Tony Dejak/AP
Tony Dejak/AP

A Father’s Life Lessons

We asked a dozen men in the NFL—players, coaches and executives—to share the best thing they’ve learned from their dad or an influential father figure. Here’s the wisdom that’s been passed on by mail carriers, businessmen, high school coaches, Hall of Famers, construction workers, educators and military veterans

Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·
Ike Taylor in Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s office, and together celebrating victory after Super Bowl XLIII. Far right, Dan Rooney with his father Art in 1966. (Courtesy photo :: Michael J. LeBrecht II for Sports Illustrated :: AP)
Ike Taylor in Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s office, and the two celebrating after Super Bowl XLIII. Far right, Dan Rooney with his father, Art, in 1966. (Courtesy photo :: Michael J. LeBrecht II for Sports Illustrated :: AP)

Ike Taylor, Steelers cornerback

Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney taught me that status doesn’t mean anything. My father was a rolling stone, as they say. When I was drafted, I learned that Dan Rooney had an open door policy for his employees. During my third season I went to his office to share my feelings, but I was so exhausted I fell asleep on his couch. He told his son, the president, I was going to take over his office and he turned off the lights and left. I think I napped for two and a half hours. We’re talking about a Hall of Famer, an owner, who treats everybody like family. With him, it doesn’t matter who you are—we’re all human.


John Fox, Broncos coach

john-fox-300-200Ron Fox taught me the importance of teamwork. My stepfather, now 79, came into my life when I was 11 and later I decided to take his last name. He went to Ohio State and became one of the original Navy SEALs. As a boy I watched him train in everything from water jumps to mini-sub exercises. I saw a couple of Silver Star presentations for bravery, and through hearing the tales behind the honors, I learned how important it was to him to take care of a teammate. I can’t share those stories, but the memories will stick with me for the rest of my life.


Gus Bradley, Jaguars coach

gus-bradley-300-210Roy James Bradley taught me that everything you do is a reflection of you. He passed last October in Minnesota at the age of 85. I had a lawn-mowing job as a teenager that also required me to trim about 35 trees. One day after I had already come home, he drove by tree number 13 and saw that it still had tall grass around it. He took me back out to the spot and had me fix it. “If you have a job to do,” he said, “do it to the best of your ability, because people are always watching and trying to find out what you are all about.” I try to meet those standards every day.


Joe Staley, 49ers tackle

Butch Staley taught me to enjoy my job. My father’s been a mail carrier in Michigan since I was born. He’s 53, and grew up in a coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh with an alcoholic father. My dad was the opposite. He’s an example of how to be a great father and a great husband. Every day is fun to him. He knows the families he’s delivering to, and they get excited to see him on his route. I take pride in my job, but I don’t let the pressure overwhelm me. A lot of guys take it way too seriously and get bogged down, but I never have. I think that comes from my dad.



Clark Hunt, Chiefs Chairman and CEO

nfl-fathers-hunts-400-300Lamar Hunt taught me that it is important to treat others with respect and dignity no matter their station in life. When I was a boy, my dad was working on the AFL and interests in soccer, tennis and basketball, but despite all that he made an effort to be at my games. He would fly back from wherever he was to be there. It’s fun for me today, seven or so years after he passed away, to run into someone with a Lamar Hunt story. A man told me he was 22 years old and was sitting in an airport when he recognized the man sitting beside him as the owner of the Chiefs. My dad struck up a conversation, and they spent the next 15 minutes talking about what was going on in the young man’s life. It’s nice to have that reminder of how important it is to treat others well.


Brian Cushing, Texans linebacker

nfl-fathers-cushing-400-250Frank Cushing taught me to fear no one. He pitched in two College World Series and he made me a warrior through baseball. When we were taking batting practice and I was crowding the plate, he would throw at my head. He never hit me, but he came close enough to get the message across. All those parents who questioned his methods look at me now like, Wow, he knew what he was doing. Dad believed that there was nothing worse than wondering if you could’ve or should’ve tried harder. I’ve gotten hurt sometimes while doing it but there isn’t a day that goes by I regret because I know I’ve gone after everything 100 percent. That’s because of him.


