It is not uncommon for a little boy to have a poster on his bedroom wall of his favorite athlete. In fact, I imagine that most little boys in Columbus, especially those boys who play and love football, might have a poster of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or some other famous player associated with the Indianapolis Colts on their wall.
We have a natural tendency to feel a connection and identify with that professional sports franchise that is closest to our geographical location. We love to root for the hometown team.
I was no different. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Atlanta so there is no surprise that I was an Atlanta Falcons fan. However, my childhood hero was not Chris Miller, Steve Bartkowski, Gerald Riggs, Jesse Tuggle, Andre Rison or Deion Sanders, who happened to be some of the most notable Falcons while I was growing up.
My favorite player was John Scully. John had a 10-year career in the NFL with the Falcons and played college football at Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame, John made the All-American team and was a Fighting Irish team captain during his senior year.
Even though just making it to the NFL is an incredible accomplishment, it’s a little odd that a young boy’s favorite player was a lesser known athlete — especially since he was on the same team as the best defensive back in the history of the NFL, Deion Sanders.
The reason Scully was my favorite was that he was also my neighbor. As a kid growing up, I would hang out with John. My family would have cookouts with his family. If I saw John or his wife Annette working in their yard, I would head over there.
I am sure that this young married couple would say to themselves, “Hurry up and get inside now. Scott sees us and is heading this way!” I don’t hide the fact that I took advantage of being John’s neighbor and told everybody at school that John Scully who played for the Atlanta Falcons was my friend, because after all, John was my hero.
As I got old enough to play football myself, John would come to my games and cheer me on. Yes, I was just a kid playing youth football and I had an NFL player come to MY games to cheer ME on.
It’s the small things like this that make lasting and profound impact on a kid’s life. As I found myself in the role of a high school quarterback who received a scholarship to play football at Georgia Military College, I would still walk over to John’s house every time I saw him working in his yard just to spend time with my hero.
As I am writing this column right now, some of my most vivid memories of John are of him working out and running in the neighborhood. Regardless if the Falcons won or lost, and there were more losses than wins during his pro career, John would be out on the street doing wind sprints. He taught me the importance of working hard and having a great work ethic.
He trained and trained. As a kid, I didn’t understand why this guy trained so hard. But now, as an adult, I have come to realize that the NFL really stands for “Not For Long,” since there were always athletes who were competing for John’s starting position on the offensive line.
If he didn’t run extra wind sprints or swim extra laps in the neighborhood swimming pool, a younger athlete could have taken his position from him. John knew that he had to keep his body conditioned so he could perform at a level that kept him a cut above all those around him. He understood the power of training.
Just like training for football, we can gain power from training and conditioning in our walk with Christ. At Christmas, you might give your dad, grandfather or special man in your life power tools. At least I have been told that some men appreciate those types of gifts, although I am not one of them because I am not a handyman.
Well, God has given us gifts of power tools as well. These power tools from God are the gifts of reading the Bible, prayer and spending time with other believers. By failing to use these power tools, we will not experience gain in our relationship with him.
John knew that if he did not push himself daily that he would find another offensive lineman taking his starting role. We need to realize that there is power in training, not only our professional life but also in our personal walk with God.
The Rev. Scott Murphy is the new pastor at Columbus’ Memorial Baptist Church. He can be reached at 812-376-6800 or [email protected].