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Colts chaplain partners with Dungy in imparting the faith

MIAMI (BP)–Pastor Ken Johnson has overcome the roughest of family situations and personal demons to become a minister, work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and serve as the chaplain for the Indianapolis Colts.

He has seen firsthand the wonders and changes God can bring to any situation. But when he got a phone call from a person identifying himself as newly hired Colts head coach Tony Dungy, Johnson was convinced it was a prank, not God’s answer to a prayer.

“I have a good friend and we’re always playing jokes on each other. A few days after he was hired, I got a call from Tony Dungy saying he wanted to meet me,” Johnson recounted. “No coach had ever wanted to meet me, so I thought my friend was pulling my leg.

“Then Tony said he wanted to visit with me in the prisons, and I said, ‘Who is this, really?’ because no coach had ever visited in the prisons with me.”

Since Dungy was hired by the Colts in 2002, he has joined with Johnson to form one of the most active and public Christian ministries in the coaching profession.

“The first time he called me to his office, he asked me to pray for him and bless his office that God would be honored,” Johnson said.

“He is the real deal. He is going to respect everyone, but he is going to do everything in his power to be a Christ-like person.”

The same can be said of Johnson, who chronicled the challenges he endured growing up in a drug-filled and dysfunctional household in his book, “Journey to Excellence.”

Johnson was a high school football star in Texas and was a teammate at the University of Tulsa with a man who later would become the Bears head coach in Super Bowl XLI — Lovie Smith. After college, Johnson spent time as a police office before rededicating his life to the Lord in 1982 and joining the Indianapolis FCA chapter as the urban outreach leader. He began working with the Colts shortly thereafter.

Johnson said his work has prospered since Dungy’s arrival. “We had some tough years,” he acknowledged, “but I believe God will give favor to all people who honor Him.”

“… [K]ids look up to you,” Johnson added, “and you have to proclaim the Gospel whenever you can.”

Willing to lovingly confront players who are going the wrong way, Johnson once paid a cover charge at an Indianapolis strip club to retrieve a Colts player who was inside.

“I just told him he was better than this and he needed to come with me.”

Johnson has seen the Colts suffer many crippling playoff losses that ended their season short of the Super Bowl.

“I try to help players in tough times and just let them know that life happens at all times and you always have to be ready in Him,” Johnson reflected.

His hardest assignment came at the end of the 2005 season when Dungy’s son James committed suicide.

“When they decided to donate his organs to help others, they got letters from those they had helped,” Johnson noted. “I know Tony and his wife were very touched by all those who wrote. Just to see the way they handled that situation with grace and dignity is a bigger victory than any Super Bowl.

“In all things give Him glory — win, lose or tie — and that’s what Tony has done.”

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  • Art Stricklin