Editor's Note: It was the fall of 1973. Two of us were chuckling about this guy who was interviewing Garry Lefebvre after the Grey Cup game. Garry had just won the Canadian Most Valuable Player award, and in the interview, before millions of Canadian viewers, he was testifying his love for Christ. The poor interviewer didn’t know what to do with the microphone – he wasn’t prepared for this! Anyhow, as we were laughing about this the Lord spoke to me, “One day you will be associated with this man.” Just like that! Frankly, I didn’t believe what I clearly heard. How could I ever be associated with a CFL football player from Edmonton? The Main Issue is but one way Garry and I have been associated, just as God had said. With that, I introduce you to Garry Lefebvre, a close friend, a man of God:
As a young boy growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, I was as ardent an Eskimo fan as anyone. Jackie Parker, Rollie Miles, Don Getty, Johnny Bright, Normie Kwong, and the rest of the team of the Fifties, were all my heroes. It was during my grade-five year that I decided I would some day become a wide receiver for the mighty Eskimos. I dreamed night and day of catching that long touchdown pass. At school we played football in the spring, summer, winter, and fall. All the guys loved the game but I think I was the only one who ate, slept, and lived it constantly.
My first opportunity to play on a real organized team came in the summer of 1955, at the age of eleven. The Martin Paper Wild Cats were having try-outs at the practice field next to Clark Stadium, (the home of the Eskimos), and I was the first one there Saturday morning. Almost a hundred boys showed up for the first practice that day. There were only spots for forty players, but I was sure I would be one of them. At the end of the practice Coach Joe Hudson called me over to talk with me privately. I was expecting him to tell me what a good practice I had, but instead of patting me on the back he cut my world out from under me. I could barely hold back the tears as I heard him say:
“Garry, I don’t know how to tell you this except to give it to you straight. Son, you will never be a football player, you’re just too small. If I were you I would take up another sport. Football is a tough game and you're just not built for it.”
It seemed as if my world had come to an end. All that I had dreamed of, my life’s ambition and goal, had come crashing down. I walked home totally bruised. Tears came in waves as I kept saying to myself over and over, "It isn’t fair, he didn’t even give me a chance. I know I could make the team. I know I am as good as the other guys, in fact better than most of them."
Mom and Dad tried to console me, telling me that there were other things more important in life than football, but I wasn’t going to give up that easily. For the next three days I went to the practice field and stood outside the fence. My heart ached as I watched them run up and down the field. At the end of the third practice Coach Hudson strolled across the field to the fence and looked at my tear stained face and said, “You really want to play bad, don’t you kid?”
“I’d give anything,” I replied, and swallowed hard, anticipating his next words.
“Okay, you can be on the team,” he said, “but I can’t promise you’ll play very much.” He thought I was just too small.
And Coach Joe kept his promise. I sat on the bench the whole year until the last five minutes of the final game of the season. He looked over at me sitting there with my head hanging down and shouted, "Lefebvre! Get in there at tight end."
I jumped to my feet and sprinted out to the huddle. Our quarterback called a play but I wasn’t sure what to do. So I just stood on the line and watched, hoping I wouldn’t get in the way. The five minutes went by quickly and I never even touched the ball.
When the final gun sounded, Coach Joe walked over to me and apologized for not letting me play all year. Then he said, “You come back next year and who knows, you might be one of the stars of the team. You’ll be bigger and faster and probably make first string.” I lived on those words for the next 10 months, and dreamed my dream again. When football practices began again the following July I soon realized that I was one of the better players.
The day before our first league game Coach Joe asked me if I would take a walk with him. I could tell by the look on his face that what he was about to say wasn’t good. He put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Son, I don’t know how to tell you this, but first I want you to know that I’ve done everything I can, but it's no use. Garry, your birthday is November 12th, and the cut-off date for twelve-year-olds is November the 15th. You are three days too old, and the League won’t let you play!”
The door had slammed in my face once again. But after the initial shock had passed I again began to set my sights on my goal. I held onto it for another two years until I entered Eastglen Composite High School at the age of fourteen. Three weeks into the junior team practice sessions my bubble burst again when my mother informed me that I had to find an after-school job and give up the idea of playing football for awhile.
