Should athletes be role models?
This issue is frequently debated, as we consider the proper role of athletes in society.
However, for some athletes, there is no issue to debate, as these athletes combined impeccable, exemplary conduct and actions in their life with their athletic ability.
One such athlete is Bill Glass.
Glass combined an 11-year NFL career, including as a multiple Pro Bowl defensive end with the Cleveland Browns, with a life in the ministry, in particular, working with prison inmates.
We take a look at the life of Bill Glass – before, during, and after his NFL career.
The Early Years Through High School
William Sheppeard Glass was born on August 16, 1935 in Texarkana, Texas.
Glass’ family moved from Texarkana to Corpus Christi, Texas (about 500 miles to the south) when Glass’ father, Vernon, partnered with a brother-in-law in an insurance agency.
Following in the footsteps of his brother, Vernon, Jr. (who was named all-state in high school), Glass started playing football in junior high school.
When Glass was 14 years old, his father passed away.
It was a difficult time in Glass’ life.
“My dad freely gave his love and blessing to me. And when he passed away, it left a big hole in my heart and there was no one to bless me.”
Glass attended W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi.
A key person in Glass’ life was his high school coach, Bill Stages.
In describing Stages, Glass stated:
“His parents had died in a car wreck when he was an infant . . . So he knew what it was like to grow up without a mother or a father. And he understood the feelings of a kid on the third string sitting on the bench.”
Stages spent extra time with Glass.
Stages taught Glass how to play defense and ran Glass through drills.
He also lifted weights with Glass.
“Coach Stages not only coached me, but he was constantly affirming me and blessing me. I was clumsy and small. You know it’s all right to be small as long as you’re fast, but I was slow and clumsy and small.”
Helped by Stages’ coaching, and growing six inches and gaining 60 pounds, Glass’ play on the field dramatically improved.
“I got to where I couldn’t be blocked [on the football field]. The reason is that I had great techniques.”
Glass received multiple scholarship offers from colleges, but ultimately decided to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Glass had become a Christian in high school and believed that Baylor (a private Christian university) “would keep me on the right path”.
At Baylor, Glass lettered for three years from 1954 to 1956.
In 1954, Glass started for Baylor as a lineman.
Glass had his best season as a senior in 1956.
He had 154 tackles in 10 regular-season games.
Glass was voted to the first team 1956 All-Southwest Conference football team at guard by the United Press.
Even more impressively, Glass was voted as a unanimous consensus (in Baylor football history, the first unanimous consensus) All-American at guard in 1956 by each of the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press (first team), the Football Writers Association of America, the International News Service (first team), the Newspaper Enterprise Association (first team), the Sporting News, and the United Press (first team).
In addition, Glass was voted All-American at guard in 1956 by the Walter Camp Football Foundation (first team) and the Central Press Association (second team).
Glass was also voted the 1956 Southwest Conference Most Valuable Player by the Houston Post.
Glass helped Baylor record an 8-2 regular-season record in 1956.
Baylor’s defense recorded three shutouts (27-0 over Texas Tech on September 29, 1956, 14-0 over Maryland on October 6, 1956, and 26-0 over SMU on November 24, 1956) and held five other regular-season opponents to seven points or less.
Baylor advanced to the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1957, when it defeated Tennessee 13-7.
Glass made a key play in the game when he forced a fumble on a punt return from Tennessee star Johnny Majors.
The fumble was recovered by Baylor, which six plays later scored the winning touchdown in the game.
Baylor was ranked 11th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll in 1956.
While at Baylor, Glass helped form the Baylor chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Glass graduated from Baylor in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Glass finished his college football career by playing in the 1956 East-West Shrine Game and the 1957 Senior Bowl before heading to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Glass was drafted in the first round of the 1957 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions (with the 12th overall pick in the draft).
Glass decided to sign with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
He played with the Roughriders (at defensive end, center, and tackle) for one season before joining the Detroit Lions in 1958.
In 1958, Glass principally was a backup for the Lions.
He played in 12 regular-season games and started only one regular-season game in 1958.
The Lions had a 4-7-1 record in 1958.
The Lions failed to make the playoffs in any of Glass’ four years with Detroit, posting records of 3-8-1 in 1959, 7-5 in 1960, and 8-5-1 in 1961.
In 1959, Glass became a full-time starter at right defensive end for the Lions, starting all 12 regular-season games.
