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Former NFL'er says Christian beliefs helped guide him on life's journey

Irv Cross addresses an audience Thursday in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Former National Football League player and sportscaster Irv Cross says two people influenced his life.

One was sixth-grade teacher Ruth Ewing who offered encouragement during a particularly stressful time growing up in Hammond, Ind.

The other was Dr. Ira Eshleman, a Presbyterian pastor who encouraged Cross to accept Jesus Christ as his lord and savior during a challenging time as a player with the Los Angeles Rams in the mid-1960s.

Cross talked about his life experiences during the monthly luncheon meeting Thursday of Willmar Area Faith At Work, a group dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the understanding of God's plan for a balanced and purposeful life at work.

Cross, who lives in Roseville, is executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota in St. Cloud. He played nine years of professional football, was a studio and game analyst for CBS Sports for 23 years, and continues to do football commentary for Twin Cities Fox broadcasting affiliate Fox 9. In 2009, he received the Pete Rozell Radio-Television Award.

Cross, the middle child of 15 children, said he was a quiet, shy and insecure student until Miss Ewing "put her arm around me and told me I could do anything.'' The encouragement to do his homework and eventually attend college was offered as a time when he was 9, his mother had died and social service workers threatened to send the children to foster homes.

Cross said the encouragement "gave me a sense of purpose.'' She appointed Cross managing editor of a mock radio station, reading weekly reports of classroom activities. The project gave him the courage to be friendly and look people in the eye. Cross kept in touch with her until she died.

"She expressed her pride in me, and it was incredible how much she meant to me,'' he said.

Cross said he attended three different churches growing up: his father was Baptist, his mother was Methodist and his uncle was a Pentecostal minister. He said he always felt strongly about his Christian faith but had never made the "total commitment'' until he was playing with the Rams between 1966 and 1969.

The period was challenging because his wife and family lived in Philadelphia. He said people always wanted to meet the players and "Hollywood was everywhere,'' leading him to think about doing things he would never have otherwise thought about.

Cross said Eshleman, who helped NFL players start chapel groups in their teams, encouraged him to make the commitment to Christ. When that happened, Cross said, he felt a "new spark, a new purpose'' in his life.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
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