Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As I was preparing to take a group on the WE CAN/Bramwell Ghost Walk last weekend, a young man came up to me and said he admired my hat. I was wearing the fox-skin hat that Denos and Caroline DeMopoulos gave me last summer when I was searching for props to use during my presentation to the Boy Scout volunteers who were working at the East River Mountain Overlook. I was the historical presentation component for the scouts working at the overlook.
I immediately mentioned that I liked the young man’s T-shirt. He was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers’ T-shirt, and proudly proclaimed that he had been to the Steelers game the previous Sunday against the “hated” Baltimore Ravens, and I responded that my favorite part of the game was when players from both teams gathered in the middle of Heinz Field and formed a prayer circle. At that point, the outcome of the game meant less to me than the fact that adult athletes who are role models to so many young people, would join together in prayer.
He said that he didn’t notice the prayer circle. I said that was OK, but I added that it is something I always notice anymore. There was a time when I was only interested in the big play, the score, the victory and the game. Now that I have two messed up knees, a bum hip and it’s just as hard for me to get into bed as it is to get out of bed, I’ve taken a different attitude about prayer and sports.
I take prayer much more seriously these days. I remember Jane Fonda holding her hands together in a prayer-like fashion hoping for an Atlanta Braves victory in a World Series game. At the time, I couldn’t recall ever praying for a successful outcome to a single play, and I still can’t.
What I pray for these days is that the day will come when all segments of American society can work together regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, faith or any of the myriad of differences that tend to tear us apart. The real benefit of team sports on any level isn’t a win or a loss. The benefits come from being able to work well with others to achieve a common goal.
Several years ago, I contacted the great “Bullet” Bill Dudley to speak at one of Jimmy Miller’s basketball camps in Princeton. Jimmy was between coaching gigs, and Bill Dudley was eager to help a fellow University of Virginia Cavalier. By default, I earned the honor of introducing Bill Dudley at the basketball camp. There were about 40 to 50 young people in the camp, none of whom actually knew the impact that Dudley had on collegiate and professional sports.
In football, he was the last athlete to lead the NFL in three statistical categories — rushing, punt return yardage and interceptions — but in that same season, 1946, he also led the league in a fourth statistical category, lateral passing, a statistic that is no longer kept. Dudley earned the distinction while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first triple crown winner in the NFL was Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins who led the league in passing, punting and interceptions and Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles who led the league in rushing, scoring and kickoff returns in 1945.
I knew enough about Bill Dudley’s career to make the introduction. When he came up to speak with the young athletes, he seemed truly humbled by the mention of his accomplishments, and told the campers that in spite of all that he had achieved, “I never won a championship at any level.” But rather than let that be a hindrance, Dudley made it a matter of pride. He spoke about the true value of sports, and what he gained as a result of participation.
In the 1940s and ’50s when Dudley played, pro football players earned a few thousand dollars a season. Since he didn’t play for money, fame or championships, Dudley lived in accordance with a different measurement of success. A few months before his death, local banker Knox McConnell asked Art Rooney — owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers — who was the greatest athlete he ever saw play. Rooney replied that it was Bill Dudley. “He could do it all,” McConnell said, recounting Rooney’s words.
I believe that Art Rooney would have noticed the prayer circle with the Steelers and Ravens and that would have brought a smile to his face. Some things in life are greater than success on any playing field.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.