A traditional sellout that raises about $25,000 annually for Salvation Army services in Johnson City, the Salvation Army Souper Bowl has been held at the conclusion of the professional football season for the past 22 years.
Corps Commander Michael Cox welcomed the crowd to this year’s luncheon with thanks for the year-round support that last year allowed the Salvation Army to provide more than 9,500 hot meals, more than 4,500 nights of shelter and a host of other services to the community’s poor.
“Thank you and God bless you all,” Cox said to the more than 200 football fans and Salvation Army supporters in attendence.
Following past Souper Bowl speakers who have included such legends as Archie Manning, Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers and Ron Jaworski, Steckel began his comments by asking the crowd to take the next 20 minutes to reflect. “What’s No. 1 your life? What is your passion? And have you put it into action?” he asked.
Steckel then quickly ran through the highlights of his career much as he lived them, — at full speed, “always driving 110 miles an hour” until he finally he “slid off the highway and almost over a cliff.”
“My story is one of a driven man,” he said.
After playing one year of high school football, Steckel said he went through four years of college without ever stepping out on a gridiron. Instead he took the boxing gloves he had worn as fighter in the tough Pennsylvania neighborhood he grew up in and punched his way to a Golden Gloves championship.
The day after he graduated college, he enlisted in the Marines and went off to Vietnam at the height of a war in which 58,000 Americans died. Returning from Vietnam, he played two years of college football for the Quantico Marines before going to work as assistant football coach at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he met and married his wife Chris.
From there, Steckel said he began a climb that took him to coaching positions with the Naval Academy, the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, where at age 37, he became the second-youngest head coach in NFL “I was going real, real fast. And I was playing April Fools everyday to myself,” he said.
Fired from the top job at Minnesota, Steckel moved on the New England Patriots, where he got to know Raymond Berry, who he described as “the strongest Christian man I ever met.”
But still, he said, “I still didn’t get it.”
Then in 1990, Steckel said, he experienced 13 months of unemployment “that took me down to the bowels of my soul ... It was like I was going 110 miles per hour and God slammed on the brakes. I slid off the side of the highway and I almost went off the cliff. God wanted it that way. God said ‘I’m going to take you down and get your attention.’ ”
After 13 months without a job offer, without a single phone call, without one letter and with no one knocking on his door, Steckel said he prayed for God to help him be the father and husband he should be.
A few weeks later, he said, he was taking his family out on Christmas Eve, when the head coach of the University of Colorado called his home and told him that “God had put it in his heart to give me a job, that he didn’t have a job but that he would figure it out and call me” the following week.
“On Dec. 1, 1990, I totally surrendered my life to Jesus Christ never knowing that on Dec. 24 that was going to happen.”
“If there is one thing I hope everybody hears it is this. God has a great game plan for you.”
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.