It all finally began to come together in grade twelve when I made the senior squad as a wide receiver and punter, and I stepped out on to the field for my first real game. The first ball I punted flew over the heads of the punt receivers and bounced through the end zone for a 75 yard single point. A few minutes later I caught the first pass ever thrown to me and ran 76 yards for a touchdown. The excitement of knowing that my career was finally getting off the ground was short lived as a few minutes later I was carried off the field with a broken ankle. I spent the rest of the season on the sidelines watching again.
The dream, however, remained and at eighteen I became an Edmonton JR. Wildcat. My three years as a slot back and wide receiver were just great and as a result I was invited to Eskimo training camp. I can’t describe the elation I felt after the final cut, and I knew that I made the team. Those 10 years of setbacks and heartbreaking disappointments were over at last and my boyhood dream had come to pass.
My first year as an Edmonton Eskimo was unbelievable. The Esks made the play-offs for the first time in years, and I was voted ROOKIE OF THE YEAR. Overnight I had become a star. Reporters wanted to interview me and fans wanted my autograph. I’d finally arrived!! I rode the crest of that wave all through the ‘66 season, but two months into the off season I began to experience feelings that I couldn’t understand. Although I had “made it,” there was an emptiness in me that’s hard to describe. It was like I had struggled to climb to the top of a ladder only to discover that I was at the bottom of another. Something seemed to be missing and I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t aware that the real problem was spiritual.
Two years later my world fell to pieces. Our first child was born posterior (face up), and her lungs were full of fluid. She spent her first 10 days on this earth in a respirator. Sandy and I (Sandy is my wife, a very special person) named her Cheri (French for ‘dear one’). She was bald with a cute round face. Sandy and I were thrilled with our bundle from heaven. We were stunned the next day when our pediatrician informed us that our beautiful baby girl had Downs Syndrome, a form of mental retardation.
I walked out into the parking lot, and looked up into the dark, cold, November sky and cried out from the depths of my heart, “God if You’re up there, WHY ME? What have I done to deserve this!?” It seems we have to be knocked flat on our backs before we look up.
I began to question the existence of God, and why things happened the way they did. Is there a God who is in control, or does everything just happen by chance? Our physician suggested that we place Cheri in an institution, and not burden ourselves with trying to raise her. No way! We accepted our baby just as she was and took her home.
From the day Cheri arrived home she has been a real joy to raise. The one real difficult thing to overcome was the reaction of friends. They just didn’t know how to handle the situation, so they stayed away and didn’t acknowledge Cheri’s birth. Sandy was crushed as many of her high school friends never even called. I guess they were afraid and didn’t know what to say. Cheri is now 22 years old and is still a blessing to our home and to everyone else.
I closed the door of my mind and heart to God, and just accepted our daughter for who she was and went on with life as usual. The empty feeling was still there, though I tried to ignore it.
Shortly after, another bomb shell was dropped on us. I could hardly believe my ears as head coach Neal Armstrong began to explain to me that they had just traded me to the Montreal Alouettes. I had said to Sandy just three months earlier, “Honey, if I was ever traded from the Eskimos, I would go anywhere but Montreal.” Without any warning my childhood dream of playing for the Eskimos had been smashed again.
Well, I ate those words and packed my bags for Montreal. The Alouettes wanted me there immediately, so I flew out the next day to a team that not only was on the other side of Canada, but was at the bottom of the league. It wasn’t long after I had arrived at the Alouette Stadium that I realized just why they were in the cellar. The whole organization, from the general manager down, was more sloppily run than a sand lot football team. After three years with a class organization like Edmonton, the change was unbelievable. We won only two games that '69 season and I was surprised we did that well. During the off-season, the club was sold to Sam Berger. He immediately canned the management and coaching staff, and hired Red O’Quinn as the new G.M. and Sam Etcheverry as head coach.
1970 was one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of the C.F.L. Under the direction of Sam we went from the basement in 1969 to Grey Cup Champions in 1970. The excitement of just being in the Grey Cup was incredible, and to catch a touchdown pass as well was awesome.
Montreal had not been in the Grey Cup for nineteen years and the city went wild. When the team arrived home the next day, there were 10,000 screaming fans jammed into the airport terminal. The following day three million people thronged the streets just to catch a glimpse of us as we rode around the city in convertibles. This was by far the biggest thrill of my life. But a few weeks later the excitement had subsided and those feelings of emptiness were back. And now another crisis.
