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Taming the Bull - John "Bull" Bramlett
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By Mickey Seward

Courtesy of www.fca.org (Fellowship of Christian Athletes)

Andy Bramlett remembers the pact that he and his brother, Don, made with their dad, John "Bull" Bramlett, when they were kids.

"My brother and I had a deal with our dad," Andy said. "When we turned 18, we were going to go out with him and get drunk and get in fights. That's what we lived for. That was the talk. We were going to rule our town."

When you're the oldest son of a man they call "Bull" and "the meanest man in football" - and those were the nice things John's football opponents called him - you have a reputation to live up to.

Bull earned his gridiron notoriety as an undersized high school linebacker in Memphis, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to Memphis State University. After graduating from MSU, he began a professional baseball career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before being released after a couple years because the wild streak that lived inside of him couldn't be tamed.

Finally, the coach of the American Football League's Denver Broncos told Bull he would give him a shot if Bull could put on 20 pounds. Bull reached the mark, and not only did he make the team out of training camp, he finished second to Joe Namath in the AFL's Rookie of the Year balloting in 1965.

He would go on to play seven years of professional football in the AFL and National Football League, two each with the Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots before finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1971. He earned AFL All-Star honors with the Broncos and Dolphins, and was the Patriots' MVP in 1970. He is a member of the Broncos' Hall of Fame.

Bull's problem wasn't that he was the meanest man in football; it was that he was also the meanest man on the street and in his home. He would routinely drink heavily and start fights. Often, he would come home, the stench of liquor on his breath, and terrorize his own family.

"When he would come home at night, he was usually inebriated and my brother and I would be in my room and hear the fights between my dad and mom," Andy said. "It was a pattern that we had to live with."

"I saw more than I should have seen. I heard more than I saw, but I heard most of the arguments and I saw most of the fights he was in out in the street."

Still, Bull's wife, Nancy, stuck with him. And even though Bull lived up to his reputation, there was another side to him.

"That side of my dad was a really good dad," Andy said. "He was always there for our games. He always helped coach us. He always helped us with every sport we were playing. He was a lot of fun when he wasn't drinking. But, when he had one too many, he went from being fun to being violent. You just never knew when that was going to happen."

Just as Andy was about to turn 13 years old, something happened in John's life that nobody saw coming. He listened to a message about God's love. After a couple days of non-stop scripture reading, John "Bull" Bramlett gave his life to Jesus Christ.

Immediately, the fighting and carousing came to a halt. John became the husband and father that he learned he needed to be while pouring over Bible verses.

"Our whole outlook changed," Andy said. "We had a new dad that was totally different than the old dad. Everything turned around for us, and our focus as a family became on doing what was right and pure and clean. It was a life change, not just for my dad, but for the whole family."

"He's a modern day example of the powerful Saul-to-Paul 180-degree conversion," said Kyle Rote, Jr., the legendary North American Soccer League star of the 1970s and longtime friend of John Bramlett's. Rote, like Bramlett, is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Hall of Champions.

"Bull's life proves that God never gives up on even the 'worst' of humanity," Rote said.

The turnaround was so complete and has made such an impact on the people that John Bramlett comes in contact with, that it has been made into the documentary Taming The Bull. The film will be officially released on August 22.

Bull's conversion was watched closely by a skeptical Andy, who said he'd seen his dad turn over a new leaf before, only to be disappointed when Bull returned to his old ways. For two years, Andy observed his father. This time, he knew it was real. And Andy saw God for the first time, too.

"When I saw the change in his life, I saw a miracle," Andy said. "I realized that there is a God. There was no other answer for my dad's change, other than what God can give. It was a Paul-like conversion. You were able to see it. I saw God at work in my family.

"That showed me that God is bigger than any circumstance, and He can help you overcome it. He can heal the biggest, baddest person, because I saw what He did to who I thought was the biggest, baddest person on this earth. There's hope for everybody and for every situation."

"When I became a Christian two years later, the first person I told was my dad, because all those years, I had lived to be like him. Now I was again, just because of my relationship with Christ."

Bull's on-field intensity transferred over into his new life, as he began to share Christ with as many people as he could. He chased after God's heart with the same tenacity that he had chasing Namath around the gridiron.

