When he was 12 years old, Mike Singletary's parents divorced and his older brother died in a car accident within a six-month span.
The future Hall of Fame linebacker said at the time he was content to be “mediocre” and not rock the boat, but a conversation he had with his mother changed his outlook. He said she told him:
“I want you to understand something, there is something very special about you,” Singletary said. “Son, I want you to know that greatness is in you, but you will never find it if you give up. If you give up right now, you just live and one day you'll die, son, and nothing will change.
“But I'm going to tell you, it's in you, son.”
Singletary, 60, who played 12 seasons for the Chicago Bears and was later the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, spoke to a crowd of several hundred Monday at Memorial Coliseum as the featured guest at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Night of Hope. The Super Bowl champion followed longtime Grace basketball coach Jim Kessler on the stage.
Singletary, dressed in a blue sport coat and yellow-checkered shirt, spoke for more than half an hour, his deep, ringing voice reverberating through the room.
He spoke about how he created a “vision statement” with his goals on it when he was 12: get a college football scholarship, become the first in his family to get his degree, become an All-American, get drafted into the NFL and buy his mother a house and take care of her.
As a football player, he became famous for his relentless style of play, so much so that his coaches at Baylor tried to get him to slow down during games so that'd he have energy left in the fourth quarter. Singletary said that drive came from his desire to show God he was doing everything he could with the gifts he'd been given.
“When any athlete tells me he's a Christian, if there's any coach that ever tells me they're a Christian, I hold them to the highest standard,” Singletary said. “If you're an athlete and you're out there taking plays off, no. That's not the God you serve.”
Kessler received the Northeast Indiana Fellowship of Christian Athletes' first Coach's Impact Award, given to a coach who engages in what the organization calls “three-dimensional coaching.” That is, coaching that affects players' minds, bodies and spirits.
The former Lancers coach announced his retirement in February after 42 years and close to 800 victories at Grace. He looked back on his career Monday in a moderated discussion about coaching and faith.
Kessler, who is now a special assistant to Grace athletic director Chad Briscoe, related the story of how he began playing basketball at recess in southern Missouri and later decided to attend to Grace to study physical education.
“I came out here to play at Grace, brought my young bride and who would have ever thought we'd end up staying here the rest of our lives?” Kessler said.
The NAIA Hall of Fame coach led in to Singletary's speech with some advice that he attributed to the man who followed him onstage.
“(As coaches) we want our men to have passion, we want them to persevere and we want them to pursue integrity,” the coach said. “So many lessons you can learn in athletics, and integrity is one of those.
“I'm giving (Singletary) credit for this, he said, 'Never cut a rep in practice.' You know, that's integrity.”