Forgiveness. It’s one of the simplest concepts. However, the execution of it, coupled with grace is one of the hardest to carry out. As time moves on, it’s a lesson becoming more obsolete amongst our fellow man. In modern day society, the idea of “eye for an eye” prevails over pardoning anyone that has wronged us. For those in the Christian faith, forgiveness serves as cornerstone of our daily walk with God. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” Ephesians 4:31-32. Former two time Super Bowl winner and legendary University of Alabama head football coach Bill Curry came face to face with this spiritual admonition shortly after leaving the Green Bay Packers. The lesson he took from it changed his life forever.
Bill Curry had the incredible luxury of playing for some of the greatest coaches in the game of football. He always believed it was no coincidence, but rather by divine appointment. After playing for the great Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech, Curry was drafted in the late rounds of the NFL Draft. None other than legendary coach Vince Lombardi decided to take a chance on the 212lb center for the Yellow Jackets. After a lot of growing pains, both literally and mentally, Curry worked his way up the star-studded depth chart. In only his second season with the Packers, a great opportunity presented itself. He assumed the reigns at his position after an injury sidelined his teammate starting above him. At that point, Curry would never look back. The fruit of both his and the team’s efforts was a birth in the first ever Super Bowl. The Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers not only defeated, but whipped the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.
So, where does the lesson of forgiveness tie in to this story? Shortly after winning the Super Bowl, Green Bay decided to part ways with the services of Bill Curry. He was placed on the expansion list and was later claimed by the New Orleans Saints. Eventually, he would be traded to the Baltimore Colts, where he found great success under the leadership of Don Shula. This move by the organization did not settle well with Curry. He was very angry and bitter. Once more, he blamed the move on Vince Lombardi. He was very vocal on several occasions; especially with the press. Being one of the only players to be coached by both Lombardi and Shula, he was approached by the media shortly after Super Bowl 3. They wanted to know what the differences were when it came to playing for the two legends. “I said, well, the difference is, I said this publicly, Lombardi didn’t care about us. He was abusive. Shula was tough as nails and he drove us harder than Lombardi. But you could tell that he cared about you. And I went on from there and said a bunch of other things, some of which really weren’t true. And I’m ashamed of that,” Curry said. He placed the burden of blame solely on Vince’s shoulders. A lot of what he said concerning his former coach was, in his words, “stupid and dishonest”.
Little did he know, he would be held accountable for his actions. A few years later, Bill unexpectedly ran into former teammate Paul Hornung. Needless to say, Hornung was not excited about this encounter. As a matter of fact, Curry said that he wanted to fight him. He informed him that what he alleged was terrible, but Bill countered with “it was all true”. While it was the exact opposite, he had convinced himself that his assessments were valid. As the heated exchange continued, Hornung urged Curry to make amends with Lombardi. He went on to say that if he were to do that, Lombardi would treat him as though he were the prodigal son. At that point, Bill Curry mouthed off to his former teammate and the two parted ways.
Just a few months later, Bill would have another chance encounter at the President’s Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. This meeting would make him eat his words. As he ascended a stair case, coming down the other direction was his former coach, Vince Lombardi. Curry felt trapped. There was no way to avoid him. Ironically, Lombardi welcomed his wayward former player with open arms, just as Hornung suggested. Before he described what happened next, he led with, “This is how God deals with us.” “He (Lombardi) said to me, I think Bill, I think you and I need to talk. I said, Yes, sir. We do. And I just couldn’t wait to get away from him. I was so embarrassed,” Curry admitted.
A short time later, Vince Lombardi was dying in Georgetown Hospital located in Washington. He had been suffering from colon cancer. It just so happened that Curry was in town for the Players’ Association. One of his former teammates became aware of that fact and reached out, urging him to visit Lombardi in the hospital. As a matter of fact, he told him that it was going to happen. Curry fumbled around and rebutted with excuses as to why he couldn’t. However, the teammate would hear none of it. “He said, Well, let me tell you the next thing. I know where your room is. And if I have to come drag you out, I’ll pick you up by your ‘you know what’ and put you in a car. I’m taking you with me and we are going to see Coach Lombardi tomorrow. It didn’t leave me much choice,” Curry stated.
So, they trudged on to the hospital to see their dying coach. After stepping out of the elevator, Bill admitted that he was most fearful to see Lombardi’s wife, Marie. He expected to be met with great scorn. However, it was the exact opposite. He was embraced with love and affection, just as he and his wife Carolyn always been in the past. Mrs. Lombardi was grateful to see him and said that it was time go see the coach. With her guidance, he was escorted to Vince’s bedside. He stood their motionless, numb. Terror set in. He gathered every ounce of courage he had, grasped Lombardi’s hand, and choked out the words, “Coach, I said some things I shouldn’t have said. And I’m just so sorry. I came here today to tell you that you’ve meant a lot to my life.” Although his body was emaciated due to the illness, Vince’s eyes remained the same. He began to squeeze Bill’s hand and looked him squarely in the eye. “So you can mean a lot to my life if you’ll pray for me,” Lombardi requested. Curry did as his former mentor asked. At the conclusion of the prayer, long awaited grace and forgiveness was granted.
When Bill had walked away from the hospital, he realized what the great man had done. Coach Lombardi was not only a man of faith, but also a man of grace. It says in Luke 6:35-36, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Vince had every reason to be angry, hurt, and perhaps even vengeful. Instead, he met wrongdoing with love. As Bill said, “he forgave me when I least deserved it”. He lived out his faith. This extension of grace, mercy, and forgiveness forever changed the life of Bill Curry. “That’s what Christ meant by treating hateful people with love. Treating people who are spiteful and use you with love and acceptance. I’ve never been able to look at other folks quite the same way since then,” Bill said.
This is a humbling, yet powerful message that needs to be embraced by all. We do live in a time where “eye for an eye” is the theme of the day. Choosing the path less traveling is not for the weak at heart. True strength is found when we can forgive one another despite the terrible actions cast upon us. In the end, mercy and grace should prevail. For Bill Curry it did indeed prevail. Not only that, this valuable life lesson taught him to love beyond all measure. It is evident in the lives of every player that he’s ever coached. Any of them will attest to that. It’s amazing how a simple act of forgiveness can forge an everlasting legacy of love.
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!