Surviving a Marital Blitz
About the Guest
All marriages have their ups and downs. Former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp, the son of Congressman Jack Kemp, recalls the coach that called out the best in him. Jeff explains how to use positive language to pave the way for constructive criticism. Jeff recalls the loss of his football career in 1992 and his wife's gracious response.
Jeff Kemp is a champion for strengthening relationships and teams. He’s dedicated to building benevolent men, fathering and marriages.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Jeff joined the National Football League (NFL) as an undrafted free agent. He and his dad, the late Vice-Presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, became the first of only six sets of NFL father-son quarterbacks. Growing u...more
All marriages have ups and downs. Former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp, recalls the coach that called out the best in him. Jeff recalls the loss of his football career in 1992 and his wife’s gracious response.
Surviving a Marital Blitz
Bob: Parenting is a lot like coaching. Former NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp, says that the power of a parent’s words are more significant than we may realize.
Jeff: I can remember times I walked in the huddle and a coach said to me, “Hey, come here,”—pulls me out of the huddle and says—“Don’t kill us this week like you did last week. Don’t kill us.” So, I walk in the huddle—my knees are shaking / my words are trembling; and I go up to the line of scrimmage with so little confidence that my mind isn’t even thinking about the defense or the play. I’m just hoping to survive and not drop the snap.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What’s your coaching style, as a mom or as a dad? If we sat in on your huddles, what kind of conversations are you having with the players in your home? We’ll explore that more today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So did you ever play football?
Dennis: I was going to ask you if you ever played touch football.
Bob: I’ve played pads—I’ve played football with pads, in the 9th grade, at Bradford Junior High School.
Dennis: Is that right?
Bob: Doggone right! In fact, I’ll just tell you—I was—
Dennis: What position?
Bob: —I was the third-string full back on a team that went 0 and 5.
Dennis: What did you weigh?
Bob: [Laughing] I weighed 145 pounds. [Laughter] I’ll tell you—
Dennis: A fullback.
Bob: A third-string fullback, which meant that, in practice, they just kind of threw you in wherever. One day I wound up in practice at nose guard. Our center was Bob Barge [uncertain of spelling]—
Dennis: —at 145 pounds.
Bob: —at 145 pounds—I’m the nose guard. I’m coming up against center, Bob Barge. He looks up from the football and sees me across—he just starts to laugh. I said, “Barge, you don’t hit me / I won’t hit you.” [Laughter]
Jeff: As if that was a threat!
Bob: I know. As soon as he snaps the ball, I forget completely what I’d just said; and I just ran over him. I knocked him back, and I sacked the quarterback!—it’s in practice. The coaches on the sideline are dying!—they’re laughing. They look at Bob Barge and go: “Barge! You let Lepine run over you?” [Laughter]
Dennis: What happened on the next play? [Laughter]
Bob: Well, the next play, when I lined up again against Bob Barge, he looked at me—he was not laughing this play. This was a whole different—I knew you’d want to hear about that at the start of today’s program.
Dennis: I have a question—Jeff Kemp joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome.
Bob: —former NFL Quarterback, Jeff Kemp.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. Former NFL quarterback, who was dissed by Bob Lepine in an introduction—
Bob: But is now marveling at my football stories.
Dennis: Jeff is the author of a new book called Facing the Blitz: Three Strategies for Turning Trials into Triumphs. He works, here, at FamilyLife. He and Stacy have been married since 1983.
They have four sons and two daughters-in-law.
This is a book about taking on trials, suffering, challenges, and the unexpected. What’s the first way we handle a blitz, Jeff?
Jeff: There are three keys. The first is to take a long-term view. Second is to be willing to change. And the third is to take your eyes off yourself so you can focus on and bless others. All this comes out of a bigger perspective that we find in the Scripture. I mentioned yesterday, or the last time we talked, that Jesus said: “In this world you’re going to face blitzes,”—well, my Bible says that / Bob’s doesn’t—“In this world, you’re going to face trouble, but don’t panic; I’ve overcome the world” John 16:33.
Paul lays out, in the Book of Romans, Chapter 5, how wonderful it is that we have this amazing salvation and peace with God in which we celebrate.
