouraging, amazing, visionary, hugging, kissing, loving, leader dad. He planted a whole lot of that legacy and passion into us. I always grew up thinking that Jack Kemp would be around forever.
Bob: And we should say—because a lot of our listeners know who your dad is—
Jeff: —and many don’t.
Bob: A lot of listeners know your dad played football on the National Football League.
Jeff: He played 13 years as a quarterback; so I thought, “Oh well, I’ll be a quarterback.”
Bob: Then he went on and was a member of Congress for many years.
He was a candidate for Vice President. He was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. We knew Jack Kemp from a distance; you knew him, up-close and personal.
Jeff: Yes, in addition to all those macro things, he was my greatest encourager—notes / phone calls: “You’re a Kemp. Be a leader.” “You’re a Kemp. Be a leader.” “Your day’s going to come—you’re going to shine.” He gave all these words of exhortation. He was like the angel of Gideon in my life—not a perfect man, not even a perfect dad, not a perfect husband—but what a wonderful legacy that he lived with us.
So, I never really considered that he would get sick and pass away some day. He started having some health challenges back in 2007/2008. He thought they were football-related—sore hip / things in his back.
I was at a marriage conference with a bunch of other marriage movement leaders / ministry leaders. There was a devotion time. During the devotion, I thought about my dad’s ill feelings and how he was doing. I thought: “You know what? My dad might get sick and actually die someday. What would it be like if he left and he wasn’t around anymore?” I’d never entered into that thought. I entered into that thought, and I started to cry.
Big friend of mine—Marvin Charles, who leads the inner-city fatherless mentoring program—put his hand on me and said, “Are you okay, brother?” I said: “I think I’m going to cry, Marvin. I’m thinking about my dad and when I might lose him.” He said, “Let me pray for you”; and I just started bawling.
What happened was—I grieved the loss of my dad before he was gone and before I even knew the news that I would receive two weeks later—which was that he had melanoma that had metastasized throughout his body. The cancer was so serious that there was probably no treatment that could save him—though he tried treatment, I think, for our sake. He was gone by May 2, of 2009, just four-and-a-half months of this blitz of experiencing the emotions of grieving my dad’s loss, even prior to his leaving.
Bob: Why was the loss of your dad such a big blitz in your life?
Jeff: Well, the first reason is because God is an amazing Father who puts us in families for a purpose. A lot of us don’t have perfect or amazing dads. So many of us today don’t even have our dad around, but I did. He was a big force, and we were close—he was a quarterback / I was a quarterback. He was a skier / I was a skier. He was a speaker / I was a speaker. We were both passionate—we wanted to make the world better—he did it politically / I did it though ministry and community activities.
To lose this voice of encouragement / this blueprint of influence and leadership was just huge, Bob. It was the emotion that came—snuck up on me.
Of course, his blitz of facing cancer and leaving the world early was huge. That was hard on all of us; but it was almost like God put me through a deeper blitz, early, to get me ready to minister to him during the four months that he had with cancer—which I had some amazing times with him.
Then, when his life ended, it was a celebration of everything he deposited in us. There was less sorrow than gratitude. I feel that we turned the corner pretty quickly because of that—I can’t say that for everyone in my family—but I think that’s the case for most of us, and I felt it for sure. So, that’s the blitz that turned around—I’d say pretty quickly—after those four or five months of his cancer.
Bob: Knowing your dad was facing death, you sat down and began to write out all of the things you were thankful for in his life. That list just went on and on and on.
Jeff: Well, I wrote it in my journal; and then I said, “Mom/Dad, tonight, can I read you some things that I want to thank you for?”
They said, “Sure.” I just went through this list of everything—from how much he hugged us and kissed us, including at college football games, embarrassing me in front of my friends—but I was cool with that because he was a great dad— to taking me on the floor of Congress when I was in junior high school—to taking me to the Buffalo Bills Stadium on Saturday mornings with his teammates and letting me get to know all of his teammates. I knew these NFL players as buddies and threw the ball around with them. This list is long, and I shouldn’t go much further; but one of the greatest things I thanked him for is these notes that I’m holding up here in front of you. These are JFK Grams—his name was Jack French Kemp—same initials as President Kennedy.
