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Ex-Dolphin shares life lessons

February 02, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Church was held the day after Super Sunday for a group of about 40 inmates who gathered in the chapel of Franklin County Jail to hear about Jesus Christ from Super Bowl veteran Don McNeal.

Near the end of his visit Monday, McNeal led the inmates, including about a dozen women, in prayer. He asked those who have not been saved by Jesus to raise their hands.

"One, two, three, four ... I see your hand ... I see your hand," said McNeal, who is now pastor at the New Testament Baptist Church in Florida.

"The angels in heaven are clapping for you right now," he told those who asked for salvation.

The retired cornerback, who played for two national championship teams at the University of Alabama and in two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, talked more about life's lessons than his gridiron days.

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McNeal's father, Henry, raised 11 children after his wife died when Don was 6. A strict disciplinarian, Henry McNeal "used to whup my butt every day. ... He loved me tremendously," the son said.

McNeal told of his father being kicked by a boss when he bent down to tie his shoe. Henry McNeal could have retaliated, but as a black man in rural Alabama in the early 1960s, he chose to ignore the insult, McNeal said.

"I thought that was a cowardly decision," McNeal said.

Thinking back on it, however, his father "truly made the right decision pertaining to us" by keeping his job.

Decisions have consequences, including those made by the inmates, McNeal said.

"You guys did those things. You're paying for those things," he said.

McNeal said he would be talking to students this week and wanted to hear what advice the prisoners had for them.

"This is my third time around and I'm tired of being locked up," one inmate said.

"They lock the door ... If you don't like the door being locked, don't come here," said another.

If you want what others have, you should be willing to work for it, another prisoner said.

"Look at those things and look at the people that have them, and think what they had to do to get them," the prisoner said.

"That's why a lot of us are here, because of the choices we made" said Deatrie, who was serving 30 days for her second drunken-driving conviction.

"Don't ever give up. Just keep on trying and you'll succeed in life," was the message another inmate, James, said he got from McNeal.

"Anytime you can get someone as successful as him to come in and share his message, you do it," said Warden John Wetzel.

After praying, McNeal was asked how his Dolphin teams did in Super Bowls XVII and XIX.

"We lost both of them ... You didn't have to ask that," McNeal said.

Then McNeal had a confession of his own: He was the player whose missed tackle in Super Bowl XVII allowed Redskins running back John Riggins to rumble in for the go-ahead score.

"That was you?" an inmate asked in surprise.

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