But then it goes on, in verse 3, and 4, and 5, and says: “But we don’t just rejoice in this salvation; we rejoice in our tribulation,”—our troubles, our losses, our difficulty, our suffering—our blitzes, if you will. “We rejoice in tribulation because tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;—which is what the world’s dying for—“and hope doesn’t disappoint because that’s when the love of God is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
In a real sense, we humans would revel in our circumstances and success—Super Bowls and vacations—and forget about our need for the love of God; but when we have challenges, it gives us the chance to turn / persevere in our relationship toward God and become more like Jesus. Then that’s when we have the hope of eternity—we feel more of His love and, then, we’re able to bless others.
Bob: So, when you’re sitting as a quarterback—and you’ve just faced the blitz and you got sacked / you’re on the ground, with the ball, loss of eight on the play—
—how do you take a long-term view in the midst of that kind of—because you said that’s the first strategy in dealing with the blitz—taking a long-term view. What do you do?
Jeff: Long-term view is: This game is four quarters / this game is 60 minutes. This game may be into overtime.” I had games where I was so bad in the first half—I threw two interceptions in the first two series / the first two passes first game I ever played for Coach Bill Walsh and the 49ers, replacing the great Joe Montana. The coaches’ faces were white, but they kept me in the game. Thankfully, we turned it around—we got hot / played a fabulous game.
Dennis: Hold it! You replaced Joe Montana?
Jeff: Well, it’s shocking that I didn’t beat him out—but while he was injured [Laughter], I was the quarterback that helped us win games; and we ended up going to the playoffs.
But Bob, the deal about this long-term view is—I know, as a quarterback, that the worse plays I make, and the toughest hits I take, and the biggest blitzes they throw at us, that we’re not ready for, that create a loss, or an interception, or something—that’s not the end of the game. In fact, they’ll probably try to do something similar to that.
We will be more ready for it next time, and we will seize the opportunity the next time.
If I can take your toughest hits the first half, and in the fourth quarter, I’m still standing— the guys look at you in the huddle and say: “Wow! You’re not giving up are you? You’re not complaining to us that we haven’t blocked very well. You still think we can win? I do too; let’s play!” We’ve won games, where we were getting hit, all game-long, knocked in the jaw—but in the fourth quarter, because we kept going with a long-term view—we turned it around and won.
Dennis: I want to go back to the 49ers’ story—San Francisco—Bill Walsh, great coach. He called you into his office and showed you two different sets of videos of your play at quarterback. I want our listeners to hear this story because a lot of our listeners are parents / grandparents. They can have a takeaway here that can be very profound in their relationship with their children or grandchildren.
Also, a lot of our listeners are married folks, who have a tendency to point out what’s wrong in their spouse. I think this illustration has some great application for them in their marriages as well.
Jeff: I think it’s probably going to work best with your kids rather than your spouse—people may understand after I go through the story. One of the keys to the blitz is you need to be willing to change, and adapt, and grow, and mature. A coach is a great help with that. Here is a picture of great coaching or great parenting.
Walsh calls me in—it’s a couple weeks into my play for the 49ers. Montana’s the best ever, and I’m obviously not the best ever. He says, “Take a look at this videotape of your really good plays.” We go through them. He starts praising each of the specific things I’m doing—the steps, the timing, the location of the ball. Then he says, “You know, Joe doesn’t do any better than this,”—totally affirming and building me up.
Now I am ready—knowing that he values me and that he sees some good in me—to listen to “Jeff Kemp Bad” and see what that tape has on it.
He pops it in. The “Jeff Kemp Bad” has some pretty ugly plays and some weak plays—and some things that were just minorly wrong—but I was shocked that he cared so much about them, but he knew that they’d make a difference in the end.
This man called me to my higher and better self—my highest potential—(A) by praising my good and comparing it to someone that’s phenomenal and in the Hall of Fame—and (B) by candidly showing me the negatives but after having affirmed my identity and showing me my strengths.
That’s a great idea, dad/mom, with your kid you always have to correct. You see a lot more of the negative, but are you keeping a treasure list? Are you looking for the treasures in your kid?—finding anything they do good—write it down, hold onto it, and then use that to build them up / affirm what’s good—as well as bring in: “You know what? You can’t break curfew like that,” and “Doing homework after you’ve played outside isn’t going to work out well,” or “I saw the way you spoke to your sister, and we can’t have that anymore.