"He uses that same mentality that he used on the football field to tackle opponents to tackle Satan and his work," Andy said. "His attitude after he came to know Christ has always been that he wants everyone to know the message of Christ and to experience what he's experienced. One of the boldest witnesses I’ve ever seen is my dad. He shares Christ with everybody."

"One thing John did well was when he was on the field, he played all out," said Grant Guffin, who produced Taming the Bull for Flashlight Media. "Unfortunately, that was the way he also lived his life away from the field. But, now, he is using that same trait to serve God."

For the 40 years since his conversion, Bull Bramlett has been speaking to groups about God's love. He is a minister and leads John Bramlett Ministries. Ironically, when Guffin was a teenager, he was a part of one of the groups that heard Bramlett's story.

"When I was a high school football player in Alabama, John came and spoke to my team," Guffin said. "I'd never heard of him before, but his message was so compelling and powerful that I never forgot it. I can recite his life story 20 years after I heard it, and so could most of the guys who were in that room."

"God used John to really impact a lot of people from my high school football team," Guffin said. "So, when they approached our company - and I had had no contact with them since he spoke to my high school team - I was already passionate about his story."

When Bramlett's family decided they'd like to make a movie about John's life, they had to decide if they wanted to make a feature-length cinematic film or a documentary.

"We decided on the documentary and I'm glad we did, because it's going to serve a ministry purpose, rather than just having the story glamorized on screen," Andy said. "This way, Dad gets a chance to tell his own story, rather than Hollywood telling it."

The next decision was who would make the film. He had no idea that he was about to hook up with someone that had already been amazed by Bull's encounter with Christ.

"I went to lunch with a gentleman who was a sports agent and had just gone to work for a company called Flashlight Media," Andy said. "He said, 'You need to talk to our producer. I think you two would get along really well, and I think he’d like your story.' So Grant and I met and when he shared his story with me, I knew I had the right man to help me tell Dad's story. That could only be a God thing."

What resulted was a 60-minute story of how God changed one man's heart, and by doing so, changed the man's family and his corner of the world.

"Taming the Bull really captures the story of a guy who was headed full speed in one direction - in a path toward destruction - and then he came face to face with God's grace, like the apostle Paul, and started going in a completely opposite direction, with arguably the same tenacity that Paul pursued sharing Christ," Guffin said. "John has moved in the same direction, and his impact in the lives of people over the past 40 years has been tremendous."

"There are so many different ways that people who watch the film will be able to relate to it," Guffin said. "John had so many different types of struggles in his life that if you didn't have one particular struggle that John had, you probably struggle with something else he struggled with."

"Beyond that, it's just a great story," Guffin said. "If you take away all the ways people could be impacted and they just want to sit down and watch a great story, Taming the Bull is a great story."

Sports fans will know plenty of the people in the film - guys who rubbed shoulders with Bramlett and saw his conversion first hand.

"Tim McCarver (who played high school baseball against Bramlett), Joe Namath, Tony Dungy, Bobby Bowden, Darrell Waltrip, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick are all in the film," Guffin said. "A number of guys that John played with over various points of his career, or guys he was friends with, or both. It's fun to hear some of the stories about Namath. They were pretty close off the field, and then Bull would try to kill Namath on the field."

But, sports figures aren't the only people Bramlett knew.

"It's almost got a Forrest Gump quality," Guffin said about Bramlett's life. "He crossed paths with so many people. John went to school with Elvis Presley. He knew Elvis throughout Elvis' life and John's pro career. They used to play touch football together. He's in so many interesting places and interesting times, and wreaking havoc throughout."

For Andy, who attended FCA camps throughout high school and returned as a counselor when he was in college, telling the story of God's love through his dad's life story had one central theme.

"Sports figures are looked upon as heroes and god-like people, but here's a guy who lived it all and did it all and, yet, was empty until he found Christ," Andy said. "People can argue about evolution, but there are not a lot of people that can argue about a changed life. I saw a life changed right before my eyes overnight."

For more information about John Bramlett Ministries or how to order a copy of Taming the Bull, point your browser to www.bramlett.org.

About the Author

Mickey Seward
Mickey Seward is the National Director of Communications for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. An Illinois State University graduate and lifelong Detroit sports fan, Mickey and his wife, Kristie, have a daughter, Kendall, and a son, Gibson.