There are some things in life that money can’t buy. A Super Bowl victory is one of them. Undrafted out of East Texas State University and told he didn’t have the chops to make it in the NFL, Alan Veingrad became a starting offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and later won the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys.
“The game was over and I just realized that I was a part of something so special and was able to do something only a special few get to do,” said Veingrad, who will speak at Manhattan Jewish Experience January 24.
While some would look to cash in on a new contract, Veingrad retired after winning it all, because he was newly married and wanted to do something new, though religion was not on his mind. Eventually his cousin invited him to come to a Shabbat dinner, where he ate food that was “first rate.” With some love and maybe some chutzpah, the cousin then asked Veingrad to come to one Torah class.
“I really had no interest and I went as a courtesy,” Veingrad said. “I felt obligated because he reached out to me. But (at the class) something really spoke to me. I was listening to words about materialism and it resonated and one class became two classes and then another and another. I didn’t realize that I was starving for inspiration.”
Veingrad now flies across the country to deliver speeches at college campuses, corporations and synagogues, speaking about the need to set ambitious goals and work cohesively with others. He also speaks about his religious journey.
“I believe that things happen for a reason. I played in the NFL so I could share my story with others,” said Veingrad.
One teachable moment from the 1992 Super Bowl came when Cowboy Leon Lett recovered a fumble and appeared to be heading in for a touchdown. But he slowed down, held the ball in one arm. Then Buffalo’s Don Bebe stripped the ball from Lett and the ball bounced out of the end zone. It was a touchback and Buffalo’s ball.
“I think we see a lot of players slow down and celebrate and when I speak I tell people they have to finish strong,” Veingrad said. “I like players who get in the end zone and then hand the ball to the referee.”
A new rule this year stipulates that players who sustain traumatic head injuries must be removed from the game and be evaluated by team doctors. This process may take up to 15 minutes, which in theory could cost a team a game, but is meant to guard against it costing a player serious injury or even his life.
Asked if he’s in favor of the rule, Veingrad said he’s “in favor of whatever makes life after football better for players” and noted that while this rule largely applies to position players seen in high-speed collisions, the helmets of linemen like him also collide on almost every play.
So did Veingrad play through concussions?
“I think so,” he said. “You know, in the game, there’s a lot of head trauma. You get your bell rung, you have a pounding headache and things get blurry and you don’t see so clearly. We’d just go back into the huddle for the next play. We thought it was normal. Clearly, we didn’t know anything back then.”
Veingrad said the toughest player he’s lined up against was Jerome Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles, who had “uncontrollable strength.” He also recalls playing against New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who is recognized as one of the greatest players of all time.
“I didn’t have any fear,” Veingrad said. “I was hyped up and there were nerves that made me focus. You know you’re going against a guy that can beat you badly, embarrass you, and has the capability to hit you hard enough that your career could be over. But you just do your job and do what you have to do.”
Veingrad said his success as a player came from preparation and dedication, lifting weights and running. It was this discipline, he said, that made becoming religious easier.
Veingrad, who studied with Chabad rabbis, says he’s learned to not focus on materialism, and also says people should look at setbacks as challenges rather than obstacles.
He’s looking forward to the Super Bowl. Would he rather have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to lead a fourth quarter drive to win the game?
“I love them both so that’s tough,” he said. “But I’d go with Manning. He has a little bit more to prove.”