“You’re meant to do better than that—like that time I caught you encouraging that kid at school, who no one else would spend time with—that’s the real you.” The good tape leads to the correction tape.
Bob: What would have happened if Coach Walsh had come in—because this is the picture we get of the NFL coach—you walk in—“Kemp, get into my office! Come in here! You’ve been messing up! Watch this!”
Jeff: “Fix all this stuff!”
Bob: Right. That’s the picture we have—
Dennis: Now wait. Did you have a coach like that?
Jeff: Sure, we all have. And you have to learn to overcome that, as an athlete; but boy, you respond a lot better to the coaches who know how to build up the good and then correct the bad.
Bob: So why is that? What would it have done to you if it had been one of those coaches who just said, “You do it wrong every time!”
Jeff: Well, I can remember times when I walked into the huddle in practice, right before the most important Friday afternoon drill, where the whole team gets their confidence for how we’re going to run the two-minute drill at the end of the half and at the end of the game.
The coach said to me: “Hey, come here,”—pulls me out of the huddle and says—“Don’t kill us this week like you did last week;—
Bob: Oh wow!
Jeff: —“understand? Don’t kill us.” I walk in the huddle—my knees are shaking / my words are trembling; and I go up to the line of scrimmage with so little confidence that my mind isn’t even thinking about the defense or the play. I’m just hoping to survive and not to drop the snap. Our kids have experienced that from us sometimes.
I had a college coach, sometime, send me in the game and say, “Kemp, get in there and don’t fumble.” What’s on your mind?—the fumble—not “Make a great play and complete a pass.” There is so much to promoting the positive and leaving most of the negative off the plate until there is an appropriate moment to help someone with a constructive, loving, truthful gift of how they can grow.
Dennis: You went to a track meet of sorts—a Special Olympics—and you were a guest celebrity. You noticed something that took place there that is a great illustration of what we’re talking about here.
Jeff: Yes. We were at UCLA in California. The Special Olympics had the 100-yard dash, and I was invited to be one of the huggers. Huggers stand at the end of the race—one in every lane. They cheer on the athlete that is running down that lane. Whether that athlete runs a 15-second, or a 20-second, or a 45-second 100-yard dash / whether they stop halfway along and wave to their mom and people in the stands or just sprint—regardless of their performance / first or last—they get a huge hug: “Atta boy! You look great! I’m so proud of you! You run so well,”—that unconditional affirmation / that: “I love you and I’m proud of you! I love to see you compete.”
That is what a mom or a dad, a grandma or a grandpa, a mentor, or a teacher, or a coach is intended to bring into the lives of others. That’s how we train people to be able to overcome the blitz because they know their identity is secure in someone loving them for the relationship-sake, not for their performance-sake.
Bob: You tried to do this with your sons—as they were growing up / as they were pursuing athletics—you tried to build strong relational bonds that you could use to impart truth. Your son, Keegan, who’s played basketball out in the yard; right?—
Jeff: One of my great memories—Keegan was five. We were shooting hoops, and five-year-olds can’t get the ball up ten feet very easily.
Bob: Can’t get the hoop; yes.
Jeff: So, he was kind of happy when he hit the rim or the net, much less made one; and he hadn’t made any. He looks up at me, with this cute little smirk and smile on his face, and he goes: “Daddy, I’m good at the shooting part. I’m just not good at the making part.” [Laughter] I think it said something right there. I loved him, unconditionally, for his existence and his being my son—not for his making shots / not even for this trying part. I think he sensed that. He was comfortable with me; and he was happy that he was able to be good, at least, at the shooting part, even if he couldn’t make it.
I want moms and dads, husbands and wives, grandmas and grandpas, mentors and encouragers to be able to speak those words of affirmation and value into the lives of those who need it so they know they are worth much in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their loved ones—for who they are, for the character in them, for the spirit in them, and for their potential, as opposed to their accomplishments and performance.
Bob: Well, I think this is interesting because—11 years in the NFL—the NFL does not reward people for their character. It rewards people for their performance—it’s the stats that you get your paycheck for.
