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Dave Wilson is joined by former NFL quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, and Josh McCown to provide an inside peek into their time together with the Detroit Lions.
Ann: Happy Thanksgiving!
Dave: Oh, yes!
Ann: Do you know what time it is? It’s time for—
Ann: I was going to say, “turkey and family!”
Dave: I thought you were going to say “gratitude,” which of course, it is. Thanksgiving is a great holiday; my favorite, actually, because it’s so pure.
Ann: —which is so interesting—because for 33 years, you were the Lions chaplain, and for 33 Thanksgivings—
Dave: I know what you’re going to say; I was never home for Thanksgiving.
Ann: You were on the football field. And you loved every minute of it; didn’t you?
Dave: Well, the ones we won—two of them—[Laughter]—but no; I mean, we had a tradition, because we were always—and we will be again this year—the first game on Thanksgiving Day. It’s always the Lions, and so we had dinner later.
Dave: And then we watched the other two games. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; welcome to the Wilson household.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife App.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: What’s really exciting about this Thanksgiving is we sat down with three of the quarterbacks and their wives, that we got a chance to lead spiritually when they played for the Detroit Lions. We sat down with them and had a conversation about how God showed up in a big way through their lives and through their ministry. It was Jon Kitna, and Josh McCown, and Dan Orlovsky. I should mention Jenny Kitna, and Natalie McCown, and Tiffany Orlovsky, because their wives were a big part of our ministry as well; but God really did something.
Well, you’re going to hear it! It’s just amazing what God did/how He showed up in those guys’ lives. It literally changed our locker room, changed our team, and I think, changed the city of Detroit.
Dave: Pretty amazing how God brought the three of you together in Detroit. I’ll start with Jon. As you signed, it was the only time in 33 years, as the chaplain of the team, that we were asked by the general manager and the head coach to be a part of a lunch, when Jon, you and Jenny were coming in to be recruited, basically, to come to Detroit. How did we end up at that lunch, and what happened?
Jon: I think for us, it had to have been our second time going through the free agency thing. So when we were coming up to Detroit, we asked them if there was a chaplain program, who it was; would we be able to meet them when we were there. So that was the lunch time; that’s how that happened. Obviously, they made sure your wife came with, because that was like the sealer to the deal, right there, for my wife and for us.
Dave: Jon, why was it so important for you to have Ann and me to be a part of that lunch?
Jon: We never viewed ourselves as NFL players. We just felt like we were Christians on mission, and God was using the NFL to move us. So if there was a chaplain program, we wanted to know about it and, kind of, the fruit of the ministry that had been there before we got there. It was important for us because we always have felt like we were on mission for the Lord in our career.
Ann: Where did that mission mindset come from?
Jon: It started happening when I got saved; but then when I got to Seattle, and my first five years spent in Seattle with Karl Payne, who is the chaplain there. His teaching on apologetics and why it’s important to be able to defend our faith and to be able to give people answers for questions that are sincere. That’s really where it came from: just understanding that our life is not our own; you know, the Galatians 2:20 mindset.
Ann: I remember, Jon, first of all, when Dave came home, and he said, “Hey! The Lions have asked us to have lunch with this possible quarterback and his wife coming in.” I was in shock, because I’m thinking, “What?! Why would they care about us?”
Then, when we sat down with you and Jenny, and I happened to be sitting right beside Jenny in that lunch—
Dave: Actually, nobody talked at all except you and Jenny. [Laughter]
Dave: You guys sat over there the whole time.
Ann: I said, “I love her! I hope they come.” She just had this mindset of: “What would it look like to bring people to Christ, but also, to grow spiritually together in Detroit?” That was really pretty new for us that someone had a mindset of: “What could this look like, as a ministry together, to reach people for Christ in the locker room; and for the wives, as well, and their families?”
Dave: Then right after that, Josh, you ended up signing. I don’t know if I got the timetable right—if you were before or after Jon—but you guys both came in. Josh, you had a similar mindset in terms of: “I’m not just there to play football.”