Glass helped the Detroit defense rank tied for third in the NFL in fewest average yards per rushing attempt allowed, and tied for second in the NFL in sacks, in 1959.
It is believed that one of the first uses of the term, “Fearsome Foursome”, to describe a defensive line, was applied to Detroit’s defensive line in 1960 (consisting of Glass, end Darius McCord, tackle Alex Karras, and tackle Roger Brown).
Just 2 set the record straight, my (THEN) beloved Detroit Lions had "The Fearsome Foursome" in 1960 w Darris McCord, Alex Karras, Bill Glass (later Sam Williams) & Roger Brown. Yet even they were not the 1st! THESE guys got the pub cuz they played in L.A.https://t.co/LzW8mWovJZ https://t.co/06YycpaKSY
— Bob Page (@BobPagesports) March 15, 2020
Glass helped the Detroit defense rank third in the NFL in fewest points allowed in 1960.
In 1961, Glass contributed to the Detroit defense ranking second in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed, tied for second in the NFL in fewest average yards per rushing attempt allowed, and third in the NFL in both fewest points allowed and fewest total rushing and passing yards allowed.
Before the 1962 season, Glass, quarterback Jim Ninowski, running back Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, and a 1963 fifth-round draft pick were traded by the Lions to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for quarterback Milt Plum, running back Tom Watkins and linebacker Dave Lloyd.
In his first season with Cleveland, Glass started all 14 regular-season games at right defensive end for the Browns in 1962.
One of Glass’ most impressive achievements in the NFL is that he never missed a regular-season or playoff game for his first 10 seasons.
Glass never suffered any significant injury.
“I was sort of the aggressor and not the receiver of the body blows. I’m very pleased that I never had a concussion or really any major injuries. God was good to me.”
Glass’ durability is especially impressive given his description of how he played NFL football.
“I was a defensive end, where I fought with huge linemen so I could get to the guy with the ball and throw him to the turf. . . . There were some games that were nothing more than brawls, hand-to-hand combat. I’m not talking about dirty play, but hard, physical, demanding – and yes, manly – battles.”
Cleveland had a 7-6-1 record in 1962.
Glass helped the Browns defense rank second in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed and third in the NFL in both fewest points allowed and fewest total rushing and passing yards allowed.
Glass began to be recognized for postseason honors in 1962.
He was invited to his first Pro Bowl, and selected second-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1962.
Glass’ size was one factor in his success in the NFL.
While not large by today’s NFL standards, at a height of six feet and five inches, and a weight of 255 pounds, Glass was considered a very large man in the NFL in the 1960’s.
In 1963, Glass helped the Browns defense hold three opponents to less than 10 points.
In addition, in 1963, the Browns defense ranked tied for third in the NFL in fewest average yards per rushing attempt allowed and third in the NFL in fewest points allowed.
Glass was invited to his second consecutive Pro Bowl in 1963.
— John P Erwin III MD FACC (@HeartOTXHeartMD) February 3, 2019
Glass was also selected second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News in 1963.
A key non-football development in Glass’ life occurred in 1963 when he obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1963 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Glass had spent several of his off-seasons from the NFL attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
1964 was a memorable season for Glass (who again started all 14 regular-season games at right defensive end for Cleveland) and the Browns.
Cleveland won the NFL East Division title in 1964 with a 10-3-1 record and advanced to the NFL championship game on December 27, 1964, against the Baltimore Colts.
The Browns defense played its best game of the season, as Cleveland shutout the Colts 27-0.
It was Cleveland’s first NFL championship since 1955.
In the game, the Browns defensive line, consisting of Glass and Paul Wiggin at the ends and Dick Modzelewski and Jim Kanicki at the tackles, helped limit Pro Football Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas to only 89 “net” passing yards.
Glass individually had 1.5 sacks in the game.
“It was kind of tough on me for a while. I was getting double-teamed a lot – the tackle and the end both blocking on me. But they went away from that at last, and I got a chance to rush against one-on-one blocking. I was getting in because they went to a flood and couldn’t keep any backs in to help stop me on the pass rush.”
Glass has positive feelings about being part of the 1964 championship team.
“Every year I’d go back to Cleveland, and they would talk about how there hasn’t been a team in Cleveland that’s won a championship. Of course, that was broken [when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship], and thankfully so. But it was really a great experience to be a part of that team 50 years ago.”
