Monday morning, I had the privilege of being one of three keynote speakers kicking off the trade show, along with Tony Dungy, Super Bowl-winning coach of the Indianapolis Colts and author of the new book, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life, and Priscilla Shirer, the daughter of famed preacher Tony Evans and author of Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When God Speaks.
Bottom line: Tony Dungy is a class act -- humble, self-deprecating, gentle, and radiating the very quiet strength he writes and speaks about. His new book has just released this week from Tyndale, and we had a great time chatting back stage before the event. I introduced Tony and his wife to my wife, Lynn, and two of our sons (who I must say seemed a lot more excited about meeting a world champion football coach than hearing my talk!).
Tony graciously signed a football for our boys and then went out and gave a fabulous speech. He said the defining moment of his career was actually not winning the Super Bowl this year, as exciting and rewarding as that was (especially when at during a key playoff game, the Colts were down 21 points at half time yet still came back to win). The defining moment of his career, as he writes about in the first chapter of the book, was being fired as head coach in Tampa five years ago. At that moment, he said, he really felt devastated and humiliated and was tempted to quit the business all together. But he described how his relationship with Christ sustained him through one of the toughest seasons of his life. He said Jesus taught him to stay focused, to be patient, to work hard, to be persistent, and to have faith that God loves him and has a wonderful plan for his life.
Imagine if Tony had quit then. What if he had thrown in the towel and left the game he loved after the setback in Tampa? He had no idea at the time, of course, that he was just a few years away from being the first African-American head coach in NFL history to win the Championship. But, as Tony said, God knew what was ahead and He wanted Tony to trust Him and follow Him no matter what.
Tony also shared the story of playing on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. "Mean" Joe Greene once told him that after three tough and disappointing seasons on the Steelers in the early 70s he had almost quit out of exhaustion and frustration. He had come so close to packing it in. Imagine if Greene had walked away from the game he loved in 1973?. What a huge mistake that would have been. That very year, 1973, the Steelers drafted rookie wide receiver Lynn Swann. They started winning big, and went on to win the Super Bowl four times that decade (74, 75, 78, 79).
Too many people, Tony noted, give up on their dreams too soon, rather than summoning up a quiet strength to keep going, even in the face of disappointment and opposition, and thus they never learn just how much they could really accomplish. Where does that inner strength come from? For Tony, the answer is clear: through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In the book he describes that faith and how it has guided him in his career, his marriage, and the tragic death of his son a few years ago. It's a powerful, inspiring story, and one that I'm really enjoying.