Former NFL QB Jeff Kemp on Turning Trials to Triumphs

kempFormer NFL Quarterback Jeff Kemp is dedicated to strengthening families and strengthening teams. He is passionate about advancing collaboration to support marriages, families and children. In 2012 Jeff joined FamilyLife as vice president and catalyst for helping others. FamilyLife is a national ministry leader in marriage conferences, radio outreach and empowering resources to heal and strengthen families. Jeff founded and led Stronger Families in the Pacific Northwest from 1993 to 2010. Stronger Families united communities around strengthening marriages and today assists military and high-stress couples in protecting their marriages.

Jeff is the author of Facing The Blitz – Three Strategies for Turning Trials into Triumphs. He and his father, Jack Kemp, (the former vice-presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), were the first of only six sets of father/son NFL quarterbacks. As Jeff speaks and trains throughout the United States, he passes on dynamic lessons learned during eleven years in the world of professional athletics. Persevering through the highs and lows of pro football gave him a valuable perspective on teams, leadership and life.

Jeff was the recent keynote speaker for The Gathering in early November at the Kravis Center in Palm Beach County and in Deerfield Beach connecting to over 550 South Florida men with scores accepting Christ at the end of the breakfast presentation. I had a chance to listen and talk to Jeff about some life lessons he shared with the men when they have to face life’s blitzes.

The power of a father in the life of a son or a daughter is profound. That means a loss of a father is also profound. Jeff Kemp grew up with an NFL QB and former vice presidential candidate as a father, Jack Kemp, and this is one of life’s blitzes Jeff shared with his audience.

God is an amazing Father who puts us in families for a purpose,” said Jeff Kemp. “A lot of us don’t have perfect or amazing dads, and so many of us today don’t even have our dad around; but I did. He was a big force, and we were close. But to lose his voice of encouragement and his blueprint of influence and leadership was a huge blitz in my life.”

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CARL —  From a football standpoint, the blitz is one of the most dangerous times for a QB when the defense sends a defensive attack to force a mistake. What was one of your blitz moments on the field that comes to mind?

JEFF —  Monday night football. I was on the Philadelphia Eagles. We were playing the Houston Oilers. They had the second best defense in the league. We had the first best defense in the league — defenses were dominating. They knocked one of our quarterbacks out of the game — Jim McMahon. I joked that he sprained his ponytail, but no, he actually got injured and knocked out of the game. So, I got the privilege of jumping into this new team I’d just joined three weeks earlier. Houston’s Astrodome at the time was known as the House of Pain.

We were proving how tough they were. We couldn’t move the ball. The score was 6-3 late in the third quarter. They’re winning. Our coaches called a very slow-developing drop-back pass, which has a lot of risk for the quarterback to get hit before releasing the ball. As I was getting ready to snap the ball, I saw what looked to me like a blitz — all these guys are getting ready — beady eyes, froth in the mouth. Sure enough, they brought extra people, including the free safety — more than we could handle.

The play did turn around in a matter of seconds because players on our team dove in front of blitzing linebackers. Tight end changes his route to a much more quickly-developing post route. Quarterback — myself — I adapted and changed from a slow drop back to a real quick one. Then I looked to where the receiver was, who made this adjustment, so that I could hit him in the middle of the field — where they had no more defenders due to the blitz — but I couldn’t see him because there was an eclipse. The free safety was in my face, and as barely peaking at six foot tall it was tough to see over these mammoth linemen.

It is difficult to see over them. Usually you see though lanes, if you’re my size. There was no lane to see through. I love the quote that Helen Keller gave years ago — she was asked on a college campus —  “Is there anything worse than being blind Ms. Keller?” And her answer was: “Oh yes. It’d be so much worse to have your eyesight but lack vision.” At that moment — because the coaches had trained us of where the tight end was going to go — I knew the distance at which he was going to go. I knew the timing of the play. I envisioned where he would be. I had a first initial glimpse of where he was going.

So, I planted my foot —  got rid of the ball — threw it right by the helmet of the free safety in my face. He landed on top of me, and stuffed me into the ground, and then we waited: “Would it be really noisy?”— which would be good for the home crowd at “the house of pain” — or “Would it be really silent?” — which is good for the visiting Eagles. Sure enough, it was deadly silent because we scored our only touchdown of the game on a play where I couldn’t see the receiver, but I did have the vision of where he would be. Everyone on our team adapted to the opportunity presented by that dangerous blitz.

 

CARL — That kind of experience in football provided for you a metaphor that you’ve carried into how you tackle the kinds of life blitzes that all of us face because we may not face rushing linebackers coming our way, but all of us face blindsiding events in our lives that we have to learn how to adapt to, right?

JEFF — When you lose a job, you don’t expect it. When your child gets a disease that’s far more serious than you expect, you don’t expect it. When your marriage is in deep trouble and you hear from your spouse, “I don’t know if I’m in love with you anymore,” you didn’t expect that. Those are blitzes.

Honestly, if we believe in a God, who is all-encompassing and good and can take even the cross of Christ and the grave and three days in the grave and turn that into the greatest victory ever, he can turn our bad to good if we have his perspective on life’s trials. Some of that perspective comes straight from Jesus, who said: “In this life you’re going to have trouble.” This world’s imperfect; expect it, “but don’t fear; I’ve overcome the world.”

There are many other places where the Bible talks about what we do when we have trials, when we have tribulation, when we have suffering, when things, circumstantially, don’t go the way we want. God unfolds a bigger and better purpose. Much of it is to get in better relationship with Him, and much of it is to change our character. Eventually, much of it is to bless others around us, which is what He put us on earth for — even in the midst of our trial.

 

CARL — Being a big sports fan and sportscaster covering your father and you as players, who did you have in mind when writing this book, “Facing the Blitz?”

JEFF — I was thinking about guys that are probably 45 to 50 years old. I was thinking of some of my fraternity brothers — guys who are solid guys, great Americans, hard workers, successful — but they’re at the stage where some tough things are happening. You lose a parent, business goes south, a marriage gets in trouble, a child has a super big problem, maybe even lose a child. They don’t really know how to handle a loss. I want to encourage people.

 

Carl Foster is the Palm Beach Community Director for the Good News. He is also the founder/president of Foster Events Group, LLC, and event director for the upcoming Leadercast Palm Beach May 17th at the Palm Beach Convention Center. www.FosterEventsGroup.com

 

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