Glass also appreciates that he played with Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown (who rushed for 114 yards in the championship game):
“Running back Jim Brown . . . was the greatest player that ever played the game of football.”
In 1964, Glass (who recovered one fumble) was invited to his third consecutive Pro Bowl.
In addition, in 1964, Glass was selected first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
Starting all 14 regular-season games at right defensive end for the Browns in 1965, Glass showed his skills as a pass rusher, as he had 14.5 sacks.
The Browns again won the NFL East Division title in 1965, with an even better record than in the 1964 championship year – 11-3.
The Browns advanced to the NFL championship game for the second consecutive year, but could not repeal as NFL champions, losing 23-12 to the Green Bay Packers on January 2, 1966 (with Glass starting the game at right defensive end).
Glass was selected second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1965.
In 1966, Glass again started all 14 regular-season games at right defensive end for Cleveland.
Glass again demonstrated his talent as a pass rusher, as he had at least one sack in seven straight games in 1966.
While it is easier to establish Glass’ ability as a pass rusher from sack statistics, Glass’ skill as a run stopper should not be ignored.
Combining his athletic strength and quickness, Glass could make tackles on both inside runs and outside sweeps.
Another key factor in Glass’ success was his use of the psychological concept of autosuggestion.
“I would lie on my bed before a game and imagine that I had pulled down a motion picture screen and was watching a film of myself in action, constantly getting past the offensive tackle. This was putting positive pictures into my subconscious – in the same way that performing well in a real game would have done – and it built up my confidence.”
Once tape cassettes became popular, Glass would record a series of commands and instructions on tape and play them back continuously during the week before a game.
Glass believed that when the commands were repeated on the field, it would activate the taped instructions that were then in Glass’ subconscious.
Before the opening game of the 1966 season, to be played in a temperature of over 100 degrees, Glass taped the message that heat was beautiful and it kept the muscles loose.
Using this message, Glass had one of his best games, harassing Washington Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and helping the Browns defeat the Redskins 38-14 on September 11, 1966.
In 1966, Glass helped the Browns defense hold three opponents to less than 10 points.
Glass again started all 14 regular-season games at right defensive end for the Browns in 1967.
The Browns had a 9-5 record in 1967 and won the NFL Century Division title.
The Browns advanced to the playoffs, but Cleveland lost in the divisional round of the playoffs 52-14 to the Dallas Cowboys on December 24, 1967 (with Glass starting the game at right defensive end).
Glass was invited to his fourth Pro Bowl in 1967.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) February 2, 2016
In addition, Glass was selected first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News in 1967.
Injuries finally began to affect Glass in 1968.
He started eight, and played in 10, regular-season games, not playing in every regular-season game for the first season in his NFL career.
The Browns had a 10-4 record in 1968 and again won the NFL Century Division title.
Cleveland then defeated the Dallas Cowboys 31-20 on December 21, 1968 in the divisional round of the playoffs, before being shutout 34-0 by the Baltimore Colts on December 29, 1968 in the NFL championship game.
Glass played in, but did not start, the two playoff games.
The 1968 NFL championship game turned out to be Glass’ last NFL game, as he retired after the 1968 season at the age of 33.
The Years After the NFL
Glass met his wife, Mavis, at Baylor.
Glass and Mavis were married for 60 years until Mavis passed away in 2017.
Glass and Mavis had three children, Billy, Bobby, and Mindy.
NFL Hall Fame Bill Glass with my husband Phillip pic.twitter.com/X7bz2H5Jif
— Cyndi Antedomenico (@Bennett_cyndi) November 22, 2016
Billy Glass, Jr. and Bobby Glass played high school football in Duncanville, Texas and then followed in their father’s footsteps by playing for Baylor.
Glass’ notoriety as a football player was instrumental in affecting his post-football life.
“Every time I sacked the quarterback or made a tackle, (the announcers) would mention that I was studying at a seminary for a ministry in Christian service.”
In 1965, Glass was invited by Reverend Billy Graham to come to Denver during a nationally televised crusade and give testimony.
Reverend Graham encouraged Glass to consider holding citywide crusades.
“He grabbed me by the shoulder and gave me four ways to determine God’s will for my life. . . . He told me there were four things in knowing what God wanted me to do in my life: First, there must be an open door; second, there must be reasonable preparedness; third, the counsel of Godly people; and [fourth], an inner impression.”