Josh: I remember—no, I didn’t get to go to lunch with you guys—[Laughter]—they asked; and I was like, “Do chaplains write the checks? Why do I need to meet with him right now?” [Laughter]
No; but I remember locking up with[Jon] Kit in the hallway there—and just knowing, “Okay, these guys are here to compete for a job,”—it was not even/it was just a matter of: “Man, we’re here to work for the team, but [also] for the Lord.” I think that was the biggest thing for me/was just going there. I knew Jon/I knew his reputation, and just really kind of—you know, for four years in Arizona, I kind of understood a little bit of how to do ministry—but not in a locker room, where you’re able to lock arms with a brother and be intentional about it.
That was the best part of that year for me—was just that moment—I felt like God knit our hearts in that moment to be able to go do that. It was cool, because there was a deep peace that would surpass anything that would transpire on the football field. Just more of kind of what we felt like was to come. I always look back at that time very thankfully, appreciative of that moment. I got there right at that same time; shortly after that, we met Dan and got to work!
Jon: I’ll never forget that either. I remember—in the hallway, between the “in” door and the locker room—and seeing Josh. I didn’t know that Josh had been signed. It was just immediately—like I knew about his faith from Arizona and watching him—immediately, in my mind, I was like, “Oh, God’s up to something here,” because to put us in the same locker room, my eyes were just wide open.
Dave: Yes, so there was a sense of destiny. I remember, with you, Jon—I think I’m remembering this right—it might have been Josh, but it might have been both of you—I remember one of you putting your arm sort of around my shoulder, as we looked at the entire locker room; and you said, “Tell me about our ministry here.”
I remember looking at you like, “What do you mean, ‘our ministry here’?” I thought, “This is one of the first times I’ve ever had a player walk in here and realize, ‘I’m not just here to win football games,’”—which you were, and you were committed to that—but you were like, as you said earlier, Jon, “I’m sent here on mission. This is a ministry.” I remember I looked at you and said, “What do you mean?” You go, “You know these guys better than I do! You’ve been here for years. Tell me the landscape; who’s open? Who’s not? Let’s go, because God’s going to do something.” I remember just thinking, “Oh, my goodness! I think we’re going to be on a journey this year, because we have some leaders.” It was like: “Okay, what’s God going to do?”
Then, Dan Orlovsky was there. He was a rookie the year before, and now he’s in his second year. He’s going to be in that quarterback room with you guys. Dan, talk about your thoughts as you meet your two new quarterbacks. They replaced the guys before you, and now you’ve got two new guys who—I don’t know—what was that relationship like?
Dan: I knew of both guys. I didn’t know them personally but knew of both guys. I knew Kit signed. I was still young. Alright, Jon Kitna, the veteran comes in: “Cool”—like: “That’s the veteran guy; I’m going to learn from him. I’m going to be the starter at some point.” Then, I remember when Josh came into the building. I was in the indoor facility. You can tell who’s like, mature and wise, and who’s really immature and knuckleheaded through this story.
I’m in the indoor facility, in one of the back corner end zones, and I’m doing the foot ladder, working out and whatnot, and Josh walks in. I’m like, “What’s up?” I’m thinking, “Why is Josh McCown here?” I’m thinking, “I’m the backup quarterback.” He’s like, “What’s up, man?” I’m like, “What’s going on?” And I’m kind of like, “I have no time for you right now.” We just chit-chat for a little bit. Josh doesn’t share with me that he has actually signed with the Lions.
I get done with my workout; but my mind is racing, and worry is overcoming me. I’m like, “Why is Josh McCown in our building?” I sit down for lunch, and I get word from somebody—I don’t know who I was sitting with—that Josh McCown had signed. I immediately thought to myself, “I hate Josh McCown. [Laughter] I want nothing to do with him. I’m going to crush this dude. Why is he even here?” The wildest thing was like Josh treated me like a best friend the whole time.
