Christian Marriage in the NFL
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Kirk Cousins, quarterback for the Minnesesota Vikings, and his wife, Julie, share about how God brought them together and their walk with Him as a couple.
Christian Marriage in the NFL
Bob: Imagine for a minute you’re married to a professional football player/the quarterback on the team, and the team’s having a lousy game. Everybody in the stands is calling your husband a bum; what would that feel like? Well, Julie Cousins, the wife of pro quarterback Kirk Cousins, doesn’t have to imagine it.
Julie: I mean, it hurts. It’s not like I’m like “Oh, whatever.” It is a big deal; it does matter. It hurts my feelings, but it’s not our identity. Football is our job, and I realize that we’re going to fail—that’s life—you’re not going to win every game; you’re not going to play perfect—it’s the lens I choose to look at it. It’s such a fun career; it’s such a fun lifestyle. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to hear today what it’s like to live your life with your successes and your failures out in front of everybody, right there on the front page. We’re also going to hear how God brought Kirk and Julie Cousins together—pretty remarkable story—stay with us.
[Broadcasting from Minneapolis, Minnesota]
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think this is going to be—whether a listener is a football person or not—
Dave: Are we talking football today, Bob?
Bob: Well, I think—
Ann: I don’t know; but someone’s over here, salivating, because this is the topic that he likes to discuss. [Laughter]
Bob: Listeners are going to love this, too,—
Ann: Yes, they are.
Bob: —because it’s more than football we’re talking about here.
Dave: Is there anybody that doesn’t love football?
Dave: Everybody loves football. Today, they’re going to love football; because they’re going to get a behind-the-scenes look in some things that most people don’t know about football and, specifically, the NFL. We are in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with Kirk and Julie Cousins, who are going to be our guests today.
If you don’t know that name, Kirk is the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, went to the Pro Bowl last year, been in the league nine years. There’s all kinds of great stuff I could say; but he’s, not only a great quarterback, but a great man and a great marriage. We’re going to talk behind the scenes, Bob.
Bob: Why don’t you tell listeners about the first time you met. I don’t even know if you [Kirk] remember—do you remember the first time you and Dave met?
Kirk: I believe it was at a Detroit Lions chapel, when I was very young; but maybe I have that wrong.
Dave: I was at Hope College. You were 13 years old; do you remember this?
Kirk: No, no.
Dave: I’m going to tell you something that I deserve credit for something. What happened was—Jason Hanson, our kicker at the time,—
Dave: —and Nick Harris, was our punter, were invited over to Hope College to do a little kicking camp—just an afternoon. Our friend, Denny Allen, basically said, “Hey, Dave, you should come along too.” I’m like “What for?” He goes “I don’t know; you’ve got nothing else to do. Chaplains don’t do anything; right?”
I end up over there, and they’re doing this little kicking thing in the football field at Hope College. Your dad, Don, comes over. Now I knew Don because he was a consultant for our church when we started Kensington back in the ‘90s. Don walks over to me—I’ll never forget this—and he goes “Hey, you’re a high school quarterback coach; right?” I was coaching high school football.
Kirk: You played in college.
Dave: Yes—he said that—“You played college football; right? You’re in the Hall of Fame.” He’s just going on with all this stuff; I’m like, “Where is he going with this?” He goes, “My kid thinks he’s a quarterback. Will you throw the ball with him and tell me?—because I don’t know if he’s a quarterback or not—but he sure thinks he is. Will you throw the ball?” You don’t remember this.
Kirk: I vaguely remember that.
Dave: We whip the ball back and forth; and by the way, he had a better arm at 13 than I did my whole life. Your dad comes over and he goes, “So what do you think?” I said “Well, there’s a lot more to playing quarterback than throwing the football.”
Kirk: Right; exactly.
Dave: I said, “Is he smart?” He goes, “Oh my goodness, he is really smart.” [Laughter] I go, “Is he a leader?” “Oh, he leads the whole house at 13!” I go, “Well, I can tell you this: if he was in Rochester, Michigan, he’d be my starting quarterback right now at 13.” I think I discovered Kirk Cousins. [Laughter]
Kirk: I love it; I love it.
Ann: He takes credit for you, Kirk; he takes credit for you.
Julie: Kirk remembers everything, so I don’t know how he doesn’t remember that.
Bob: We should acknowledge that Julie is here with you.
Julie: I was going to say—
Kirk: I know; I was just going to say, “I’m going to introduce my wife here; Julie’s with me. Julie and I have been married for six years, going on seven.”
