May 18, 2007
Lighting Liberty’s athletic Flame: Falwell’s love of sports
by Jared Pierce and Adam Trent
Dr. Falwell was a man who could be described as devoted. He was devoted to God and God’s calling for his life, his country, his family, his friends, Thomas Road Baptist Church, Liberty University, Liberty Christian Academy and his sports teams.
Multiple times he stood on the stage at convocation and proudly stated his love for the New York Yankees despite the booing that would inevitably follow. As for football, he was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
When it came to college sports, Falwell was undoubtedly devoted to Liberty athletics. In his vision, Falwell described the football team beating Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., with him on the 50-yard line.
He could be seen at many Liberty sporting events, cheering on the Flames and Lady Flames. During the 2004 Big South Men’s Basketball Championship, ESPN panned over and got a shot of Falwell pumping his fists as Liberty continued to rout High Point.
At that moment, the entire crowd of Liberty faithful erupted into chants of “Jerry, Jerry.”
He was also an avid tennis fan and his favorite players were his grandchildren, Trey and Wesley Falwell.
No matter how busy he was, he was always at every home tennis match for the LCA Bulldogs to watch his grandsons play. He understood that sports were a great way to reach people, especially younger people, for Christ, which was his number one priority.
At a volleyball match against Charleston Southern this season, he praised Liberty’s players as “great athletes and, more importantly, great Christians.”
Terry Falwell, who works in the Visitor’s Center at Liberty, explained the true nature of the Chancellor’s devotion to his Flames.
“When he couldn't be here and we had a game, he would always call maybe two, three, four times a night to see what the score was,” said Falwell. “He wasn’t happy just hearing we won, he wanted to know, ‘What was the score?’
“He pulled not only for Liberty but for Virginia and Virginia Tech and the (other) state schools, but Liberty and Lynchburg Christian Academy were his two primary teams. He just called me Sunday afternoon on Mother's Day...three different times because he wanted to know how the baseball team did.”
A few Liberty athletes have gone on to play and thrive as professional athletes.
Sid Bream, who attended Liberty until his junior year when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him, remembered Dr. Falwell fondly.
“He was an icon, a pillar of faith,” said Bream.
“It’s a sad day for us, but a happy day for him because now he is in heaven with the Lord.”
Bream went on to play for four major league baseball teams in his 12-year career and is most remembered for his game-winning slide into home plate during the 1992 National League Championship Series.
Bream humorously recalled an encounter with Dr. Falwell where Bream was watching a game as a freshman and sitting not far from Dr. Falwell.
“(Dr. Falwell) was chomping and talking as usual. I was minding my own business when all of a sudden he slugs me in the chest. I stood up and balled my fist at him. He looked at me and said, ‘Boy, you better pack a lunch.’ I lowered my fist and sat down.”
Liberty basketball star Larry Blair, who is seeking to enter the NBA Draft on June 28, said he had a personal relationship with Falwell throughout his four years as a Flame.
“He always took the time to come speak to me and to my team,” said Blair.
Falwell hardly ever missed a home game, and when he was there he always sat in the “same seat, same area.”
“He would always call me and give me a thumbs up (before games),” Blair continued.
“His presence gave us a sense of confidence and added a bit a pressure to games, but it was a good pressure. It loosened us up.”
Sports were a major part of Dr. Falwell’s life. While he kept it in perspective, he was still devoted to his teams as he was to his causes. He will be missed greatly by all.