Meeting Alan Veingrad

I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Veingrad.

Many people worldwide read my blog today and asked, “Who the heck is Alan Veingrad?”

Alan Veingrad played offensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers from 1986 to 1990. He then played with the Dallas Cowboys in 1991 and 1992.

He is the only Orthodox Jew with a Super Bowl ring. After the 1992 Cowboys won it all, he retired.

He spoke the other day at USC Chabad. USC Chabad Rabbi Dov Wagner put the event together. Part of Mr. Veingrad’s talk was about football. The rest dealt with his balancing sports and religion.

He now goes by the name Shlomo.

With a deep sense of pride, I present the words of Super Bowl Champion Alan Shlomo Veingrad.

“I played my college ball at East Texas State University. I was the only Jew within a 65 mile radius.”

“As a kid my family moved from Brooklyn to Miami. I got to witness perfection at age nine when the 1972 Dolphins became the only team to have a perfect season. I was a huge Dolphins fan and wanted to play football.”

“I was an average high school football player. I ran a 5.3 40 yard dash, which is slow. I needed to run a 4.9 to have people look at me. My mother took my resume, took some white-out, and wrote 4.9 on my resume and mailed it out.”

“I was not big enough, so I wore boots with two inch heels to my college interview.”

“As a Jewish person, it was nice to at least be playing in the bible belt, even if it is not our bible.”

“I got a head start when I ran my 40 yard dash. I ran a  4.9 39 yard dash.”

“When I arrived in Texas I was only 180 pounds. I bulked up over a few years to 270 pounds. A lot of it was due to biscuits and gravy. I also lifted a lot of weights.”

“After college, I was undrafted. I played in the preseason for the Buccaneers and the Oilers. They both cut me.”

“In five years playing college football in Texas, I never heard one negative Jewish comment. In fact, my Christian teammates were fascinated by my being Jewish.”

“The problem is I did not know the answers to many of their questions. I would say to them, ‘Let me go check on that.’ Then I would call my mom.”

“A year after failing to make it in the NFL, I kept trying. From May through mid-July, I worked out with the Green Bay Packers. Then it happened. The starting offensive tackle was holding out for more money. The backup had retired. I was given a real chance to make the team.”

“During a blocking drill in practice, a defender told me to ‘Come on Jew-Boy.’ I was stunned. This was the first time I had ever heard such a thing. I tossed him aside and had a great blocking drill.”

“Later on he told me that he had no idea that what he said was wrong. He told me that he liked and respected Jewish people. He said that ‘My agent is Jewish. My CPA is Jewish. My money manager is Jewish. Jewish people have been good to me.'”

“In the NFL, I had no Jewish teammates, but they knew Jewish stuff. I was the only Jew on the Packers in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yet there would be candy in my locker on Hanukkah.”

“My very first game in the NFL came against the Oilers, the team that had cut me.”

“My first time playing on Monday Night Football was against the defending champion Chicago Bears, who had one of the greatest defenses of all time. Bears Coach Mike Ditka was intense. Packers Coach Forrest Gregg learned from Vince Lombardi. Gregg was always extra intense when playing Ditka and the Bears. Of course, they beat us badly. Being a rookie offensive lineman against Richard Dent is a challenge.”

“No matter how much you work out, some guys are going to throw you around. Cortez Kennedy, Reggie White and Jerome Brown just manhandled our offensive line.”

“The day before my first pro game, I was given a message from a team employee that a guy named Lou Weinstein had called me. I had never heard of him. My life was about to change.”

“I called Lou Weinstein back. He said that he had read about me, and wanted to meet me for lunch at his country club. I had no idea what he wanted to meet with me about. I met him at the club, and he offered to help me find a place to live. He even offered his home to me. I could not accept that, but he helped me find an apartment. He was simply a Jewish person reaching out to a new Jew in town. He changed my life.”

I was never that religious, but Lou one day asked me to visit him on a Tuesday. He knew that Tuesday was the day off for NFL players. He wanted me to join him and his family for Rosh Hashanah.”

“After the 1990 season, my agent spoke about me moving from the Green Bay Packers to the Dallas Cowboys. I could not understand why. I was happy in Green bay. I had a good life. It was cold, but I was happy. Dallas was very hot in the summer, and Jimmy Johnson was a taskmaster. Why would I want to move to Dallas?”

“My agent brought up life after football. He asked me, ‘Alan, how many dates have you been on in Green Bay?’ I told him that ‘I went on a date with a girl a couple of years ago.’ He told me that if I wanted to settle down, get married, and have a family, I had a better chance in Dallas, which had a much larger Jewish population than Green Bay. So I moved to Dallas and played for the Cowboys.”

“I moved to Dallas, met the Jewish community, went on some dates, won a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992, and retired. I moved to Fort Lauderdale, dropped 65 pounds, and raised a family.”