Ann: Kirk, it’s not good when you’re hesitating and you’re looking up.
Kirk: I know; we have two boys, Cooper and Turner. Julie is the queen of the house and makes everything go and keeps everything running.
Julie: Thank you.
Bob: You met and started dating an NFL quarterback; right?
Julie: Yes; we met eight years ago. I was attending the University of Georgia; Kirk was attending Michigan State, and going into our senior years. Kirk was a year older, so he had a fifth year. Going into our last football season and college semester, we had a family friend say that God put it on her heart to set us up. I didn’t know if she was telling Kirk this, but she was telling me this. She said, “You can just Google him; look him up.”
This was back when Google was just beginning, so I found him on Wikipedia. [Laughter] I saw his picture and just read that he attended Michigan State. I just thought, “I’m in Georgia; he’s in Michigan. I would love to meet him, but I’m not really sure how that would happen. I’ve never been to Michigan. I don’t really know anyone from there.” I just kind of laughed it off; like, “That’d be fun.” I just kind of dismissed the idea.
Six months later, University of Georgia and Michigan State got matched up in a bowl game. My whole family is diehard Georgia Bulldog fans, so we were going to go to the game anyways. The matchmaker figured out a way—she’s like, “I’ve got to get down there”—she’s a teacher in Atlanta.
Ann: Kirk, did you know any of this?
Kirk: I didn’t know any of it; no. [Laughter]
Ann: This is behind-the-scenes matchmaking; okay?
Julie: Yes; well, it came down to the day of the game; and I still hadn’t met him. She said, “After the game, just meet us by the team bus; and we’ll just introduce you real quick.”
After the game—which was triple overtime; Michigan State beat Georgia—so I’m wearing bright red/got my cowboy boots on—go into this sea of green and just wait. I see Becky, the matchmaker. She pulls me into the circle. Kirk came out in his football uniform. I’m just like, “What do I do now?!”—[hesitantly] “Hello.” He has no idea who I am; he’s looking at me, just like, “Who is this girl? Why is she wearing red?” All I did was say, “Hi, I’m Julie; I know Becky.”
Ann: Did Kirk have a girlfriend at the time?
Julie: He did.
Dave: Oh! Let’s hear about this. [Laughter]
Dave: What happened to the girlfriend? Where did this go?
Ann: Hey, Kirk’s innocent in this whole thing now.
Bob: I just want to know—when you saw the cowboy boots and the red by the bus, and she said, “Hey, I’m Julie,”—
Ann: —and she’s super cute.
Bob: —did you go, “I forget who my other girlfriend is,”—did you forget? [Laughter]
Kirk: Julie clearly caught my eye. Yes; six years of marriage and two kids later; yes, she caught my eye. [Laughter]
Julie: Yes, he was not unfaithful to his girlfriend or anything. [Laughter] He didn’t even call me or anything until six months later.
Dave: Whoa, whoa, wait; six months—why?
Kirk: Well, we—[Laughter]
Ann: He was dating another girl!
Kirk: The season ended. I was dating someone else, and I was also training for the draft. There was just a lot of uncertainty with: “Where am I going to be living? What’s going to be going on?” It was really right after I was drafted that I reached out to you.
Julie: —the day after the draft.
Kirk: We started casually talking, set up a first date—I flew to Atlanta; I rented a car—took her out on a date.
Bob: Wait! All you’d met was by the bus one time—
Julie: Yes; can you imagine?
Bob: —and six months later, you’re flying to Atlanta to take her out somewhere?
Julie: —and then trying to play it cool—like, “This isn’t a big deal at all.”
Bob: “I do this all the time.” [Laughter]
Julie: He—also, I was living with my parents; I’m in college in the summer. I’m like, “I can’t have him come to my parents’ house on the first date. This is so intense—like, ‘Hello, this is my mom and dad.’” I was house-sitting for my aunt, so I had him pick me up over there. He, to this day, doesn’t understand why I did that.
Kirk: I wanted to meet everybody; because I thought, “I’ve got one shot at this. I don’t know when I’m going to get back to Atlanta.”
Julie: Of course, my parents are on his side.
Kirk: “I’d like to meet everybody I can meet in this one trip.” It wouldn’t be intimidating for me, but she took it as: “Let’s not overwhelm him on the first date.”
Ann: Talk about your faith, you guys, in terms of your marriage—this is your life; this is very important to you both—how did that play a factor into deciding whether you should get married or not?
Kirk: We were very intentional. That’s kind of the only way I know how to be. [Laughter] I was probably too intentional; right Julie?