Now, we were as competitive as three human beings could be. I think that was the initial draw for me when it came to Jon and Josh. I had never been around anyone like them; someone who could be very similar to me with their mindset. They wanted to crush you when you competed against them, and they never held back, and they pushed you to the absolute limits. But then, they were amazing human beings to you, and incredible husbands, and remarkable fathers, and great teammates. I’d never been around someone that could want to knock you down and help you up at the same time in every aspect of your life. I think that was my initial draw to sitting back and going, “Something that they have is like I’ve never seen before.”
Dave: Yes; so they come in. They’re obviously followers of Christ; they’ve talked about that. They’re on mission. Dan, where were you in your life at that time?
Dan: I grew up in a traditional church home, but I was very much so the second-year NFL quarterback, who thought he had it all, and he was the man. At least, externally, I was there. I was a womanizer and flaunting money, whatever money I had; totally insecure; making sure that people knew I was a quarterback in the NFL. Just kind of whatever stereotype you had in your mind when it came to a young, immature, reckless adult with money, I was kind of that in my life.
Ann: Dan, I will agree. You, probably, as you got to know them, you saw them as dads and as husbands. What stuck out to you in that realm?
Dan: For me, I had never experienced anything like that. I had never experienced someone who could be as driven as these guys were on the athletic field, and as hard-working in the football weight room, and as incredible trash talkers as they were; but then, actually kiss their wife in front of their boys; hug their wife. When I say, “boys,” I mean their teammates and their buddies—not their kids—but like hug their wife, speak positively about their wife—you know?—like talk about looking forward to going home, and being home, and spending time with those people; and then, talk proudly about being a father and how important it was to them. The way they allocated their effort, and their energy, and their time: it was like family time, and family time, and family time.
All the positivity that came from their mouths about being a dad and husband, I was like, “What?! You guys like doing that stuff? You like being a dad? You love being a husband? You like giving your wife a foot rub? You don’t yell at your wife for, you know, not breathing the right way?” I had just never been around someone like that.
That’s why I was just like, “I didn’t know that guys were supposed to enjoy being married and supposed to actually love being around their wife and their children.” It’s all these guys talked about. It was all they talked about! And then their actions followed it.
Josh: I would say, you know, like what Kit says—as far as when he and I met in the hall, and that feeling that we got—it was the exact opposite when I met Dan. That’s when I knew God was up to something; because I was like, “There’s something deeply disturbed in my spirit for this guy.” He was all those things that he said—but you could just tell, like I’m with Kit—we were in a place where there was fertile soil, man; something cool was going to happen.
Dave: Yes; and so we’re sitting here, talking about it, you know, decades ago. Sort of a revival started to take place in that locker room, including—we’ll hear Dan’s story—but from Jon and Josh, what do you remember? What started to happen? Why did it happen? When you think back—and I know you’ve been on other teams, and God’s working in all kinds of different places—but in that one year, there was something pretty special that happened. What do you remember?
Jon: I think, first of all, it was just getting to meet you, and having the Bible study, and then asking guys to go. Obviously, Dan’s in the quarterback room; so we’re definitely going to ask him. I think what Dan was saying was, “Okay, is this how you last in the league this long?”
Jon: It was like [for Dan]: “I’ll go and do this, because this might prolong my career,” more than anything. Josh and I—we weren’t necessarily having conversations like, “Okay! Hey, man, you’ve got those five…”—it was like, “Let’s just be us.”
Jon: The talking trash, and you know, you show up at Lifetime Fitness, and Josh is dunking on people. You come back in the locker room, and you’re playing spades and you’re playing dominoes, but you’re doing it without cussing; you’re doing it without having to go outside of the Word of God to compete.
That was—from the guys in the locker room/some of the stories and some of the testimonies of listening to guys in the locker room—that was the thing that stood out for them. It was like they’d never seen that. I remember having conversations with some guys, who were believers on the team; and you know, we were talking the same kind of thing that I was asking you, Dave, like, “Tell me about guys in this locker room.” Guys in the locker room were like: “Look, man; stay away from that dude. That’s like the closest thing to the devil as you’ll ever find.” And God reached those guys! It was amazing!