After Glass’ retirement from the NFL, in 1969, he founded the Bill Glass Ministries.
Glass had his first crusade campaign in Ohio in October, 1969.
Glass has led interdenominational crusades with audiences of up to 13,000 people.
— Bill Glass BEHIND THE WALLS (@BGBTW) July 18, 2019
“Bill Glass speaks frankly and pulls no punches. He knows young people.”
In 1972, Glass was encouraged by one of his board members to take his ministry to work on a specific population – prison inmates.
“We do evangelism, we teach others how to evangelize, and then we take them to the best fishing holes in America – prisons all over the country.”
Glass developed the concept of taking famous sports figures into the prison with him.
Such Pro Football Hall of Famers as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman “Mean” Joe Greene, and Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, helped Glass with his prison ministry.
Louisina Prisons! I had an incredible day speaking and preaching in prison all day today with BGM!! Male inmates & female inmates were internally hungry! God was moving in our midst!!
Shoutout to Bill Glass ministries! #inspire #Louisiana pic.twitter.com/sjayERiB6u
— Keith Davis (@KeithDavis_98) March 3, 2019
It has been estimated that Glass has used more than 400,000 volunteers to reach out to more than 1,000,000 male, female, and juvenile offenders through Glass’ “Behind the Walls” prison ministry.
The Bill Glass Ministries (which has also been known as Bill Glass Evangelical Association and Bill Glass Champions for Life) has produced a number of television specials, including the “Bill Glass Prison Special”, which was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Got to attend the 50th Anniversary of Bill Glass Ministries! They came into my prison in '84 and led me to Christ! I got to thank Bill Glass (Pro Football Player with Cleveland Browns) and tell him how his ministry changed my life! #prisonerofhopeministriesnatlprisiontour2019 pic.twitter.com/sRmiZlZtyr
— Mike Palombi (@MikePalombi) August 18, 2019
While Glass is now semi-retired, he is very proud of the evangelical organization that he has created.
“It’s my greatest desire to see this ministry continue long after I’m gone to be with the Lord.”
Glass has written over 10 books, including Get in the Game! (a memoir), Stand Tall and Straight (a book, co-written with Stan Mosier and Dr. Leslie E. Mosier, advising young men on successful life skills), Champions for Life: The Power of a Father’s Blessing (a book, co-written with Cleveland sports columnist Terry Pluto, on the power of giving and receiving a blessing), Expect to Win (a book about taking responsibility and persevering to make winning a habit), and Hero to Zero (a book about Glass’ wife, Mavis).
Glass also served on the Baylor University Board of Regents for nine years and worked as a motivational speaker.
Blessed to be with one of my great mentors tonight as I spoke,Mr. Bill Glass!Bill has been speaking and for more than 50-60 years across the globe!I’ve been one of his adopted grandsons for 22 years!Bill is an NFL great from the Cleveland Browns the 1960’s,and in the college HOF! pic.twitter.com/4G95Xtj7Tg
— Keith Davis (@KeithDavis_98) September 11, 2020
In 1969, Glass was inducted in the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame.
Glass was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
In 1987, Glass was inducted in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Glass was inducted in the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2007.
Glass received Baylor’s Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service (“[a]warded to an individual whose broad contributions to Christian ministry have made an immeasurable impact”) in 2013.
In 2016, Glass was added to the Baylor Wall of Honor.
It seems hard to find two more distinct careers than NFL defensive end and minister.
— Jatyn L. Taylor (@JatynTaylor) September 10, 2019
The skills involving in sacking quarterbacks and teaching gospel seem very different.
Yet, Bill Glass was able to excel in both his football and religious work.
“It’s my greatest desire to see this ministry continue long after I’m gone to be with the Lord.” – Bill Glass’s Behind the Walls prison ministry recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Read more at the link: https://t.co/O1yw8ks5l1 #BehindtheWalls #prisonministry pic.twitter.com/0NnuTveM0L
— Prison Fellowship (@prisonfellowshp) November 13, 2019
“Bill Glass has been known to raise knots on a halfback on a Sunday afternoon and goose pimples on his congregation on Sunday night.”
It takes a special person to combine tackling and evangelical skills.
Both Cleveland Browns fans and the many persons, especially prison inmates, inspired by Glass’ words would agree that Bill Glass is a special person.