Julie: Yes. [Laughter]
Kirk: We were dating, and I felt she was the one. I was ready to go; I didn’t really need to keep dating and continue to figure that out.
Dave: How quick was that? Was it a couple of months?
Kirk: We went on our first date in late June; it was probably late August. I knew pretty quickly; but obviously, wisdom is to have patience; so we actually did date for a while. We didn’t get married for another year-and-a-half. We took our time.
Bob: I have to tell you—I first heard your name when you were playing at Michigan State, where my mom and dad graduated from Michigan State.
Kirk: That’s outstanding.
Bob: I heard about students all over campus wearing t-shirts that said, “I agree with Kirk.” Tell about: “How did that get started?” and “What did it feel like to be the guy on campus, with everybody has a t-shirt with your name on it?”
Kirk: Cru® was pretty strong on campus at Michigan State; they had a tremendous group of students there every week doing weekly meetings. They came up with the idea because, years ago, they had done an evangelistic outreach called “I agree with John.” They marketed it vaguely around campus as: “I agree with John,”—and then—“Come at this time and this place to learn more.” It was the Gospel of John was what they were agreeing with.
They thought: “Could we do a spin with that in Kirk’s senior year?” By this time, I had played enough, where people kind of knew my name. They just said: “Could we just do ‘I agree with Kirk,’ and leave it at that, and allow Kirk to fill in what we’re agreeing with him on when we got there?” I thought it was a cool idea. We probably had over
2,000 students show up on a Thursday night in the fall. The chance to stand there, near the end of my senior year, and share the gospel to 2,000 students—that was a “Wow!”
I remember walking the campus, as a freshman, redshirting as a player, who was not heavily recruited. The projections were not that I was going to be a main contributor on the team, and just walking the campus and saying, “Lord, I want to make You famous. I want You to use football as a platform to help make You famous.” So senior year, to have that happen, was pretty special.
Dave: Now, where did you get that perspective as a freshman?
Kirk: The Don, my dad. [Laughter]
Dave: You call him “The Don”?
Kirk: Yes; I call him “The Don.” My dad is a pastor in Orlando—loves sports/loves football—and so obviously, he’s been very involved in my life. He was coaching our teams. You talk about having a mentor, but I had one right there with my dad. He just—I guess both my parents, my mom as well—just rooted that in me. I was raised to think that way I guess you could say.
Dave: You mentioned—you didn’t finish the story—you were intentional/maybe, too intentional.
Kirk: Yes; so I purchased a book that said—
Julie: Oh, yes; I forgot about that.
Kirk: —101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged.
Ann: Oh, yes; we have that book.
Julie: —and checked off each page.
Kirk: I wanted to go through them. I was actually surprised with how effective it was to just go through and ask those questions.
Julie: We were long-distance dating—because he was in Washington, DC, and I was in Georgia—and so every night, we would do like three questions.
Kirk: —over the phone.
Julie: It was fun; but sometimes, it could feel like an interview—but he doesn’t care—[Laughter]
Ann: He’s used to those.
Julie: Yes; but I sometimes felt like: “If I don’t answer right, what is he going to think?” or “What kind of answer does he want?” It did allow us to get to know each other. I think we recommended the book to a friend or two. [Laughter]
Kirk: We dated, long distance, my rookie year. Then, my second season in Washington, we felt—my parents felt/her parents felt—it would be wise to have more normal time around each other. Julie actually got a teaching job in the Washington area, found a roommate, and moved there—which, without a ring on her finger, was kind of a big deal—but we felt: “Let’s just take the next step in terms of being able to date in a normal setting.” We dated for that season; and near the back half of that season, we got engaged—actually, on the Capitol Hill steps/the steps of the Capitol building—and then got married the following summer.
Bob: How did you know?
Kirk: Well, like I said, you kind of know early—that’s certainly more infatuation than love—I didn’t know, when I was younger, how much God uses your spouse to complement you. Looking back now, you start to see how: “She’s strong, where I’m weak,” “She’s wise, where I’m foolish,”—the puzzle starts to fit. I find, looking back now, you see how the puzzle fits even more than maybe what you realize when you got down on one knee; but that’s certainly a blessing to be able to see that.
Dave: Talk about that a little bit more. How are you different; how’s that complemented each other?
Julie: Well, obviously, I believe God was our matchmaker and so—
Bob: —along with Becky; right?—
Julie: Yes, yes.
Bob: —Becky and God together.
