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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.
Bob: Dan Orlovsky was a young quarterback, playing for the Detroit Lions in 2006, when he met two other quarterbacks, Jon Kitna and Josh McCown. Both of those men wound up having a profound impact on Dan’s life.
Dan: I had never been around anyone like them. They wanted to crush you when you competed against them; they never held back, and they pushed you to the absolute limits. But then they were like 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, I’ve never seen before.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s not often that a pro football locker room becomes holy ground, but that happened with the Detroit Lions back in 2006. We’ll hear that story today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition on Labor Day. I hope you’re enjoying the Labor Day holiday if you’re listening here in the United States. We weren’t sure this was going to happen, but it looks like—
Dave: Yes! Football!
Bob: —there’s going to be football.
Ann: And my husband is happy. [Laughter]
Dave: Life is good.
Bob: You’ve spent a lot of weeks leading up to this, wondering, “Am I going to be able to survive the fall or not?”
Dave: I don’t think I’m alone, Bob. I think there are millions with me that were hoping—
Ann: And many wives are depressed about this. [Laughter]
Bob: I want to ask about this because a lot of people look at football and go, “Why are people so obsessed with football? Football’s a dangerous sport. There’s all kinds of issues related to football.”
You’ve seen it as both a ministry opportunity; you’ve seen it as God’s used football in your own life to help you develop into the man He’s made you to be.
Dave: Yes; I actually think there’s a misconception, even at our church, about me and football. They think I did a ministry in the NFL as a chaplain for 33 seasons because I love football; it isn’t. I do love the game; I think it’s a great game. I’ve played it; it develops character. Our sons played; it was beautiful to watch character be developed through hardship in football. But the only reason we did a ministry in football was the platform. It’s crazy to think that these guys and their wives have influence because of their job.
Ann: They’re heroes in our culture today.
Dave: It’s sort of ridiculous; you know, they play football; yet people want to know, “What’s your perspective on this and that?” All I know is: “That’s the world we live in, so why not use that platform to promote and extend the gospel?”—that was our motivation.
I wanted to win a Super Bowl; we never did. [Laughter] We only won one playoff game, but that was never my hope. My hope was that these men, and their wives, and their kids would come to Christ; and then they would see, “Wow! God has given me a voice! People listen to what I say. I’m going to extend the gospel.” We saw that happen in a beautiful way.
Bob: We’re going to bring our listeners into the locker room today—because back, more than a decade ago, you, as the Detroit Lions chaplain—there was a season that was really a remarkable season.
Dave: And it wasn’t just me, Bob.
Ann: We call it the Year of Jubilee in our football life.
Dave: I just want to say—Ann’s ministry was as important as mine with those wives; it really was.
Bob: There were people in the locker room coming to faith.
We had a chance recently to connect with three teammates from back in that season. Some of these will be names that our football fan listeners will know: Jon Kitna, who was a quarterback for the Lions; Josh McCown, who’s been in the league for—
Bob: —decades; Dan Orlovsky, who is now an ESPN analyst, and was in the league for years. All three of these guys were part of the locker room in 2006/2007, and God did something amazing. We connected with them on a Zoom call recently, and said, “Let’s revisit that season and hear about God’s work in the midst of what was going on with the Detroit Lions that year.” Let’s listen to that conversation.
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. 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?” That was the lunch time; that’s how that happened. Obviously, they made sure your wife came with; because that was the sealer to the deal, right there, for my wife and for us.
Bob: Jon, let me ask you: “Why was meeting the chaplain of the team such a priority for you coming into Detroit?”
Jon: We never viewed ourselves as NFL players. We just felt like we were Christians on mission; God was using the NFL to move us. There’s a lot of programs and things and people, who are out there, that are not necessarily trying to help the ministry of Christ in NFL locker rooms. If there was a chaplain program, we wanted to know about it, and what it was about, and the fruit of the ministry that had been there before we got there. Outside of, obviously, your offense coordinator, and all of that stuff—what kind of offense you’re going to run—but it was important for us because we always have felt like we were on mission for the Lord in our career.
Bob: Where did that mission mindset come for you?
Jon: It started happening when I got saved—the guy who discipled me first, Eric Boles, who was teaching me straight Bible. When I got to Seattle, and my first five years of 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—the Galatians 2:20 mindset.
Ann: I remember, Jon, first of all, when Dave came home, and he said, “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, no one talked at all except you and Jenny.
Dave: I sat over there the whole time.
Ann: —I said, “I love her; I hope they come.” She had this mindset of, “What would it look like to bring people to Christ but, also, 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—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 locking up with Kit in the hallway there, and just knowing, from an outside perception, “Okay; these guys are here to compete for a job.” It was like 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.
For four years in Arizona, I kind of understood a little bit 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.