I guess, to just put it in a capsule: the Monday night couple studies that we had at the house—and seeing 40 people in one house on a Monday night—that’s just not NFL; that’s not how it’s done. It wasn’t really anything that I was doing, or Josh was doing, or you were doing [Dave]. God was like, “Here you go; here’s a ministry for you.”
Josh: Yes; and I think, too, that in the facility, Dave, I give you a lot of credit. You created a space at Bible study that was a conversation more than it was just a study. I think it was relatable, so it was a continuance of what was happening in the locker room. Guys were coming in and getting some good theology, and even with Ann on Monday night with the couples. I think you guys were a huge part of—I don’t think one happens without the other—because there needed to be another place to go to that God’s voice was represented; you guys did a great job of that. I think that was critical in the Bible studies—when we get a guy to come—that he wouldn’t get uncomfortable because of your leadership.
Dan: You guys have mentioned the Bible studies; right? So we did the Thursday afternoons and then the couples. The number-one reason why those became such a big deal and impactful—and I’m probably speaking for others here, but I’m taking a stab at this—is I had never encountered another man in my life, who loved me/like truly I felt loved by, like I had with Wilson, and McCown, and Kit; that I didn’t look at and go, “Oh, he’s just soft”; right?
I mean, we’re all competitive athletes, so we have a little bit of that. That was the first time that I had ever been like, “Wow; that man literally loves me, but he’s not soft. There was something so appealing about that to so many of us in the locker room. That’s one of the reasons why those Bible studies became the draw that they did, and the Monday nighters that became the whole football team, essentially.
Dave: Yes, our Monday night couples study in the past, for decades, had been, you know, ten, eight, maybe twelve people. That thing grew to, like you said, almost forty. [Laughter] I remember one night sitting in—you guys remember; it was in Jon’s basement, but I remember sitting there—some wife was sitting there. I’m like, “Hey, you know, we don’t start for like ten minutes.” She’s like, “Oh, I drove/we drive two cars.” I’m like, “What?!” “Well, I’ve got to get a seat!—
Dave: —“My husband comes later.”
And then, I’ll never forget—this happened several times—I’d be sitting there, and I’d look over, and there’d be a player there that would be the last guy in the locker room I’d expect at Bible study. I’d be looking around: “What is he doing here?” I’d ask him—I don’t know if you guys knew this—but I’d say to whoever/I would say, “Hey, dude. What are you doing here?” Almost every time, they’d point at Jon or Josh, and just go, “I’m here because of them.” They were—what you guys just said—they were watching your lives. I don’t think they had ever really seen what Dan just explained.
Jon: What’s funny—what you just said—they were watching our lives; right?
Dave: Yes, yes.
Jon: Literally, guys would tell us that. We were working out, doing off-season workouts. And it was one of those—Jason would have the hardest workouts I’ve ever been through—I never felt like I couldn’t do it, but there were times. I had a guy—one of the younger believers on the team—afterwards in the locker room, was like, “Kit; man, I just want to come and tell you, you know. I just feel like I really need to challenge you, because I heard you cuss today.” I’m like, “I don’t think you heard me cuss today, man.” “No! No, we were working out—we were doing that—and I heard you cuss. I just really feel like, man, you probably should talk to the guys about that.”
There was another guy in the locker room that said, “Nah, he didn’t cuss; because I’ve been waiting for two months for him to cuss. [Laughter] I follow him around, waiting for him to cuss, and he ain’t cussing.” It’s funny—because you run into these guys: you run into Gerald Alexander, Ernie Sims, and Don Muhlbach, and Paris Lenon—God, somehow, has kept that happening for me; and to listen to their testimonies, ten and twelve years later, and hearing what God did in that short amount of time—it wasn’t even a full year; it was eight/nine months—what He did and is still doing in the lives of these people is [incredible], but they were watching; they were watching.