Julie: It’s so cool; because I would have never crossed paths with him, and God knew. It just makes it even cooler to see our differences and how we can be such a team. We both are like productive, and we get things done; but we let each other handle what we’re better at.
Kirk: I’m in a dark place after we lose a football game, and she’s just fine. She’s smiling her way through it; and it really doesn’t get to her, in a good way.
Bob: Does that ever annoy you?
Kirk: I guess, early on in our marriage, I just needed to learn that that’s the way she was; you realize that, and it’s a great blessing.
Ann: Julie, how did you do that? Because I’ve been around wives of NFL athletes for 30-some years—and when husbands have a bad game, and then everybody in the media is talking about it, and the people in the stands are screaming and yelling—
Julie: I’ve been there.
Ann: —how horrible your husband is—how do you deal with all of that?
Julie: I mean, it hurts; it’s not like I’m like, “Oh, whatever.” It is a big deal; it does matter. It hurts my feelings, but it’s not our identity. Football is our job, and I realize that we’re going to fail—that’s life—you’re not going to win every game; you’re not going to play perfect—it’s the lens I choose to look at it. It’s such a fun career; it’s such a fun lifestyle. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.
This is year nine; I still find myself listening to sports talk radio, just to kind of/I just want to check it out. I can handle it.
Kirk: She’s one of the few people—it’s not going to sour her.
Bob: If you hear a call-in guy, going, “They should get rid of Cousins! He’s terrible!”
Julie: Yes, they actually said that today. [Laughter] I just have to laugh. I’m just like, “It’s a compliment that they are talking about my husband on the radio.” [Laughter]
Ann: Julie, something you said is big—you said, “It’s our job, not our identity,”—Kirk, that is hard not to let that become your identity. How do you do that?
Kirk: Well, you certainly have to remind yourself of it. The spiritual disciplines of memorizing God’s Word—and when you hear lies from the enemy, to be able to repeat truth from the Word—and be reminded of the gospel that: God loves us and died for us, and that He wants a relationship with us, and it’s not performance-based. That’s truth with a capital “T.”
You can say all that, but it’s still tough; right? I mean, you still throw interceptions; you lose games. Football matters to me—it’s not who I am—but it’s certainly a big part of my life, so it will always hurt to lose. It will always be something that matters a great deal to me, but you just always have to check yourself and continue to work through that to make sure your heart and mind are in a healthy place.
Dave: I don’t think the average fan or average spectator understands how hard it is at times. Obviously, it’s a wonderful job, and you’re paid well, and you have the limelight; but I don’t think they understand—not just losing—but how tough it is. I remember one time in Detroit, and you can imagine Detroit, there was a lot of people upset most years. In 33 seasons—I’ve joked about this—but I’m the losingest chaplain in the NFL. I didn’t know that that was a real thing, but it’s true.
But think about this: we had Joey Harrington, back in the day, quarterback, when we were not doing well—first rounder—come to our church and do a night. It was really interesting; because that season, we were playing terrible. People would come up to me, the pastor in the lobby, and make a Lions’ joke; because there was all kind of jokes going around. I would look at them—a couple of times, I’d just sort of smile—but at some point, I go, “You know what? Those aren’t really funny to me. This is my family. These are the guys and wives that we’re—so tell those jokes somewhere else. You don’t hear me joking on the stage… blah, blah”; but they just keep coming up.
Well, Joey comes and he said, “First of all, I’m not going to be interviewed. You can interview the other guys that go to your Bible Study; I don’t go to your Bible Study. I respect you, and I’ll come be a part of your church.” When we went to the part, where I’m going to interview all the players, he goes off to the side; and then he starts walking out and sits down. We’re like, “What’s he doing?!” He sort of wanted to be a part of it.
I said to our church that night—I’ll never forget—I just looked at that congregation and said, “I want you to understand something; this guy doesn’t go out”—he was single at the time—“he doesn’t go in a restaurant. People here joke about him. This is his life; he throws four picks, and all you make fun of him. I know he’s paid millions of dollars, so you think his life is okay. It’s really hard for him.” I look over, and he’s looking at me. I could tell he’s like, “It’s okay for you to say this.” The congregation—I probably did this for five minutes—I wanted them to understand: “This is really hard for him. He doesn’t go to a restaurant, because he doesn’t want to be seen.”
The whole place stands up and gives him a standing ovation. I think they finally went: “Oh, my,”—even people/it’s like they were repenting—it’s like, “I’m the guy joking,” but they saw him. He starts tearing up. I’ll never forget it; because it was like: “That’s what you guys deal with.”
