Friday, November 9, 2007

'A True Fisher of Men'

(ABOVE: From ...The Cowboys achieved another milestone in building their $1 billion new stadium, completing the first of two structural steel arches that each will span a quarter-mile.)

Below is good stuff...

Mickey Spagnola - Email Columnist
November 6, 2007 8:11 PM

A True Fisher of Men

EULESS, Texas - Tuesday was an off day for the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys, tied for the best record in the NFC and second-best record in all of the NFL.

Yet Tuesday was a hard day for the Dallas Cowboys. Not just the players. Not just the coaches. Not just members of the front office. And not just the staff members who walk The Ranch hallways.

This tough day included the many people who simply work with the Dallas Cowboys, not for, and those who once played for the Dallas Cowboys, but no longer.

They came here Tuesday afternoon to the First Baptist Church of Euless in respect and to honor the best way they could a man who had passed away.


That is not a misprint for those of us who have known JohnWeber over the past three decades. Few just called him John. There are lots of Johns in the world. No one called him Weber. That just didn’t seem right, not respectful enough.

To us, he was always a run-together, JohnWeber, the team chaplain for some 20 years, the team photo runner at away games, the team baggage helper in the locker room at road games. You name it, JohnWeber would do it.

Most of all, though, his official title should have included team friend, and evidently after sitting in this church for some 90 minutes, this was not unique to us out here at The Ranch. Listening to speaker after speaker after speaker, JohnWeber was everyone’s “best friend.”

Problem was, some of us probably didn’t realize it, because this 59-year-old man made everyone he met seem as if his best friend.

I mean look, JohnWeber knew I grew up in Chicago. He’s always asked me about the city, and just this season when we were staying downtown for the Bears game, told me what I great city I was from. But when he died of a heart attack last Thursday, it occurred to me I had never asked where he was from (South Dakota).

He knew I went to the University of Missouri, and would give me one of his trademark “ahhhs” while telling me what a great journalism school it was and would go on to ask my why I thought it was so good. I had no idea he went to Dakota Wesleyan University.

JohnWeber knew I had worked at the Dallas Times Herald. I never knew he worked as a graduate student at Florida State University, nor that he was on the board of Athletes in Action or that he toiled for Camp Crusade.

He knew I had a daughter who recently had gotten married. I never knew he had five children - son Tim, and daughters Sarah, Elizabeth, Hannah and Rebekah - nor that his wife was Carol or that she had a grander smile than his.

What I did know about JohnWeber, and he about me, is that we had shared a common interest in our younger days, both having wrestled, although John was able to do so in college, me just a few years in high school. He asked me where I had gone to high school, and he acted as if he knew Bloom Township High School’s wrestling program. His sincerity was so convincing I never once even remotely doubted he might have just been trying to be nice.

All these thoughts flashed-flooded forward last Thursday, not only that day JohnWeber died, but, as I would learn Tuesday, the very day, after 27 years of working toward this goal, he was supposed to hand in his dissertation at Dallas Seminary for his long-awaited doctorate degree.

And I felt inadequate. He knew so much about me, but me so little as it turned out about him.

I knew why, too, even before his son Tim pointed out, “He was the best listener I ever met.”

So good, when you talked to JohnWeber, he made you feel as if you were the most important person he had ever met, so no wonder each of his daughters claimed they were his “favorite daughter,” or that Elizabeth would say “He had the greatest way of making people feel important.”

She knew better than the rest of us, and why, after looking over the hundreds who took time out of their day to attend the service, said, “This is a room full of all his favorite people.”

See, Team Chaplain was his title, but inaccurate. He was Franchise Chaplain. Team Chaplain makes you think he only dealt with the players. That would be wrong, and if you were here Tuesday you would have understood.

There were players in attendance for sure, JohnWeber having conducted the pregame chapels and Bible studies for years and years, having made a defined impression on these young men. But that’s not all. There were members of the front office in attendance; trainers and equipment guys; members of the TV and radio departments; Internet and video; media and community relations; player development; football operations; Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine and security; Desperados players and coaches.

Still, that’s not all. The guy who takes care of the team’s game-day sideline communication systems was here. One of the lunch caterers was here. The recently retired American Airlines pilot who flew the team charter flights for so many years. Guys from American’s ground crew. Members of the local media - writers and TV guys. Amazing.

Even more so, there were former Cowboys players, guys like Chad Hennings and Billy Cundiff and Tim Seder and Mike Saxon, and those were just the ones I saw among the maybe more than some 500 people at the memorial. And even defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman, now playing for the New York Jets but who saw fit to spend part of his bye week attending this service.

To me, that is the greatest tribute to a man’s 59 years on this earth. JohnWeber cast a wide net, a true fisher of men.

Now a lot of speaker-types had something to say about him after his five children so eloquently summed up their father, including Pat Summerall, who called this guy who had a way of staying in the background yet having such a profound affect on so many “a man’s man.”

But leave it to Greg Ellis to get to the bottom of JohnWeber. And this was not just some afterthought for Ellis. As you might have read on after the Philadelphia game, Ellis would follow Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips’ awarding Terrell Owens a game ball for his performance in Sunday night’s 38-17 victory by grabbing one of the actual footballs used in the game, standing up in the middle of the group with the ball held high and saying this would be JohnWeber’s game ball. The players all nodded.

This had been on Ellis’ mind.

So Ellis strode to the lectern, ball in hand again to eventually present to Carol Weber, saying, “It really hit me how important John was to the world.” Ellis remembered a few of JohnWeber’s pregame chapel talks, one this year at Buffalo and one a few years ago. He had taken notes, recalling JohnWeber once saying, “Integrity is doing what is right even when it’s hard” and then this, too, about faith and freedom, Ellis quoting, “Freedom is doing what you ought to do, not what you want to do.”

Geesh, leave it to Ellis. He kept saying all the things I was thinking of saying about JohnWeber. So did his kids. So did his friends. So just maybe JohnWeber was all this to everybody, seemingly an exhausting task to be that consistent, that caring to so many for so long.

There are too shames to all this:

In my books, 59 years then is not long enough for such a unique man, and, sometimes you never realize what you got until it’s gone, those very thoughts racing through my head on the charter flight to Philadelphia when the charter coordinator stopped by to chat about JohnWeber, then telling me what I didn’t want to know: That I was sitting in what would have been his seat.

How I wished I could ask JohnWeber just one question . . . just one.

A lesson learned for sure, one about being more aware and more grateful of those people we meet, because in the end, well, let Ellis so appropriately and fittingly sum up JohnWeber far better than I ever could:

“Sometimes you don’t realize when you have greatness with you.”