Gunther Cunningham, Lions senior coaching assistant

nfl-fathers-cunningham-400-400Garner Cunningham taught me how to fight. My stepfather was an Air Force sergeant who brought me to this country at the age of 12, with my mother. I was born in Munich in 1946—a year after WWII—and I knew as soon as the teacher read my name during attendance I would become a target. During that first year in Greenfield, Massachusetts, I fought constantly. One fight with four boys came to my front yard. My stepfather opened the door and said, “Son, you’d better win.” And he locked the door. The night he died two years ago, I asked him, “Why didn’t you help me?” And he said, “Son, if you were going to make it in this country, you had to learn to fight for yourself, to take care of yourself, to make something of yourself.” That experience drove me in school, as a football player, and darn sure drove me as a coach. Maybe that would be wrong for some people, but for me it was the right medicine.


Rick Smith, Texans general manager

nfl-fathers-rick-smith-400-400Dr. Franklin L. Smith taught me to learn and grow from my mistakes. My father always emphasized the importance and value of education. He was superintendent of the Dayton Ohio Public School system, so his signature was on my high school diploma. At Purdue, I was on the dean’s list as a freshman and enjoyed a role as a part-time starter and special teams contributor. Yet by sophomore year I was declared academically ineligible to play football. When I planned to tell my father, we met at a Denny’s following his monthly public school board meeting. “I made a mistake,” I said. He responded, “You are not judged by your mistakes—you are judged on how you respond to them and grow.” It gave me strength, determination, and inspiration and it was one of the most powerful and pivotal moments of my life. Dad, after all these years, I hope you know I was listening.


Philip Rivers, Chargers quarterback

nfl-fathers-philip-rivers-400-300-finalSteve Rivers taught me that if you’re going to do something, you better do it all the way. He was a high school football coach in Decatur, Alabama, for 30-some years before retiring recently. I loved being around it as a kid and hearing his QBs call plays. I couldn’t wait to be his quarterback. In the fall, when we’d rake the lawn, we had to get every last leaf. I would tell him, “Dad, more are gonna fall!” And he’d say, “Well, we’ll get them too.” He treated the third-team tackle same as the quarterback. And he would bench me like anybody else, but he didn’t let a bad practice ruin dinner. I asked him once on the field, “Do I call you Dad or Coach Rivers?” And he said, “Shoot, call me dad.”


Dennis Allen, Raiders coach

nfl-fathers-dennis-allen-400-300Grady Allen taught me that I can’t control everything in my environment, but I can control the way I respond to that environment. I lost my father two years ago at 66 years old. Growing up in Hurst, Texas, he was a guy who was always there for me. He coached all of my Little League teams and he impressed upon his children a desire to be the best in everything that you do. He taught me the value of hard work. After playing five NFL seasons with the Falcons, he became an industrial chemical salesman. When I was a boy, he’d take off for the road on a Monday and say, “I won’t be back until Thursday, so I’m going to miss your game on Wednesday.” But, invariably, he was at every single one of my games.


Jake Matthews, Falcons tackle

nfl-fathers-matthews-400-270Bruce Matthews taught me if you commit to something, you’re not giving up on it. It was unbelievable to see his energy every week, the amazing way he played on the field and then came home and had all the love in the world for us. Late in fifth grade, I told my dad, “I think I’m going to play baseball instead of football this year.” He didn’t even make me feel bad and say, “No, you have to play football,” but we had his relentlessness, because he left everything on the field. Naturally I came back and said, “I can’t quit football. Let’s do both.”


Ryan Grigson, Colts general manager

nfl-fathers-grigson-400-400Jeffrey F. Grigson taught me to never feel sorry for myself, and how to fight for those you love. My father was a 6-foot-3, 250-pound former Marine, college defensive tackle and construction worker. To me, he looked like the Incredible Hulk. I lost him to brain cancer when I was 9, and yet, I still have many fond memories of him. He still found the energy to help coach my first football team, referee my basketball games and take me and my friends to the movies and the park. He never stopped being a dad. Years after his passing, I asked my mom if he ever had any weak moments with her. She said he never once complained or ever even said, “Why me?” The example he demonstrated in the face of severe adversity has given me strength whenever I’ve encountered challenges. My father only lived to 33, but in our nine years together he gave me plenty of vivid examples of what it means to be both a father and a man.