He would write these notes on US Congress stationary and: “I want to let you know, Jeff, that you’re always a starter. You’re in your right place. God has a plan for you. How you think in your mind is going to shape how to behave on the field. I’m behind you all the time.”
He gave these to my sisters. They’d show up at the dinner table; they’d be on your pillow; they’d be in your car before you drove to work or school. He sent them to us in college. I got them all through pro-football / I got them after pro-football—these were letters where he would send maybe a Scripture, a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, his own positive, optimistic mentality and usually his affirmation of our identity, which my dad was excellent at. He really affirmed the identity of his children as a child of God, someone special that was made to make a difference in this world—always labeled us as leaders.
So, with my sons—as I know you guys have done with your sons—I don’t have daughters—my biggest words of Gideon encouragement / Jack Kemp encouragement are focused on their faith, their character, their perseverance, their humility, the way they care for others, the way they bounce back, the way they love their family, the loyalty they show to their friends. Those things will never change in your identity—but being a starting quarterback, which my dad kept encouraging me to become, which it happened / that went away—that wasn’t my identity.
Dennis: You know, it hits me, Jeff—as I’m listening to you talk about your life, your dad’s life, and the blitzes you’ve faced—you’ve both experienced some victories and some losses. What you’re challenging us to do here is just take a step back—in the pocket, so to speak in football terms—and view life from God’s perspective if you’re being “blitzed” right now.
The training I think we all need is from the Scripture, and walking with Jesus Christ—when the sun’s out, and when it’s shining, and there is no rain and there are no storms—
—so when the storms do come, you will be able to stand firm in your faith in Christ, and withstand the blitzes, and get back in the game of life and raise your children. This is one of the big takeaways as I listen to you today: “Get back up,” and “Men, lead your children in knowing how to tackle life, as well, because they’re going have failures too. They need to know how to succeed but, also, how to process failures as well.
Bob: Tell our listeners who you had in mind and who you were thinking about as you wrote this book.
Jeff: I was thinking about guys that are probably 45 to 50 years old. I was thinking of some of my fraternity brothers—guys who are solid guys, great Americans, hard workers, successful—but they’re at the stage where some tough things are happening—you lose a parent, business goes south, a marriage gets in trouble, a child has a super big problem, maybe even lose a child.
They don’t really know how to handle a loss—I want to encourage people.
Bob: You know, Dennis, I think about listeners, who may be facing blitzes, who may need encouragement today. They may want to get a copy of Jeff’s book, either for them or if they know someone who’s going through a tough time—get a copy of the book, Facing the Blitz, by Jeff Kemp and pass it on to them, particularly if they’re football fans. I just think that it would help a little bit; right?
We have copies of Facing the Blitz in our FamilyLife Today Resource center. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see information about Jeff Kemp’s book, Facing the Blitz. Once again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and look for Facing the Blitz when you get in touch with us.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you’d like to order over the phone: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I’m thinking, as Jeff was talking today, about the number of couples we see at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, who are going through a blitz. It may be because the two of them aren’t on the same page, or it may be that life has just thrown a lot at them—and it’s gotten hard—and maybe they’ve gotten sideways in the midst of that.
FamilyLife’s goal in all that we do—whether it’s at a Weekend to Remember getaway, through our daily radio program / the resources we have available online—we want to provide help. We want to be like the offensive line and help hold off some of the tacklers so that you can survive and thrive in your marriage and in your family.
We’re enabled in this by those of you who join with us as additional members of the offensive line. You help provide the funding for this ministry through your support, either as a monthly Legacy Partner or as somebody who makes an occasional contribution to help support this ministry. We’re grateful for all that you do.
If you can help with a donation today to support our ministry, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a two-book bundle. We call it the Courageous Living bundle. We have Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up, for men. We have the new book by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss called True Woman 201. It’s available for women. We’re sending out both books as a thank-you gift if you can help with a donation today of, at least, $50.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,”—make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make your donation over the phone and ask for the books by Dennis Rainey and Mary Kassian / Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Jeff Kemp. We’re going to talk more about football, and families, and faith, and how we press through all the issues in life together. 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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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