It all started in a neighborhood in Mendota Heights. Rich Chapman was living at the end of a cul de sac with his wife Jayme and four children.
Eight years ago, a new neighbor moved in next door — NFL football player Matt Birk, who was playing center for the Minnesota Vikings at the time.
Between the two of them, they eventually had 10 children, and the constant activity brought them out into the street. Soon, small talk about raising kids turned into deep conversations about the Catholic faith.
The fruit of those discussions is a book the two wrote that will be released on Feb. 1. It’s called All-Pro Wisdom: The 7 Choices That Lead To Greatness. It is written for people of all ages, specifically targeting those who have drifted away from their faith or never had it.
“We want to get to the fringe, we want to get to those people who maybe haven’t thought about these questions . . . or made these choices,” said Birk, 37, who retired from the NFL right after winning the Super Bowl last year with the Baltimore Ravens and moved to Florida with his wife Adriana and kids in the fall. “Football is kind of a civic religion in our culture. So, it’s a great language to communicate [the faith].”
The 133-page book in the form of a question: 1. Who are you? 2. What is your purpose? 3. What kind of person do you want to be? 4. Where are you going? 5. Where can you find strength greater than yourself? 6. Who can give you guidance? and 7. How are you improving today?
The choices are real to Birk because he himself drifted away from his faith during his college years at Harvard. Eventually, he came back after getting married and starting a family. Then, he went much deeper during the time he lived next door to Chapman, who belongs to St. John Neumann in Eagan.
“Our fellowship was started in the cul de sac,” Birk said. “We just started talking, and I got to know Rich and really developed a quick admiration for him. He’s a mentor for me, a great influence. Rich is a deep thinker and we talked about a lot of things, some being these seven choices. I felt what he was saying in my soul. I knew it to be true.”
Eventually, the two started talking about co-writing a book. In the summer of 2012, they got serious about starting the project. Then came the day they took their first step.
“It was Sept. 30, 2012,” Birk said. “The reason I know the date was it was my parents’ [Bob and Pam] 40th wedding anniversary. We had a big party for them.”
Just after the goodbyes had been said, Birk and Chapman went to work sending out emails to people in the NFL asking for comments on the seven choices to include in the book.
The 7 choicesThe following are titles of chapters and excerpts from the book All-Pro Wisdom, a collaborative effort of former NFL center Matt Birk and local business consultant Rich Chapman.
1. Who are you?
Choose to understand your identity
“If you know who you are deep inside, you will have a rooted sense of identity that carries you through all the changes you face, the rest of your life will be easier and happier, and you will have a more positive impact on the people you influence.”
2. What is your purpose?
Choose to discover your mission
“I believe that as you choose to step out of your personal comfort zone and seek to serve others, you will find your purpose.”
3. What kind of person do you want to be?
Choose to develop your character
“All of us have dreams, desires and hopes about the kinds of lives we want to lead and the kinds of people we want to be. Men and women of character develop the discipline to turn dreams into realities.”
4. Where are you going?
Choose to clarify your goals
“Dreams are important. Our lives would be empty without them. But dreams don’t change the world unless they’re put into action. That’s where goals come in. Goals help us convert lofty dreams into doable acts.”
5. Where can you find strength greater than yourself?
Choose to connect with power
“That brief phrase, ‘Let your will be done, Lord’ has been the prayer of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s a simple prayer, but it helps me connect with a power that’s much greater than myself.”
6. Who can give you guidance?
Choose to seek wise counsel
“I believe it takes strength and courage to admit that I don’t have all the answers and to ask someone else who knows more than I do.”
7. How are you improving today?
Choose to commit to growth
“No matter who you are or what you are trying to do in your life, if you want to be good at anything, you need to learn from your mistakes and try to do a better job the next time.”
The list of those who said yes was impressive, starting with commissioner Roger Goodell and also including Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and players Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers), Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), Anquan Boldin (San Francisco 49ers), Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen (both with the Minnesota Vikings).
“What’s cool is these guys in this book, they embody these choices,” said Birk, who came to Minnesota to speak to St. Paul’s Outreach Men on a Mission Jan. 10. “They believe in it. They live it. This is awesome. This is great stuff, and we’re so blessed to have those guys — to have them be who they are and want to help us with this project.”
Chapman conducted the interviews, deliberately trying to keep them to just 10 minutes out of respect for the busy lives of those who work in the NFL. But, he was shocked when, time after time, the interviews stretched longer — even after he told each respondent when the time limit had been reached.
“Jared Allen was 45 minutes,” said Chapman, an independent corporate management consultant. “These guys loved to talk about this because it was about depth and content, and living. It wasn’t about football.
“Aaron Rodgers was particularly articulate. I took Aaron through the seven choices, and I said, ‘Aaron, what’s your experience with articulating your identity? And, where did the character in your life come from? How did you learn it? What about a source of strength greater than self?’ And, it was like he had rehearsed for it. He’s a very bright guy, very deep in his faith, very happy to try and help our initiative.”
Already, the book has gained traction, even before it has been released. Birk and Chapman have met with several corporate CEOs about the seven choices. One of them said he would like to give copies of the book to each of his 30,000 employees. On top of that, Chapman said the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is considering giving copies to every high school athlete who is a member — some 450,000.
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One important point that the two are making about the book is that it can be a great tool for evangelization.
“It’s a great conversation starter. This is a very nonthreatening way to open up conversations with people about what really matters,” Chapman said. “We call it stealth evangelization. You don’t see anything on the cover or the back or in the introduction of the book that refers to God.”
But, the goal is to lead people to a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is why the two don’t consider the book so much a project as a calling. And, that calling could lead to things beyond the book.
“It’s all in God’s hands; he’s leading the way,” Birk said. “There could be workbooks, there could be a Catholic version of the book. It could be a movement. We’re doing it one day at a time and we’re just delivering the message.
“This is a calling. We’re on a mission and this is what we’ve done. It’s taken a lot to get to this point, but we couldn’t be more energized and excited. We’re serving a purpose greater than ourselves. That’s evident to us. We feel honored to do it.”