Dave: Yes, they really were. I remember one time walking into the guys’ study in the locker room. Calvin Johnson came running in. That day in practice—you guys remember it; I wasn’t there—Kit, you went off on somebody—
Jon: Yes, yes.
Dave: —the defense got—you know, it was a goal line deal. We’ve all been there, where they’re grabbing guys and doing stuff. You run up there, and you’re screaming at them. Calvin comes in, and his comment is: “I have never seen a guy get so mad and not cuss. You never cussed one time! You honored Christ even in that moment!” Then he just walked out of the room. I’m like, “What just happened?” Again, it struck him, what Dan said: “Strength, but under Christ.”
Jon: That’s not something like that I think we intentionally [think], “Okay; I’ve got to be a certain way.” That’s walking with Christ. We’re called to be a peculiar people; that’s what should be peculiar. We can compete like crazy—like Dan is saying—we can be angry without sinning. People should be looking and going, “Okay, what’s different?” That’s 1 Peter 3:15, and that’s what Karl Payne trained us on all those years in Seattle.
Ann: It’s interesting, too, because behind the scenes, my wives’ Bible study that I had grew that year too. It was pretty interesting, too, as I talked to the wives, like, “Hey! This is exciting that you’re here! What are you doing here?” They were all like, “We just want marriages like the Kitnas and the McCowns.” The bad thing was that everyone hated their own husband; because Jenny would be like, “Oh yes. Jon came, and he rearranged the furniture on his day off. [Laughter] Then he bought me all these new clothes.” And all these wives are like, “What are you talking about?!” [Laughter]
But I think what they saw was the way a man—a Christ-follower—loves his wife and makes his wife and his kids a priority. They were blown away by it. I think that’s why all the wives wanted to come to these Bible studies. They’re getting their husbands like: “You need to be more like Josh and Jon.” It was like the guys were feeling pressure, as they watched, and their wives were watching as well.
Dave: The interesting thing is, when I talk about that year, I say, “The locker room tilted toward the quarterback lockers.” I don’t know if you guys could see that. I’d walk in there, and it was like the whole locker room was where you guys were. They were drawn over there. They had Kit with his big Bible—blam!—right there on his locker, in your face.
They had Josh as this lover and jokester. I mean, I couldn’t even start a Bible study without McCown ripping my shorts—you know, just making fun of me—I couldn’t even get my opening line out. He’d be like, “Hey, your shirt’s too tight;”—you know—“are you try to show us your biceps?” It’s like, “What?! What just happened here?” But the whole locker room was pulled over there.
Then, you know, by the end of that season, I think we baptized 20 or 25 players, wives, and kids, which was a beautiful thing.
Bob: You know, as I watch football today, which I’ll do a little football-watching today—I think most of us will—I will remember that there are guys playing in the games today, where football is not their number-one priority. That doesn’t make them any less competitive as athletes. It just means that they understand where Jesus fits into the whole story. And we’ve heard that today—as we’ve heard Dave and Ann Wilson talking with three former Detroit Lions: Dan Orlovsky, Josh McCown, and Jon Kitna—all three of whom were involved in a spiritual renewal that took place in the Detroit Lions’ locker room over the course of a season.
You may know somebody who is a Lions fan or a football fan, who would enjoy listening to this conversation with Dave and Ann and with these three former NFL players. The podcast is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can check it out and forward it on to a friend and share this story with them. It really is a remarkable story and a great story to think about, here, on Thanksgiving Day.
And I just want to make sure you know, as a listener, one of the things we are most thankful for here is you for your notes that we receive, your feedback, your encouragement, your support for this program. Thanks for tuning in to FamilyLife Today and making us a part of your lives. We are grateful and hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear Part Two of what happened in Detroit, years ago, in the middle of a spiritual awakening among the Detroit Lions football team. We’ll hear Part Two of Dave and Ann Wilson’s conversation with Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, and Josh McCown tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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