“One day I got a call from my cousin, who is a doctor. Having a doctor as a cousin is good because as a retired football player, free medical advice is nice. He invited me over to his home for Shabbos. When he asked me wash my hands before dinner (the ritual), I told him that I had already washed before I came. I had no idea what he meant.”

“One day one of the Rabbis called me up and invited me to a Torah study. For 59 1/2 minutes I tuned out. Then in the last 30 seconds, I paid attention long enough to hear him say that life was not about material accomplishments. It was about finding meaning in this world. I am so glad I briefly heard that. I wanted to learn more. I had a nice house, a fancy car, and material possessions. I wanted more meaning.”

“The Torah is a playbook. It is a playbook for how to live life. It is an inspirational message.”

“One day the Rabbi called me up and asked me to come down to the Synagogue to make telephone calls to raise money for the Synagogue. I told him no. I told him that I would do anything else, but don’t ask me to make phone calls. Then I sat back and reflected about everything the community had done for me. I called the Rabbi back, told him I would be on my way, and that he should give me a telephone and let me start dialing.”

“For those who want my football card, it is available for $3 on Ebay.”

“I tried to get my father involved with Judaism, and he refused for so long. He did not want to have to eat on certain plates, or deal with other inconvenient restrictions. He told me how much fun he had attending all those cool NFL parties in Green Bay and Dallas. He was proud of me for being an NFL player. I told him I loved all of that, but now I loved Judaism and wanted to share that with him.”

“After a year and a half, he showed up one Wednesday to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. He told me ‘I am so proud of you with that Yarmulke on your head.’ That meant more to me than anything.”

“Judaism has made me better in everything. I am a better husband, better father, better boss, and better employee.”

The questions were insightful, and Shlomo’s answers were thoughtful. He was asked if he thought another Orthodox Jew would win a Super Bowl ring, perhaps even one that is Orthodox while playing.”

“Unfortunately it is not likely to happen. Playing football requires years and years of practice. You can’t just start out in the NFL. First you have to play in high school. Those games are played on Friday nights, which is the sabbath. That is where we get the expression ‘Friday Night Lights.’ Then there is college, where the games are played on Saturdays. That is also Shabbos (it runs from Friday evening at sundown to Saturday evening at Sundown). In the NFL the games are played on Sundays, but there are practice workouts the day before. From a practice standpoint it is impossible to play football and conform to Jewish law.”

(Also, NFL Playoff games are on Saturdays and Sundays.)

Another person wanted to know if his sons played football.

“My sons both play in a baseball league. The games are on Sundays. We all keep the Sabbath. Plus, football is such a brutal game. It is a violent game. I am glad they don’t play football.”

As for his Super Bowl prediction, he says that he normally does not watch the Super Bowl, but this year he is making an exception. “I am pulling for the Saints. I am an NFC guy, and plus, it is a great story.”

One person wanted to know why he retired right after winning a Super Bowl when he could have come back and won another one. The Cowboys did win another one after the 1993 season, came one game short in 1994, and won their third championship in four years after the 1995 season.

“My body told me it was time to retire. You have to listen to your body. Some days I still ache. It occasionally hurts to get out of bed.  My kids can see me ache from time to time. I loved playing football. Now I love my life after football.”

I wanted to know if Shlomo was doing any outreach to any current Jewish NFL players. After all, there is a huge Christian outreach program in the NFL.

“Shlomo, I read somewhere that Minnesota Vikings backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels is Jewish. He gets tons of invitations to speak at Synagogues, but he turns them all down. He says he does not know anything, and does not want to feel like a fraud. Have you thought about reaching out to him and other Jewish players.”

His answer was disappointing and honest.

“I have tried, but it has not worked. These guys are busy. I am an old guy. They don’t have time to talk to me. I called one Jewish player and invited him out for lunch to talk. He said he was busy and hung the phone up. Things are easier after retirement. There is more free time to learn. Football is a full time demanding job.”

With regards to Tony Dungy and other devoutly religious men publicly expressing their faith in interviews, Mr. Veingrad was fine with that. As a religious man himself, he was comfortable with such expressions.

The last thing Shlomo let us know was that on April 18th, 2010, in Suffolk County, New York, he was being inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. We have Red Auerbach in Basketball and Sandy Koufax in baseball. Now we have Alan Veingrad of the National Football League.

As for me, one fabulous experience was before his speech even began. He let a couple of us try on his Super Bowl ring. I had never seen such a beautiful stone before. Like a holy grail, I could not bring myself to try it on. I held it in my hands for 30 seconds and just stared at it. It said “Cowboys, 52-17,” which was the score of the game. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones had them personally designed.