Talk about that for a little bit, because the average person doesn’t understand. We just think, “Oh you make a lot of money, everybody knows your name—that’s all it is,”—but it isn’t the easiest thing in the world; is it?
Julie: Right; that’s what I think about: “I could never do it; I would last 30 seconds on that football field. I would be like, ‘I quit! I’m done.’” That’s also what helps me not get all wound up; because first of all, I’m just proud of the fact that he can do this, year in and year out, day after day—the grind—and just to like, especially as the quarterback, to put in the work and then have the confidence to go out there and lead your team. That, alone, is like—“Wow,”—and not just pout and quit—and just watching him handle it. I really admire that.
Dave: Kirk, do you handle it different now, year nine, than you did year one or two?
Kirk: Certainly. I remember year three; that was our first year of marriage. I got benched—got an opportunity to play, wasn’t planning on playing, got an opportunity/was very up and down in the way I played—and got benched.
Julie: —in the middle of the game.
Kirk: It really hurt; it was tough. I was in a tough place for the rest of that season. That’s when I had to ask those questions of: “Does this mean too much to me? Is this more of my identity than it should be?” I had those conversations through the end of that season and through that off season. Then, every year since then, it’s been a learning experience. You continue to stack up those failures, those successes, and everything in between. You get to year nine, and you have a really bad day, which I’ve had this year. You learn to say, “Chalk that up to a tough day at the office,” and you got to move on.
I do think you grow in it, and that’s part of anything in life that you’ve done a bunch. It’s a challenge; it’s a grind. There’s a reason you’re paid well—is because it is that difficult—and it’s hard to find people who can do it. If they could find anybody, the laws of supply and demand would mean you wouldn’t get paid a whole lot. I don’t think anybody needs to feel sorry for us either: we feel very fortunate; we feel like we’re living a dream.
Julie: We go to restaurants. [Laughter]
Bob: Just listening to you, and thinking back to your freshman year at college, where you walked on the campus and said, “I want Your name to be great,”—you get drafted in the NFL—that’s still your perspective as you go into the league. You’re at the top of your profession; and yet, you don’t let your profession define who you are.
I’m just thinking of listeners—who are in whatever their work situation, or their home situation, or whatever—our circumstances can define us. We can forget what is the big reason why we’re here and get distracted by lesser things. Just listening to you, I’m reminded of the fact that we’re all here to make His name great, and it’s what each one of us ought to be doing wherever God has planted us.
We want to continue the conversation with Kirk and Julie Cousins tomorrow, but I just want to encourage listeners—I know you guys [Kirk and Julie] have read Dave and Ann Wilson’s book, Vertical Marriage, and maybe even seen the video series—this series really talks about how to have the right perspective, not just on our vocation but on our marriage, how we should go vertical, as you guys [Dave and Ann] like to say, in our marriages.
We’ve got copies of Dave and Ann’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of Dave and Ann’s book. Again, the title of the book is Vertical Marriage, and it is both a book and small group series. There’s information about the small group series on our website as well. Again, FamilyLifeToday.com is the website; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions about the book or about the small group series.
Let me just mention here that many of you have been asking us, in recent days, about our plans for this spring for the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways that we host. Of course, it’s been a little tricky this year with COVID and with different regulations in different municipalities. We have, I think, about ten events currently scheduled. We’re looking to add additional events, but we’re having to work that out in different locations. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com for information about the events that are currently scheduled. We expect that these events are probably going to sell out pretty quickly, because we are limiting the capacity in the hotel ballrooms. If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming events, you can find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. I’d just encourage you to sign up now for the event.
If for some reason you can’t get to a Weekend to Remember, we’ve got something we’re working on to send your way—we’ll have more information about it later this month—but it’s a FamilyLife® Dates to Remember Date Box—everything you need for three great dates together to have some significant conversation. Stay tuned for more information about the date box, and we’ll share that with you when we’ve got more to share.
Finally, let me say, “Thank you,” to those of you who made a yearend contribution for the support of FamilyLife Today. We are so grateful to those of you, who at the end of 2020, made a yearend contribution. We’re still opening mail that came in near the end of the year. We hope to have a final number next week to know if we were able to take full advantage of that matching gift, but we just want you to know how thankful we are for your partnership with us in the ministry of the gospel through the work of FamilyLife Today. We are grateful for you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow; Kirk and Julie Cousins will be here again. We’re going to talk about a number of things. I want to ask about those people, who say being a Christian is a liability for professional athletes; because it makes you less competitive or too kind or soft. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I 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 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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