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Bill McCartney

It's a Guy Thing

Bill McCartney has never been able to stop thinking about men. When he landed in Boulder in 1982 as the new coach of the University of Colorado's moribund football program, he had a wife and four kids. But he had to find some young men to make his dreams come true.

A Type A+ personality and a demon for work, McCartney recruited blue-chip athletes--along with quite a few thugs--and built a team that hit hard on the field and broke laws off it. At one point in the Eighties, his team's off-field behavior was so scandalous that it made national headlines. He himself was tempestuous: A female office assistant told McCartney to his face that he was like "Jekyll and Hyde."

But he persevered, and in 1990 the Buffs won the national championship. Looking back on that victory in Sold Out, his second autobiography, which was published this past November, McCartney proudly notes that he "had built the program on the Rock of Christ."

Coach Mac wore his Christian zeal on his sleeve and trumpeted "family values," and that made him an easy target for liberals. But what did he care? He had revived a football program. Why not revive a whole country full of men? And so the seed for Promise Keepers was planted.

At the time, Coach Mac was a member of a five-man group called Face to Face. Among the members was his pastor and golfing buddy, James Ryle, of the Boulder Valley Vineyard Christian Fellowship, who was the Buffs' team chaplain. The men went on retreats together (sometimes their wives tagged along) and made big plans together. Most important, they prayed together. Bill McCartney astounded his friends with his fervent desire to pray.

Formerly a raging drunk, he claims he overcame his bad behavior by praying. He would get up at 4 a.m. and pray. His house had a separate room for prayer. He prayed to resist temptation. He prayed for his friends. He prayed for gridiron glory.

"I knelt down each morning and prayed a blessing over Lyndi," Coach Mac recalls in Sold Out. "Before my sons and my daughter left the house, I would rest my hands on their heads and ask God's blessing, power and healing over them...But I was not fully connecting; I was not entering into their lives...Work was always there, and the prayers that frequently filled my head pled with God to extend His favor on CU the next Saturday."

But, as wife Lyndi points out in Sold Out, he never prayed with her.
"Bill believed his struggle against alcohol was his exclusively," Lyndi writes. "It probably never entered his mind to share his pain or the intensity of his struggle with me. We were both Christians, but he didn't see me as a source of spiritual support; so he never asked me to pray for him or even with him so we could combat this stronghold of the enemy together."

But he had no problem getting intimate with other men. Encouraged by such evangelists as Colorado Springs religious broadcaster James Dobson, in 1990 McCartney began filling stadiums with "manly men" who were "hot for Jesus." In early 1992 he injected himself into the debate over gay rights by speaking out on Amendment 2. This man, who had patted 100,000 male rumps in his lifetime, who'd prayed privately only with men and had pledged his heart to a man named Jesus, declared that the sexual love of men for other men was an "abomination" before God.

He smooched his wife on stage at Promise Keepers rallies to show what real love was all about. In Coach Mac's view, women were created to "help" men. Men were to lead, women--"vessels of honor," his church calls them--were to follow. He dreamed of a Jesus-loving society led by men who had sex only with their wives and who made the decisions for their families.

But Coach Mac also took some innovative stances. Boldly going where few other white, conservative evangelical Christians had gone before, he denounced racism and preached "reconciliation" with people of color. He backed up his words by publicly bonding with black men, hugging them and praying to Jesus with them.

Meanwhile, his marriage was falling apart. Lyndi McCartney plunged into a severe depression in 1993; her husband, caught up in reviving men, had ignored her for decades.

"For years I permitted this crucial teammate--by God's own definition the most accurate reflection of my true love for Him--to lie dormant, without clear leadership or direction," Coach Mac later wrote. "My pride, my deep-seated rugged individualism, got in the way of seeing what God intended for the marriage partnership--'I will make a helper suitable for him' (Genesis 2:18)."

And what of the other female in his family? Daughter Kristy, too, had been neglected by Coach Mac--but not by his players. She was impregnated out of wedlock twice, first by a quarterback and then by a lineman.

Recalling her childhood under Coach Mac, she writes in Sold Out: "The biggest thing for me was he just wasn't around. He was never there to really know me. Growing up, his absence spoke rejection of me, that I didn't really matter much to him. That was awful. Now I realize he probably just didn't know how to relate to a girl. He definitely related better to my brothers, because they were boys."

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