What Shlomo never mentioned was that despite playing alongside NFL Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith, Shlomo himself won the “game ball” on five separate occasions during his career.

Life is about meeting people and having experiences and developing memories. Alan Veingrad was helped along by Lou Weinstein.

It was a true joy to meet Alan Shlomo Veingrad, the only man to experience two of my favorite passions.

Jewish people in New York should make their way to the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on April 18, 2010. They will be glad they did.


3 Responses to “Meeting Alan Veingrad”

  1. Wow. I didn’t even recall his name! Goes to show how underrated offensive linemen really are. Great story!


  2. Dav Lev says:

    It’s nice to learn that not every Jew is an accountant, attorney or
    physician. In fact, most are not. And yes, not every Jew is in the
    entertainment industry. There are over 1m Jews who live below the
    poverty line., but that is another story.

    We Jews have our foundations..the JNF, and we also have
    our Madoff, who made off with billions.

    We have a few basketball is on the Lakers, which
    some still cannot believe. I mean Jews on pro-basketball teams?

    Folks, at one time, there were many Jews on pro-teams…when
    skill, vs the ability to dunk was important. That has all changed,
    whether for the better or worse, is anyone’s guess?

    Believe me, I am not prejudice. I want all people’s to succeed,
    in whatever they desire.

    It’s interesting that several of the current films up for an academy award
    have Jewish themes..most definitely, “Inglorious Bastards”.

    Yet, not all he films portray us in a good light and “Bastards” is pure
    fantasy, made 70 years too late.

    I mean, if millions of Polish, Russian, Romanian and Hungarian Jews
    had gone to the streets (sort of like what we are seeing in Iran now),
    perhaps, just perhaps, the Krauts might have had second thoughts?
    Maybe? And, if they shaved their heads to look like the Apache Indians
    and carried baseball bats, so much the better.

    Am I fantasizing, you bet. Could the Jews (and Christians) stopped
    Hitler, I say yes. Instead, they sought shelter in temples..which
    the German thugs burned down, after sealing them inside.

    Maybe Europe’s Jews should have had more football players, and
    fewer Talmudic scholars.

    Speaking of liberals, my liberal friend still decry this movie, which
    they claim portrays Jew as monsters. Monsters?
    They say we don’t believe in violence..dah? Tell that
    to the Irgun, Haganah and Irgun, or the Jewish brigade in WW2.

    The NYTimes may fire it’s Jerusalem correspondent, caus he
    married an Israeli, and son may go into their army. This is partly
    due to pressure by a pro-Palestine website. Yet, there are many
    editors working for the paper, with mixed citizenship or who have
    relatives with the same nationality of the country they write from.

    Are we second class citizens? Should we again be lined up
    for a “selection”? Ask the NYTimes people. I will. You can bet on that.

    Hey guys, anyone watch The Bombing of Germany on PBS? Over 500,000
    German civilians were killed., with 3,000 in Berlin at the end of the war
    to soften up the country for the Russians, who lost 200,000 to take the city.

    In 6 weeks, 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in Auschwitz, at the
    end of the war, when Germany was losing. That’s about 85,000 per week.
    Most were women, children and the elderly.

    Doesn’t that make us cry for those poor hapless German civilians..the
    collateral damage wrought by our B-17s, which helped end that war.

    I mean, how could the “liberal” PBS dare to show this documentary.

    Oh BTW, Germany had planned to populate all the lands to the East (Russia) after starving millions of Slavs..AND bomb the USA with
    their long range bomber force, had they won the war.

    Im crying tears for them right now.

    In Washington D.C., Obama wants Republicans and Demos to
    meet and greet one another and discuss the health plan.
    Sorry guy, 6 months too late pal. It’s dead on arrival, thanks
    to Scott’s victory.

    Here in California, Barbara Boxer is facing some competition.
    She insists that global warming is one of our priorities, while
    the state is insolvent.

    Fellow posters, some of my friends cannot understand how, I, as a
    Conservative Jew, can support Republicans? It’s easy when you
    see through the Demcratic perfidy.

  3. Heck, one of my closest Jewish friends when I was a kid was a body builder! He’s a cop now. I know plenty of Jewish people who are not lawyers and stockbrokers and accountants and attorneys and such. There’s a soft bigtry behind a lot of the praise of Jewish people. Like that quote above – “‘My agent is Jewish. My CPA is Jewish. My money manager is Jewish. Jewish people have been good to me.'” Personally, I find the soft bigotry (ie: “He’s GOT to be a great lawyer… he’s Jewish!”) very offensive. Jewish people are PEOPLE, like everybody else, with their own personal ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, good and bad sides, smarts and stupidity, etc. Bigotry is bigotry, and it’s all stupid and counterproductive. It’s just as stupid to assume good things about people just because of their culture or race as it is to assume bad things.


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