But a funny thing happened on the way to row 39. I got stuck at row 33…stuck in a long line of people searching for overhead luggage space, so I struck up a conversation with the long-legged gentleman in that exit row. I still do not know who, exactly, he is. But I noticed his HUGE ring and I grabbed his hand and said, “What kind of a huge ring are you wearing, anyway?”
Well, it was an SEC championship ring. He pulled me toward him and whispered, “If you like this one, you would really like my Sugar bowl ring.”
“Yeah, I bet I would…Now, are you for real? Is this a real ring? C’mon, I don’t know these things. Tell me who you are.”
He laughed at my unbelief. “No, It’s fake,” he jested. Then he said, “No ma’am, it really is the real thing, but I was just the janitor.”
“You were NOT the janitor. Even I can tell that much.” This guy was very tall and very muscular and very intelligent and very much the football player type. He was dressed In Georgia State gear, so I was assuming that now he is associated in some way with that program. He said, “If you’ll save your napkin, when we deplane, I’ll sign it for you…I can’t sign it right now, “ he said. “ I signed a few things in a plane once, and when I got off, somebody mugged me and tried to get my Sugar Bowl ring. I don’t wear it any more when I travel.”
I said, “But you are sitting way in front of me. You will be gone long before I get off.”
“No ma’am. I will wait. I am a man of my word. If a man is not as good as his word, he is no good at all.”
Well, since there was no room for my luggage, I conversed with him while I waited and soon found out that he did play for the Bear at Bama, and, of course, the autograph became more relevant to me (Roll Tide!).
(Two hours later…) So, the electronics were soon “all turned off and properly stored” and now, the rest of the story from the Atlanta airport as I am once again delayed in terminal D.
George Pugh won 4 SEC championships with the Bear. The team only lost one game in four seasons at Alabama and in 1976 he was on the team that defeated Penn State in the National Championship where he received that Sugar Bowl ring.
And he did wait in the airport. He was talking on the phone when I entered the terminal from the jet bridge, but he immediately hung up, grabbed his briefcase and found the Delta napkin. He unfolded it, so I could see what he’d written:
Best Wishes and Lots of Luck
We had a short, but very nice conversation about his experiences with the Bear, and his comparisons of Coach Bryant with some of the other great names in football with and for whom he has played. (Okay, so I don’t know who they are, but I do remember Tom Landry being among them.) He credited Coach Bryant with life lessons that have helped him become the man he is and with showing him the path to success. He clearly loves the Bear. I commented to him about the fact that God has blessed Him very richly, with which he heartily agreed. “You don’t even know how much he has blessed me.” We talked a little more about God and blessings and wished each other safe travels. He stopped, coincidently, at the same flight info panel and we talked about flights and weather and hurrying.
(One hour later…) And I hurried and am finally aboard my last leg to Huntsville.
So, besides Tide pride, what’s the post’s point?
I don’t know that there will ever be one. But, upon meeting this gentleman, I had just finished talking to a large group of ladies at a lectureship in Fort Worth about raising our kids to be evangelistic Christians. I told them that we should be sure we love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, strength and minds and that we should purposefully inject Him into all the events and decisions of our daily lives. As I sat there on the plane thinking about this man who was sitting a few rows in front of me I wondered if he knew the Lord. I thought about how much simpler my life would be if I didn’t feel this obligation to talk to everybody around me about the Lord. I thought about how I so often fail to mention Him when it may be that the people I encounter may never hear any reference to Him in their worlds except when they hear His name as a byword. I prayed that God would help me to know best how to open a door. Then, from my purse, I got out one of the calling cards that is an invitation to our services. It has all of our contact information on it. On the back, I wrote a thank-you note for the autograph and told him my son would be excited. I determined to talk to this man about the blessings God had showered on His successful life.
I was surprised when Mr. Pugh handed me the autographed napkin that, as a post script to the above message, he had included his email address so that Caleb can contact him. I’m well aware that most casual contacts like this will never result in a study, much less the salvation of a soul. But I know, too, that the chance that one of these daily casual contacts will result in a study is much greater when the contact includes a discussion of the Lord and an invitation than when the contact is void of all mention of Christ. I would even go a step further and say that if we could all just remember and be emboldened to speak His name to all of our contacts (which I do not do), our rates of congregational growth would increase.
It’s not likely that this man will ever attend our services. He may never engage in a Bible Study and he may never become a Christian. But, with Caleb’s correspondence, he will have at least one more opportunity to hear the name of Christ. If he should show an interest in the things of God, I will be sure and let you know. And then, this post would have a really good point!