By ALAN SMASON
Alan Veingrad makes a living these days as a motivational speaker. But back in college and for six years in the National Football League (NFL), he was a tackle and guard who made his presence known with his hulking frame, powerful muscles and incredible agility. A four-year member of the Green Bay Packers, he left Wisconsin in 1991 to become a member of the Dallas Cowboys squad under Coach Jimmy Johnson, garnering a 1992 world championship in the process in Superbowl XXVII. These days, though, he tackles more philosophical objects and guards his religious faith much more closely as he has become an observant Orthodox Jew.
Flashing a heavy beard and going by his Hebrew name of Shlomo, Veingrad often regales both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences with different aspects of his past career and the reasons behind his renewed faith.
“Generally I talk about my life as a Jewish fooball player,” Veingrad revealed in an exclusive CCJN phone interview. “I talk about what that experience was like, being the only one Jewish player and who my teammates shared with me as being one of the ‘chosen people.'”
“Really? The chosen people? They called you that?”
“They sure did,” he shot back.
When he speaks before a non-Jewish or business group, he’ll talk about motivation and team esprit de corps.The motivation and inspiration he refers to has little to do with the practice of Judaism.
“I’m motivating and inspiring them from a business or service to do more, to work harder,” he continued. “I talk about what did I take out of the competitive nature of professional sports and apply it to the business world.”
But when he speaks to a Jewish group, as he will this Wednesday night, August 28, at 7:30 at the Gerson Katz Chabad Center of Metairie, it’s all about the spiritual journey he has taken. It’s all about how Vengrad went from being a non-observant Jew living born in Brooklyn, living in New Jersey and moving to Miami, who stopped attending a Conservative synagogue after his Bar Mitzvah, to his present convention of a Shomer Shabbat Jew living in Boca Raton, keeping kosher, wearing a kippah (skullcap) and tzitzit (prayer shawl) and praying three times a day. “I talk about how I reconnected to my faith,” he explained.
Veingrad’s exit out of Florida was through his love of sports, but not as one might imagine through his love of football. He was a discus thrower in high school, not a member of the football team. A friend knew a coach from out of North Texas State University (now Texas A&M University – Commerce) who, after seeing the tall high school senior throw the discus decided he might be a good college football prospect.
Veingrad accepted the scholarship and immediately began to bulk up his six-foot, five-inch frame to accept his assignment as an offensive lineman. He hit the gym in order to be competitive and started eating a high-carbohydrate diet, consisting of food like Texas biscuits, which he claimed resulted in his becoming even more massive. By the end of his freshman year, he had grown to 220 pounds. A rigorous weightlifting regimen resulted in his beefing up to 270 pounds by the end of his college career.
He received honors for his strength and conditioning and was a member of the Division II All-America team. In 1984 he was named Lone Star All-Conference and Lone Star Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Because NFL scouts considered him small for his position, Veingrad was not selected during the 1985 NFL Draft. He tried out for a position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers anyway. He was cut from the team after only 10 days and was claimed in waivers by the Houston Oilers, but they released him just prior to the start of the 1985 season.
Not to give up, Veingrad was enticed back to North Texas University to finish his last year of eligibility and receive his degree. He worked out in the gym for the duration of the year, lifting weights and biding his time before the start of the next year’s training camp season. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in 1986 as a free agent and was converted to a right offensive tackle. When a veteran on the offensive line began to haggle over his contract, Veingrad’s star began to rise. The veteran was traded and Veingrad eventually started in his place.
With the exception of the 1988 season, when he was sidelined due to a hip injury, Veingrad played well for Coaches Forrest Gregg and former Tulane offensive coach Lindy Infante and started every year.
He signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in 1991, working to help Emmitt Smith achieve NFL running titles in 1991 and 1992. Following the culmination of the Superbowl win, Veingrad retired in 1993 and moved back to Florida.
For several years he worked in a variety of jobs, selling telephone services and marketing himself as a business motivator. It was during this period he reconnected to his faith, when he was invited to enjoy a traditional Sabbath meal at a cousin’s home. “Truly, after the meal was when he roped me into going to a Torah class,” Veingrad recalled.
“I wasn’t interested in doing any of this sort of thing, but based on my cousin I decided to go to that class,” he said. He felt the pull of his religion drawing him back and after a number of other classes and with the blessings of his wife, the couple became observant, kashered their home and began attending worship services on a regular basis. That was also when he elected to refer to himself as Shomo.
“Generally I go by Alan. However, six or seven years ago, I started using my Hebrew name a little more,” he revealed.
Veingrad estimates that two-thirds of his speeches are given these days to Jewish audiences. He was selected as a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame three years ago along with the likes of baseball standouts Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg and basketball coach Red Auerbach.
The businessman visited the Tulane Unversity Rohr Chabad Student Center this past April. That visit resulted in his being asked to come back this next week for Chabad members in Metairie to meet with him.
Veingrad remembered having been to New Orleans on several occasions prior to his becoming more observant. While his kosher adherence may make some of the New Orleans fare quite impossible for him to enjoy, he has been promised some kosher New Orleans cuisine that will satisfy his hunger. ” I’m looking forward to having red beans and rice,” he admitted.
New Orleans has always been one of his favorite towns, he said. “I’ve been there as a football player and a business person, I’ve gone to conventions and had business meetings,” he mused.
But for Veingrad, the last few visits, the purpose has been more spiritual. “The last few times it’s been to hopefully inspire the crowd and to share my journey with others,” he said.
Even if it’s just one person who is affected, Veingrad said, he will have accomplished his goal. “I would like to give them a more meaningful purpose and spiritual experience as they go through life, which can be challenging,” he concluded.