Mired in trouble during career, ex-Cowboy says he's been saved

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  1. k19

    k19 Active Member

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    For Niland, a change for the better
    Mired in trouble during career, ex-Cowboy says he's been saved

    12:31 AM CDT on Monday, July 18, 2005

    By BEN MALCOLMSON / The Dallas Morning News

    Some people change, and some people are changed.

    Between 1966 and 1974, John Niland was a Pro Bowl Cowboys guard who had his name in the police blotter more than the football summary.

    Now, Niland is a 61-year-old Dallas businessman, the father of two girls and the recipient of something he said he didn't deserve.

    "I'm saved, and I'm just grateful that for some reason the Lord saved me," Niland said. "I have nothing to offer him, nothing. I'm just blessed. I'm blessed, I don't know why."

    Colloquially, Niland can be called a born-again Christian. Realistically, that title doesn't say enough of how far he's come.

    Everything changed one night in August 1974 on the streets of North Dallas. It was then he got into a fistfight with six cops. It was then he got saved.

    John Niland played nine turbulent seasons for the Cowboys. "The Lord smacked me right on my face, got my attention," Niland said in a deep, fatherly voice that bellowed throughout a Bachman Lake restaurant on a recent afternoon.

    Things didn't magically turn rosy for Niland in one night, though. His first marriage was mired in violence and ended in 1983. The '80s were checkered with drugs, alcohol and women. In 1987, he was jailed for 11 months for making false statements to obtain a loan.

    "Today, I can say it was the best thing that ever happened to me," Niland said of his jail time. "I knew at that time I wanted a parenthesis, a time out."

    Soon after, true change started to occur, change that has even more magnitude now, considering his mottled past.

    "People have opinions," Niland said, "but when it comes down to it, I've got to be faithful to what I believe today, not what I did 20 years ago."

    Niland married his wife, Shaughn, in 1992, and the couple has 11- and 12-year-old daughters, Haven Sierra and Jordan.

    "Our girls have been a monumental change," Shaughn said. "Having to come out of yourself and being more selfless and less selfish and give more than you take, I think that has been a large part of his growing."

    Niland said it has been a long process of personal spiritual growth since first finding God that one night in 1974, but the transformation shines through today.

    "His whole demeanor has changed," said former Cowboys teammate Robert Newhouse, who remains close friends with Niland. "He's more calm and relaxed about life."

    There's a reason for that, Niland said.

    "We're here for Christ's sake, every single day," said Niland, his blue eyes and grayish blonde hair showing youthfulness even now. "How then shall we live? For me it's to be used by God. It's all about God. When you come to understand that, there's an inner peace."

    Niland was the Cowboys' No. 1 draft pick in 1966, and played with them for nine seasons. He ended his playing days with Philadelphia before the 1977 season. During an 11-year career, he went to six Pro Bowls and won one Super Bowl.

    Soon after Niland retired, a representative from Arrow-Magnolia, an industrial chemical company in Tulsa, Okla., contacted him to make a promotional video on a chemical package the company sold. Niland, who was doing frequent television work at the time, said he wanted to understand the product better before producing a video on it.

    By the time he fully grasped the details of the product, he thought he knew enough to start working there.

    "So I did," he said with a big smile.

    And 25 years later, Niland is still at Arrow-Magnolia, vice president of its construction division and yet to produce the video.

    Niland says the game he left 30 years ago affects him even today. He still dreams about it, his body is ravaged by it – he said he will have to get his knees replaced soon. But most important, his life and faith have been transformed because of the game.

    "It develops your whole personality, your whole character," Niland said. "It changes you physically, it changes you emotionally."

    During a recent interview, he pulled out one of his favorite books, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, and, in between bites of carrot cake, recited a passage from it.

    "It's not about you – it's all about God," Niland said with building excitement. "When you come to grips with that, when that becomes a reality, things start to change.

    "He changes us."

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