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 immediately, if I remember right, we bro hugged. But to me, 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 standing outside the locker room—I think it was much later than—you guys came in the offseason, so this would have been right at the beginning of training camp. 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 arms around my shoulder as we looked at the locker room. Actually, we were standing right over by the mailboxes, looking out at the entire locker room. You said, “Tell me about our ministry here,”—those were your words.
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 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. Let’s go, because God’s going to do something.” I remember thinking, “Oh, my goodness. I think we’re going to be on a journey this year because we have some leaders who get it.” I was like, “What’s God going to do?”
Then, Dan Orlovsky was there. He was the Rookie of 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 Kit, the veteran comes in: “Cool.” I’m still ascending in my personal career. I’m like a psycho maniacal/obsessive competitor; right? I would find out that everyone, basically, on this interview is as well. When Kit signed, I was like, “Alright; cool. That’s the veteran guy. I’m going to learn from him; I’m going to be the starter here at some point.”
Then, I remember when Josh came into the building. Again, I did not know either of these guys [personally]. I was in the indoor facility, in one of the back corner end zones, and I’m doing the foot ladder. 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 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.
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; 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, 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—certainly heading down the path of becoming what I did not want to become. 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. When I say, “boys,” I mean their teammates/their buddies, not their kids—like hug their wife, speak positively about their wife—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, family time, 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?” 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, and then their actions followed it.
Dave: 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 it to happen? Why did it happen? When you think back—I know you’ve been on other teams, and God’s working in all kinds of different places—but in that one year, something pretty special happened. What do you remember?
Jon: I think, first of all, it was 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, “Is this how you last in the league this long?” It was like, “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,”—the talking trash, and you show up at Lifetime Fitness, and Josh is dunking on people. You come back in the locker room, 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/some of the testimonies—of listening to guys in the locker room. That was the thing that stood out to them—was they’d never seen that. 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 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. God was like, “Here you go. Here’s a ministry for you; be a good steward.”
Josh: I think, too, 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. 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—you guys were a huge part of—I don’t think one happens without the other. There needed to be another face 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—he wouldn’t get uncomfortable because of your leadership.
Dan: You guys have mentioned the Bible studies; right? We did the Thursday afternoons and then the couples. 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 view as 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 draws 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 ten, eight, maybe twelve people. That thing grew to, like you said, almost forty. [Laughter] 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 that 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’d 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.
Josh: It’s funny what you just said—they were watching our lives—right? It’s funny; because you run into these guys: you run into Gerald Alexander, Ernie Sims, and Don Muhlbach, and Paris Lenon—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 of what He did and is still doing in the lives of these people—but they were watching; they were watching.
Dave: Yes, they 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; the defense got/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 never cuss. You never cussed one time! You honored Christ even in that moment!” Then he 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. People should be looking and going, “What’s different?”—that’s 1 Peter 3:15—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 as I talked to the wives—like, “Hey! This is exciting that you’re here! What are you doing here?”—they’re like, “We 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] All these wives are like, “What are you talking about?!”
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.” 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. The whole locker room was pulled over there. Then, by the end of that season, I think we baptized 20 or 25 players, wives, and kids, which was a beautiful thing.
Bob: We’ve been listening to a conversation with three NFL quarterbacks—right?—Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Josh McCown—all part of the Detroit Lions team in 2006/2007—which I think has to stand out as maybe the highlight of your 33 years of your being a chaplain for the Lions?
Dave: Oh, yes!
Ann: I wish you could hear all their wives. These guys are remarkable men, and their wives are astounding women—strong, beautiful, smart, godly. They really have had an impact, not only on their husbands, but on their kids as well.
Dave: What’s really cool is they still are: these men understand who they are; they understand why God made them and gave them the success they’ve had in the NFL, and they’re using that for the gospel.
Bob, as you say that, thinking back on that season/think about this—in Detroit, the fans in Detroit don’t remember that season; we won three games. They think it’s a bad season. Yet, they don’t know; it was a year of salvation and baptisms that legacies will forever be changed.
Ann: Honey, in the Super Bowl/heaven’s Super Bowl—you won. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, we won. There are victories that nobody in Detroit or around the world know about; but those are the true, lasting, real victories.
Bob: I’m thinking there are listeners who know some die hard football fans, who would love to hear—if they missed today’s program—send the podcast; send a link to today’s program to them and say, “You need to listen to this. Great story of what happened with the Detroit Lions back in 2006/2007.” Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The link to the podcast is available there.
Of course, all of our programs are available as a podcast. You can go back through our entire archive of FamilyLife Today programs and find programs that address the issues you’re dealing with in your own marriage and family. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. All of these programs are available for free download. You can sign up for FamilyLife Today as a daily podcast, have it delivered to you each day, and listen on your podcast device or on this local radio station. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, we’re going to hear more about the impact of the 2006/2007 season in the lives of these three men and many of their teammates. Josh McCown, Jon Kitna, and Dan Orlovsky join us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be back here as well. If you know a football fan, invite them to tune in and hear tomorrow’s program 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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