Reunions – high school, college, jobs, family – are always times of challenge and stress. Will I be recognizable? What will people think of me? Will I be embarrassed?
And yet, it is almost essential to not only be prepared for change that can come with time, but to seek and embrace it. Whether it involves your business, company, career or inner-self, standing still, being stagnant, is not the best choice, in good times or bad.
In my case, it’s been 20 years since my fast-paced, 6-foot-5 285-pound offensive lineman days on a Dallas Cowboys team that won Super Bowl XXVII with a roster of Hall of Fame and NFL No. 1 Draft Pick players, household names like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
Today, instead of pointing at opposing lineman or trading barbs, I point out investment products and provide motivational speeches related to personal transformation.
But what has changed most is my inner-self through my decision to connect with my roots — to become a Torah-observant Jew. Following my pro football career, I traded my No. 76 jersey for the daily prayer shawl, my helmet for a yarmulke and beard, by English name for my Hebrew name.
I have received publicity over the years with my internal transformation. And some of my fellow teammates were aware of it when I went to Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 23 and attended the 20thanniversary of our Super Bowl winning team. Still, you never know about a re-union, until you arrive.
“Shlomo!” yelled out former defensive lineman Russell Maryland, boisterously addressing me by my Hebrew name when I entered the special suite for the gathering of former champion players.
Others in attendance were not familiar with my transformation, or religion, for that matter, until they saw me wearing a yarmulke.
“I didn’t know you were Jewish,” said former teammate and defensive end Charles Haley.
“Yeah!” I responded. “I was then and I am now.”
Half way through the second quarter, we took an elevator down from the suite for a special, on-the-field half time ceremony. We gathered with Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and other players from the Cowboys’ Super Bowl XII winning team.
Wrote CBS sports blogger Richie Whitt after the game: “With 5 Super Bowl banners hanging from the rafters, the halftime ceremony honoring the title teams of ’77 and ‘92 featured one player (Jethro Pugh) using a walker, and another (Alan Veingrad) wearing a yarmulke.”
I was self-conscious that almost 82,000 fans could have been watching me on the world’s largest HDTV screen high above the field. But I was also proud to have worn my yarmulke. After the game, obviously more recognizable than before it, I was enthusiastically approached by fans asking me to sign their Cowboys hats, programs and other paraphernalia. Later, Jason Garrett, my former teammate and current Cowboys head coach, warmly greeted me at another special gathering in the stadium. Garrett was already familiar with my spiritual growth based on an article he read.
“You are a legend around here,” he said, as we posed together for a photo. “How’s all that wisdom?”
For all the good ribbing and conversation, I was getting hungry for some kosher food, as was my son, who had joined me on this special journey about my past. But I certainly left filled intellectually and spiritually from the experience and knowledge that I gained. The program had reinforced what I often speak about: Don’t be afraid of change and what other people think of you; People are not always laughing at you, but with you.