“Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”--Romans 15:2
Jim Lee Howell was born in Lonoke, Arkansas in 1914. He would go on to have a most un-Lonoke County life. A dual letterman, all-SWC Razorback athlete, he was drafted by the New York Giants in 1937. Between 1937 and 1947 Howell was a professional football player, an Arkansas farmer, for one year a State Representative; and, when the war came, a US Marine. That’s one heck of an adventure in itself.
In 1954, Howell was named the head coach of the Giants. He accepted the job, but on the condition that he be able to hire assistant coaches in what we now call offensive and defensive coordinator roles. He would go on to post the best winning percentage of any Giant head coach (.684 minimum 3 seasons) and lead his team to three championship games, winning one.
His New York Giants are perhaps best remembered for a game they didn’t win. The 1958 championship against the Baltimore Colts was a televised, sudden-death overtime thriller and is known in football lore as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. It’s also credited with helping the NFL grow in popularity and set it on the course to be the behemoth it is today.
Howell’s talent, skill, and foresight are impressive, but perhaps his greatest contribution to the sport (and maybe to the American mythos) lies in his gift at choosing those coordinators. His defensive coordinator would leave the team to become the first coach of an expansion team in Dallas, a job he would hold for an unbelievable 29 years (posting 20 consecutive winning seasons, 12 championship appearances including five Super Bowls, and two Super Bowl titles). Howell’s offensive coordinator was named Vince Lombardi.
As the Epistle to the Romans wraps up, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to put the gifts of salvation and sanctification into service. He has led us all this way to show us what we are to do next. The power and beauty of Romans is that it begins by helping us to examine our hearts and hear God calling to us. It leads us to a recognition of the majesty of the Almighty and a humbling of our ego as we realize that salvation is a gift freely offered to all (Gentile and Jew). The gift of salvation does not come at a price, but rather with a Spirit-driven awareness that we have a responsibility to share our understanding, our fervor for the Divine and our talents to further the work of the Kingdom.
We are called to build up those around us. The Christ who died for me died for my neighbor also. The least I can do is follow the guidance of the Spirit to love and accept my neighbor and do all in my power to help them find their part in the Heavenly plan.
Jim Lee Howell died in his hometown of Lonoke in 1995. In 2007 the Professional Football Researchers Association named him to their “Hall of Very Good” (recognizing contributors who were not in the Hall of Fame). The six Hall of Famers he coached were recipients of his commitment to building them up, but then so were Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. The Howell legacy is living on and always will. Just like it was supposed to.