Jeff: Well, these are the gifts that come to a backup quarterback—who has only started about three years in his career and has been on the bench a lot more than that—who’s been traded, who’s been cut, and who’s been benched. I went from first-string to third-string during one halftime of a game one time.
And I was completely rejected, relationally, for a whole month by a coach who’d put his arm around me before the game and said: “I can’t wait for you to play. I’ve been waiting for the day that you’re the Seattle quarterback.” Now he said that out of motivation, not out of identity affirmation. He’s a good guy, but he’s just stuck with a performance-oriented conditional value system—which is on Wall Street, Madison Avenue, it’s in junior high, it’s in most business places / we let it seep into our parenting and our marriage—that’s a challenge.
All those challenges I faced in football, Bob—those discipled me to put my identity in Jesus. I didn’t do it right away—it took blow after blow, trade after trade, insecurity after insecurity—and a lot of good Bible studies, and friends, and mentors to realize that my identity isn’t “football player that’s a Christian,”—it’s “a son of God, saved by Jesus, who happens to play pro football, at least, for this year. I don’t know if I’ll make it next year,” because I was always insecure.
Jeff: Those lessons helped me learn that our identity isn’t our performance, it’s not our position, it’s not our possessions, and it is not first-string or third-string.
Bob: When it got to year 11—because you were 11 years in the league—when it got to the end of your 11—and you’re starting to look at your next year and wondering if there is a next year for you—was it hard to step away from the NFL and the spotlight that that is?
Jeff: It’s very hard to step away, but the league helps you by kicking you out. [Laughter]
Dennis: They stop paying you!
Jeff: You guys asked me what the toughest blitzes in my life were. One was the loss of my dad, due to cancer; and the other one was the loss of my career in 1992, when I went to training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles—tried to make the team after having a good season the year before. I’d helped them a bunch, yet I got cut—I was the last guy cut on the last day of cuts.
I went home and no team called me. Everyone said: “You’re a good backup. Someone will call you.” No team called / no quarterbacks were hurt—I wasn’t getting an opportunity. When the Sea Hawks finally, four weeks into the season, had a quarterback get hurt—and I’m living in Seattle, where we’d played before, going to the Eagles—
—this looked like the answer to my prayers—I want to stay in Seattle. I want to keep playing pro football. My wife can keep the kids in school, etc. I called the coach—I said: “I’m in town. I’m in shape. I’m ready.” And he calls back says: “Sorry, we’re going to sign a guy from the World League. Good luck!”
Jeff: And the bottom dropped out. My emotions kind of went through the floor. I went out on my front porch. I heard these words in my head, at that moment: “Forget what lies behind, press on to what lies ahead.” It was like: Eleven years of football—that was a gift. You didn’t deserve to play out of Dartmouth, anyway, as a free agent. I gave that to you, and it’s been great. I’ve taught you a lot; but now use it to encourage families, to build marriage, to shape men, to change the structure of this community so more kids have their mom and dad in their lives. That’s when I jumped into non-profit work to do the same thing that you guys are doing, and that I’m able to join you in doing today.
Dennis: I’m listening to you today, Jeff, and I’m thinking about your courage—not just merely throwing an interception, and getting back into the huddle, and calling the next play or getting put on your tail by a blitz during the game—
—but for taking the personal side of this, as a man, and not having everything work out the way you dreamed it would. Yet, getting back up and living a life that goes beyond your identity, as an NFL player, but instead living a life that honors God / that reflects Him.
Bob: Maybe one reason why you were able to do that is because your dad—you’ve mentioned this before—your dad, Jack Kemp, had spoken words to you throughout your life that called you to find your identity, not in what you were doing, but in who God had made you to be. He gave you powerful words of blessing; didn’t he?
Jeff: He did. I have to credit my mom, first of all, and say that she was the strong force of daily faith and prayer.
Dad was the macro-vision and the big voice—but when he was facing cancer and was weakened more than ever before—he blessed me in an amazing way.
The last night I was ever with him, he was just laying on his bed in his room—he couldn’t move at that point. I said: “Dad would you pray a prayer for me / pray a blessing over me? I’m going back to Seattle tomorrow.” He put his hand on me—and with his voice, which is the same raspy voice as mine, but a lot weaker, at that point—he said: “Dear God, help Jeff remember his talent. Help him remember the force for good he is in this world. And help us both remember the only thing that matters is ‘Thy will be done.’”
