A Hall of Famer and generous giver

Detroit, Mich., May 25, 2013 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- When a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is talking, you expect to hear plenty of stories from his days on the playing field.

That’s a logical assumption to make, unless the former player is Joe DeLamielleure. The day that he was interviewed for this story, he had spoken to school kids.

Today’s National Football League, of course, is a lot different from when he played for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns over a 13-year career that spanned the 1970s and 80s.

“The NFL became ‘entertainment’ once it got to be the 1990s,” says the former offensive lineman. “You weren’t going to be rich the rest of your life before that. Guys were going to work in the offseason.”

So what did he say to the students two days ago, then?

“I tell kids, ‘If you think fame and fortune are the most important things, think…who won the Oscar two years ago?  Who won the Super Bowl two years ago?’ And then I say, ‘Who’s your best friend? Who was your favorite teacher?’ … Fame is fleeting, it comes and goes. Character and friends last forever. If you think sports is the answer, look at people who played sports and where are they now? O.J. (Simpson): Jail. Lawrence Taylor: Went to jail, but is out now.”

Let the record show that DeLamielleure was one of running back Simpson’s blockers when he ran wild for the Bills, including being the first to hit 2,000 yards rushing, in a 14-game season. That was a part of what led “Joe D.” to eventually be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. And once he got there?

“I decided if I got in the Hall of Fame I’d use it as a platform to get some information out to the public.”

In reality, the now 62-year old seems to be talking more from a pulpit. That is, when he’s not busy helping. And in ways that far exceed talking to kids at a school.

Four years ago, DeLamielleure and two of his teammates from college rode bicycles from the football stadium at Michigan State University to Matamoros, Mexico, to raise funds for an orphanage that one of the three founded there.

Two months from now (beginning on July 13) the first round pick by the Bills in 1973 will begin walking from Buffalo to Canton for Grace’s Lamp. The next month (on Aug. 19) he and other NFL colleagues will be in Chicago to participate in a golf tournament for the orphanage in Mexico. He has also participated in "Taste of the NFL." Held in conjunction with the Super Bowl, proceeds from that initiative benefit food banks in every NFL city.

He can point directly to where this generous spirit came from.

“When I grew up (in Center Line, Michigan) we had ten kids in the family. Factories all around. All the neighbors always shared. Everybody’s house was everybody’s house. Someone outgrew a shirt and brought it to a neighbor. We shared meals. My father-in-law was a big worker with St. Vincent de Paul. Our family, we didn’t have a lot but what we had we shared with everyone. I thought we were rich; we never wanted for anything. You learned to share from being in a big Catholic neighborhood.

“I was brought up with all this. It was always such a big part of our lives. If we had a thunderstorm at night, my mom would wake everybody up and say the Rosary so we’d be safe. Fifteen minutes later when the storm would end she’d say, ‘see?!’ In May, Mary’s month, we had to come in at 7:30 and kneel down and say the Rosary along with the radio. Even if we were outside playing.”

Not coincidentally, DeLamielleure says that he’s “a big Rosary guy,” adding, “I’m holding one in my hand right now while we’re talking.”

Noting that he has another interview the day after this one, DeLamielleure says that, “I always say God don’t let me talk, talk through me.”

His faith even played a part in what college he ended up going to.

“Duffy Daugherty (head coach from Michigan State) came to my house and looked around and saw all these rosaries and candles. The next time he came he brought Fr. Lambert with him. My dad said, ‘That’s it, you’re going to Michigan State.’ Duffy told my parents, ‘If he comes Catholic, he leaves Catholic.’”

But then he graduated from Michigan State, got drafted, and instead of blocking, found what would be a temporary block in his way, although he used it to perform a spiritual self-audit.

“I flunked my physical when I got drafted by the Bills. They said there was a problem with my heart. My wife and I were scared. They found out I could play, but, during that four-week period, my wife said, ‘No big deal, you could coach or do something else.’ It had no bearing on her. My brother Darryl, who just passed away last month and was a great Christian, said I needed a new heart. He said it was a wake-up call to keep my heart pure and clear. It’s not about material things. I realized you can’t have a hardened heart.”

So now he takes regular doses of Catholicism, attending Mass every day.

“I always loved the time of just being alone with God. I always thought that when I go to Mass I try to listen to the readings a lot better during the week. So I listen real intently to the words. The bottom line to me is Jesus came here to serve and by serving and have people watch Him they follow Him. What other person since the beginning of time has been number one that long?  He has won all the Super Bowls. If you believe in God and serve him and do what he says to do in the Bible, you won the game.”

Posted with permission from the Catholic Sports Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting Catholic sports professionals and enriching junior high and high school student-athletes with Catholic sports articles, conferences, a Web series, and other programs.

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