Sandy was pregnant again and we were hoping for a boy, a healthy boy. Brad arrived January 28th, 1971 after just 6 hours labour. I was elated when our Dr. Crooks carried Brad out to me. “Garry you have a 7 lb, 10 ounce healthy boy.” But the next day we were told that there was something seriously wrong with the baby’s intestinal tract and he must have surgery immediately. So Brad was operated on when just two days old, and again at six days, and a third operation at six weeks.
It was during that time of crisis that we learned to do something we had never felt the need to do before. We got down on our knees and prayed. We figured we had everything under control and certainly didn’t need any help from God. But when our baby went on the operating table we learned how to pray. It still amazes me that most people, like ourselves, wait until a real emergency hits before they give God a thought. Brad is now a healthy 20 year old young man, and we thank God for him as well as for Julie, 18, and Jesse, age 7.
Through Brad’s ordeal we realized that there was a God in heaven who cared. We knew He existed, but we didn’t know Him. Sandy and I began to search for truth and this search lasted for almost a year and took us through many religions. As we explored supposed “Christian” groups, there was something inside us which prevented us from getting snared. We later found out that it was the prayers of Christian friends that protected us from deception. The Bible says that we will find God when we search for Him with our whole heart.
The Lord spared our son in answer to our prayers and those of others. Months later we discovered that a church of 2,000 people had been praying for Brad and us and an old acquaintance, Larry Kerrychuk, had also taken up our burden. Larry and his wife Sue were born-again Christians and their love and concern for Brad moved us. It was they who the Lord used to bring us to Himself.
When Larry invited Sandy and I to an Athletes In Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, I agreed, thinking that I would simply back out later. I told Sandy that I wasn’t keen on going to Texas; I would rather stay home to play in a benefit hockey game. Sandy protested. “Give up a free trip to Dallas for a stupid hockey game?” She was right but I had to get out of this somehow. “How about if I ask God to give me a sign if He wants us to go?” She agreed and I prayed. “God! If You really want us to go to Dallas, then show us a sign.” I thought I was safe. But moments later I felt this numbness go down my left arm. My team doctor had warned me that if this symptom, from an earlier spinal chord injury, ever returned I would be facing an operation that would end football for me. Sandy, realizing my career was over, cried and I felt like joining her. But then I remembered! I just asked God for a sign! Could this be it? I immediately threw my hands in the air and said, “Okay God I got the message.” The numbness left immediately and that’s how we ended up at the Athletes In Action Conference in Dallas, Texas on February 17th, 1972.
The first thing that impressed us was the number of world class athletes that were there. We noticed the love, peace, and joy they all seemed to possess. These people sure were different from the average person. They had something that was real.
During the first morning session we were presented with a booklet, The Four Spiritual Laws. We were challenged with the truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, not just some man’s ideas, but the claims of Christ Himself who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” That day Sandy and I recognized that we were sinners and separated from God because of our sin. We realized we were, as everyone, hopelessly headed for Hell. We were presented with the fact that Jesus Christ (through His death and resurrection) was, and is, God’s only provision for man’s sin, and only through a personal relationship with Jesus can we all escape the Judgment of God.
Our eyes were opened when we found the truth we had been searching for in the person of the Son of God. We bowed our hearts before God that glorious day, repented of our sins, and asked Jesus to come into our lives. As the Bible describes it, we were both Born Again (born of His Spirit). The first thing that hit me was the emptiness was gone, and in its place was a sense of peace and contentment.
Louis Pasteur, a French physicist, wrote: “Every person is born with a God-shaped vacuum in their heart which cannot be filled with any created thing, but only by God Himself, made known through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you, not as the world gives, give I unto you.” The world offers you a pseudo peace, but Jesus will give you the real thing.
Our new life began nineteen years ago, and that same peace that comes from knowing who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, is still in our hearts. You too can have this peace that Jesus offers. He said, “whosoever will, may come and drink of the waters of life freely.”
The Apostle Paul who had a personal encounter with the Resurrected Lord Himself said “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The return of Jesus Christ to this earth is very near. Ask God to reveal Christ to you before it's too late. I repeat, He is coming very soon.
It is written, “It is given unto man once to die and after that the Judgement.”
God loves you. That’s why you were led to read this story.