In those words, he, number one, said: “I affirm your identity,” which he matched up with talent. Now, I think that our talent comes from being a child of God, with the spark of divinity in us that was made to love others and to make the world a better place. Secondly, he affirmed my mission in this world—he said, “Help him remember the force for good.” Frankly, he couldn’t even finish the rest of it, but I knew what it was because he’d said it to me many other times: “You are a force for good in this world. Always be a leader. Always make a difference.”
And finally, he took the pressure off me; and he reminded us both that God is sovereign. What happens is what He wants to have happen. We have no reason to be proud or humiliated / fearful or overconfident in ourselves. It’s all about Him and His plan: “Thy will be done,” is all we need to know—let’s remember that.
What a simple blessing that each of us—grandpas and grandmas and moms and dads—can pray over our little children, repeatedly, and then at a certain age / maybe 18, or 21, or at a wedding—or when you’re on your deathbed—but I wouldn’t wait until that point because you don’t know that you’ll have the chance.
You could write it in a note, or you could put your hand on the shoulder of one of your loved ones and tell them: “You know, I’m so proud of who God made you to be and all that special talent in you. You can make a difference in this world, and I’ve seen you do it. I can’t wait to see the way you’ll shape people’s lives. I don’t want you ever to worry about what happens because God’s in charge. May His will be done in your life and mine.”
Dennis: And I think, if your dad was here, I think he’d be smiling right now.
Jeff: Yes, he would.
Dennis: He would be smiling because you, not only heard what he said, you have lived out what he said. It’s a privilege to do life with you and be in the battle for the family. You’re a difference-maker for Christ, and for marriages, and families. I’m privileged to have you on our broadcast.
Jeff: Thank you, Dennis and Bob—this has been a blast—appreciate it.
Bob: I hope a lot of our listeners are going to get a copy of your book. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource center. The book is called Facing the Blitz. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen where it says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see information about Jeff Kemp’s book, Facing the Blitz, as soon as you’re there.
You may think of somebody you know in your neighborhood / in your workplace—somebody you know who’s going through a challenging time.
If that person has any interest in football and really, wherever they are spiritually, this would be a great book to give to them because they will find practical help and great insights from Jeff Kemp. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy of the book, Facing the Blitz, by Jeff Kemp. Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen where it says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order your copy of the book from us, online. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order a copy of the book over the phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, one of the things we try to help couples anticipate—couples who come to our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways—we talk about the fact that most people don’t get through the game of life without facing the blitz. They don’t get through the game of life without getting blindsided / getting tackled—something comes your way—some challenge / some issue that you need to be ready for it.
You need to make sure your marriage relationship is strong and well-anchored so that, when the storms come, you can stand firm. Here, at FamilyLife, we’re committed to helping you do that. This daily radio program, the resources we provide, our podcast, our website—all of it is designed with one thought in mind: “How can we help people stand strong and have a healthy thriving marriage and family? What can we do to help?”
We appreciate those of you who see the value in what we’re doing and who help support the ministry with donations. We are listener-supported—so it’s your donations which cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program / cover the cost for our website and all that we’re doing. We’re grateful for the Legacy Partners, who are monthly supporters of the ministry, and for those of you who make an occasional contribution to help us defray the cost of ministry.
If you’re able to make a donation, right now, we’d like to extend our thanks by sending you a couple books—one from Dennis Rainey for men—it’s a book called Stepping Up. You’ve heard us talk about that book for a while, here on FamilyLife Today. And we’d also like to send a book for women—a book written by our friends, Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian. It’s a new book called True Woman 201—looking at the interior design of a woman’s life—Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood. It’s a brand-new book.
Both of these books are our thank-you gift to you when you help with a donation today of, at least, $50 in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FLTODAY. Make your donation over the phone and ask for the two books we talked about.
Or if you’d prefer, you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. If you’ve ever had any questions about the ministry of the Holy Spirit—how He works in your life, in your marriage, in your family / what is His role?—we’re going to talk about that tomorrow with our guest, J.D. Greear. Hope you can join us.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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