I was taught at an early age about the importance of faith in God. If a door is closed in your face, God will open a window. It was a window that I opened in my 9th-floor apartment in downtown Cleveland after the disappointment of another closed door: being cut by the Browns after my rookie year, after having one of the best pre-season punting averages that year.
Find a Window
As I was driving toward my goal of being a punter, I never looked at it as being “the first” because there were other Black players who had punted and kicked in a game, but as a full-time position, I was the first. So, I had to crawl through a lot of windows.
Watching a football game one day as a kid, I saw the punter run out onto the field. Everyone else was dirty, muddy, and bloody, and this punter kicked the ball, went back to the bench with a clean, white uniform, and no one had hit him. It was at that moment that I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a punter in the National Football League.” It’s one of those inspirational moments I will always remember. I even write it in my high school yearbook, I wanted to be a Kicking Specialist in the NFL.
Chart Your Own Course
When I started looking at colleges down in Florida after high school, I met with several coaches. I wanted to play football. It really hit home to me when some of the big schools said, “Greg, we have just got the alumni ready to accept the fact that we’re gonna have a Black Quarterback,” and I was told, “I don’t think I can sell them on a Black punter or kicker.”
Driven to chart my own course and using that disappointment to fuel me, one of the most amazing experiences presented itself. Florida A&M University, a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) school, was straight with me. “Greg, we don’t have a lot of money to offer you, to put an addition on the back of your momma’s house, give your girlfriend a scholarship, but if you come to FAMU, you can click and punt until your heart is content, you can run track, and if you go to class, you’re going to graduate.” My first thought was where do I sign. Through each disappointment that came and went, I did what I had to do.
Embrace the Opportunity
Back in Cleveland, during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the LA Rams, neither punter appeared to be doing well from my perspective. I was mad at God, I opened the window and said, “God, where are you? You told me if I did the things I was supposed to do, I’ve been praying, reading my Bible, trusting and believing, that you would give me the desires of my heart,” and I screamed, “I just want to play football so bad; I will even play for the Minnesota Vikings.” I closed that window, and the next day I got a call from the Vikings where I spent 10 years as their punter.
Back in the parks and playgrounds of Jacksonville, I said that I would never play for the Minnesota Vikings, because you saw them on the frozen tundra of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, snow everywhere, no heaters or gloves, and they had a coach by the name of Bud Grant who had eyes that could pierce a man’s soul. But the real reason I didn’t want to go to the Minnesota Vikings? They wore black shoes! Everybody knew that all of the cool cats wore white shoes. Joe Namath, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Elmore Wight. God can have a funny sense of humor, just tell him what you don’t want to do.