Photo Credits: Garrett W. Ellwood for SI (Fox); Wesley Hitt/Getty Images (Bradley); Courtesy Photo (Staleys); Paul Sakuma/AP (Joe Staley Gatorade); Wade Jackson/Icon SMI (Hunts); Courtesy photo (Cushings); Scott Halleran/Getty Images (Brian Cushing); Amy Sancetta/AP (Cunningham); Courtesy photo (Smiths); Courtesy photo (Rivers); Paul Sakuma/AP (Allen); Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports (Matthews); Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Grigson)

In celebration of Father’s Day, tell us the best thing you’ve learned from your dad or an influential father figure and how it has shaped your life in the comments section below …

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My dad taught me how to be kind.  He was not rich or powerful---a mere barber--but he treated everyone w/respect.  There were some homeless people that threw a rock through his window at his shop and I was like, "Why don't you do something?  Stop letting them hang out here!"  He said, "They just wanted a warm place to stay---it wasn't me they were throwing a rock at--but a rock to me because they knew I wouldn't prosecute them."  Couple days later, one of the guys came up to him and apologized and said he just wanted to go to jail that night to be warm---and my dad said, "Ok, I understand--just tell me next time and I will just open the door and you can stay inside."  At his funeral, the priest told a story about when he was a barber in the Navy--he was the only one that would cut the African-American sailors on the ship.  He said, "We are all people---and we all deserve a good haircut."  I don't think I was ever as proud of my dad as when I heard that story.  He was a simple guy---and I miss him every day.    


These are the kinds of stories that deserve front page rather than the PC garbage about whether or not Redskin is a racial slur.  I for one am tired of PC and people reading negative connotations into everything they do not like. Can we say politics?  So congratulations on sharing human values and that there is more than one road to take in getting to the top.  All require taking personal responsibility.

chris caden
chris caden

In a related vein, I wish my sons would listen to my advice and borrow my wisdom about what is important in life. It's not about a new Iphone, or playing their mother against me to get what they want, or what can Dad get me.


My single mother taught me to never judge, to treat everyone equally, to have high self-esteem, to keep an open mind to anything, to run away whenever things got too hot, to be late to everything, to not give a rip about anything, to never take anything serious, and to always make excuses for myself. I had to go into the Marine Corps to un#$%^ myself and unlearn all that feminine trash that makes people miserable failures in life. I managed to pull my head out and turn my life around. Now I am able to judge people so that I don't hang around losers that will drag me down. Now I realize that not everyone is equal, especially not me. Now I realize that promoting "self-esteem" is just a constant mind numbing pep talk for losers. Keeping an open mind ends up getting you into stupid dangerous situations with losers and idiots. 


My dad Tim helped give me my work ethic, and emphasized the importance of walking with God. But after we lost my younger brother to suicide, he was there to remind me to keep taking a step forward each day. One day it may be a toenail forward. Another day a foot. But each day we had to keep moving forward and healing and not get stuck.


@FranzMeyer You don't write that someone is holding a gun to your head forcing you to read stories about the name of the Washington football team. So I'll assume that you are just a racist and feel threatened when this fact is made obvious to you.

The fact of the matter is that discussions concerning the name "Redskins" has nothing to do with political correctness. It concerns using a term that is perceived negatively by the group in question (i.e. the victim). It is not up to you to decide whether someone is offended or not by the name.

On the other hand, now is the time of your coda. The tea party and the Republican party will soon be a faded memory. You yourself are retired and mooching off the tax payers (SS and Medicare) - so it's time that you took a little personal responsibility and thought about someone other than yourself.


@FranzMeyer There is nothing wrong with PC when it says "stop insulting people". That's a human value too.  I tremendously enjoyed reading these stories.


@chris caden They do. It's just that you do not know what wisdom they find important. Later in life, perhaps you will learn.  I doubt most of the stories about their dad's influence were ever shared with or known to the dads. 


@Sin1 I feel sorry for you.  Treating everyone equally is a sign of wisdom and insight, an opportunity to get to know someone whom you now obviously would treat with distain.  What I read from our description is a perspective you developed early on and not necessarily from your mom.  To quote " unlearn all that feminine trash that makes people miserable failures in life" Is clearly a statement few things your mom tied to teach ever sunk in. Yes, now you are the man you always wanted to be.. tough, run rough shod over others,pass judgement based on the cover of a book so to speak, etc.  Keeping an open mind provides opportunities for discovery, but I doubt you would know how to process that information. Frankly, I see you as shallow. Yes, no matter what even those whom you are likely to distain know how to judge. 


@GiovaniSmith Obviously you don't know how SS/Medicare works, for retired persons. That's HIS/HER money, paid through working. But, I guess, when/if you retire you don't want either of them. Good, one less person to drain an abused system.



"Treating everyone equally is a sign of wisdom and insight,"

This coming from a person who vigorously defends the Washington Redskins name...

Talk about shallow!!! 

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