Denver Broncos’ great Karl Mecklenburg teamed up with the Salvation Army in Johnson City on Friday for a sold out Souper Bowl for the Hungry benefit projected to raise about $20,000 for services for the community’s poor.
The annual benefit luncheon at Holiday Inn drew a crowd of more than 300 fans to hear the NFL’s most versatile player speak about his career, his passion for football and the passion that can propel an athlete, a team, a business or a community to succeed when things go horribly wrong.
Mecklenburg called the Salvation Army’s mission to meet human need “simple, clear and extraordinary” and the packed-in crowd who turned out for Friday’s luncheon is evidence of the community’s passion to help the army in that purpose.
In a review of his career, he said it was his passion to play and his courage to stand up and try something new that helped him overcome the loss of his first college scholarship, to go on to play in the NFL and to earn the nickname “Mr. Versatility” by playing all seven front defensive positions because “it was what my coaches asked me to do.”
When the Broncos told him he would be switched from pass rusher to linebacker, he said he worried because he had seen players switch positions only to be fired. “I had never played linebacker. Our starter was injured. So I started and I got a big hit. I didn’t even know what I was doing and I could not have done that without the courage to step up and try a new thing,” he said.
When things “go terribly wrong as things sometimes do, it’s embarrassing. It’s difficult. But unless you have the courage to try you will never be able to keep up in this world.
“I’m 51 years old. I’ve had nine knee surgeries and I can’t play football. But I have other passions. As a husband, a father, a speaker, a writer and a Christian, I want to be the best I can be at each of those and I am getting better and better. But it wasn’t always that way.
“There is a great need out there and if you can step up it will make a great difference to you, to your community and to all of East Tennessee. It requires honesty and forgiveness. It’s what’s in your heart, that passion in your life. It’s what you think that matters,” he said.
Food City, one of several corporate sponsors of Friday’s benefit, presented the Salvation Army with a check for $12,000 raised by nine area stores through their annual paper football sale to help the army with direct services to the needy that last year cost more than $1 million in the local community.
The luncheon also included an introduction of Commissioner James Osborne, a retired national commander of the Salvation Army, who recently began an interim command of the Johnson City Salvation Army. Osborne told the crowd he and his wife Ruth, a retired national leader of Salvation Army Women’s Ministries, intend to make a difference during their months in Johnson City and promised to be a careful steward of resources that will be needed to meet future needs for food, shelter and rent and utility assistance to community members in crisis.