John “Bo” Wright will never forget his first touchdown at Alabama – a 13-yard run at Neyland Stadium on which he “carried about seven people into the end zone with me.” He’ll also never forget the 1985 Iron Bowl.
“My favorite moment as an Alabama player was when Greg Richardson caught a pass, tried to get out of bounds, but he didn’t,” Wright said. “Our field-goal team rushed onto the field, Van Tiffin kicked the winning field goal from about 50 yards in Legion Field and we beat Auburn. That was my best moment.”
There’s something else Wright will never forget – not a “best,” but certainly a life-changing moment in more ways than he realized at the time.
After his Alabama career, Wright was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round in 1988. He spent two years with the Bills and another with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League as a running back/linebacker. He was back in Mobile visiting his parents after the Storm won the 1991 AFL championship when he was shot.
“Dec. 19, 1991, I’ll never forget,” Wright said. “I was talking to this guy in a car. I knew him, but I didn’t know the guy in the passenger’s seat. When I turned to walk away from the car, I took about six steps and – pow! — a shot went off. It hit me in the back of the leg and came out right there.
“I was in the hospital for 31 days. Some people get shot in the leg and go home the same day. I’ve got scars all over my body, all up my stomach, all up my leg.”
Though he could still walk, Wright’s football career was over.
“That was a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “It’s like a surgeon who uses his hands to do operations, and he wakes up in the morning and, all of a sudden, his hands, he can’t use them. That was me. I was an athlete. My team was world champions. I came home to visit my parents, and, in the twinkling of an eye, I was shot in the leg for no apparent reason. I had been gone for eight years. I really didn’t know a whole lot of people around there, and he said he was trying to shoot on the side of me to scare me.”
FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE
As a star player at Blount High School, Wright had a moment for the Leopards he’ll never forget.
“Up in Satsuma,” he remembered, “I scored on a 76-yard touchdown in the third quarter that kind of put us over the top, and my school made the playoffs for the first time in Blount High School history in 1982.”
Wright was back on the football field at Prichard Municipal Stadium on June 7, helping with the Palmer-Williams Group’s football camp. The group is an initiative by two former Alabama football players – David Palmer and Sherman Williams - to help show disadvantaged youngsters a better path in life.
It reminded him of the John “Bo” Wright All-Star Celebrity Football Camp from almost 25 years ago – before he was shot. Wright spoke to the boys at the Palmer-Williams Group camp. Wright told them he “got shot in the leg by a 13-year-old child, and I wasn’t able to play football anymore.” But he didn’t proceed to tell the boys a cautionary tale about learning from his mistakes.
Instead, he told the youngsters they were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” quoting from Psalm 139:14, then explained that meant they were one-of-a-kind and weren’t required to mimic the destructive behavior they might see around them.
“When God made you, he threw away the mold,” Wright said. “You need to tap into who God created you to be. … You guys are special people, I don’t care what anybody has told you.”
Afterward, Wright said of his turn among the speakers to the campers: “We talked a lot and we gave them all kinds of examples and things like that, but I believe the word of God sticks to them. When you can quote the word, tell them where it is written, what God says about you, I think that’s real important.”
Wright expects to do a lot of that. Now a teacher at LeFlore High School, he is about a month from completing his studies to become an ordained minister. It’s a path he stepped on when he was shot, although he started in the opposite direction.
THERE IS A WAY OUT
“It took my life,” Wright said of the shooting. “I went into a state of depression. I started feeling sorry for myself. I started dabbling in some drugs, the street life. Life just went whew. My life took a turn for the worse.”
Unlike some former players who revert to the life they knew when football ends, Wright said he didn’t grow up that way.
“The life that I was living. I was not accustomed to it,” he said. “I grew up as the youngest of seven kids, and my mom and my dad worked at the Scott Paper Company. I had everything I wanted. That’s all I knew – to have nice things, be around nice people, to help people and things like that. The street life, I wasn’t accustomed to that. I found my way out through Jesus. There’s a sign in front of the church I used to go to that says, ‘There is a way out in Jesus,’ and that’s how I found my way out.
“I thank God, because through all of that misery and pain and uncertainty, I got to know who my Lord and Savior is.”
Which is why Wright said he’d take his life now over the one he had before he was shot.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world,” Wright said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What do you miss about the NFL?’ I get to thinking and I say, ‘Well, I miss the money.’ I don’t have as much money as I had. But I eat the same food, I go to the same places, I talk to a lot of the same people, so I really don’t miss nothing other than the money.
“But when I was in the NFL, I didn’t have Jesus in my life. My point is: My life now is better than when I was playing for the Buffalo Bills. People don’t believe it. They can’t fathom that in their minds. But it’s the God’s honest truth. My life today 2014 is better now than it was in 1988 when I was playing for the Buffalo Bills. That’s amazing. And it’s all because of God and his son, Jesus.”
BEING WHO GOD CREATED ME TO BE
As in his football-playing days, Wright is still studying film, in a way.
“I like to watch a lot of study on TV,” Wright said, “a lot of ministers like Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes. I try to watch them all. Ministry, a lady told me one time, is just like eating fish. All of it’s not the truth. You have to eat the meat and throw away the bones.”
But as he told the football campers, Wright said he’s trying “to tap into who God created me to be.
“I’m here to encourage and exhort people. That’s what I do. It’s a gift God gave to me. I do it naturally. I thank God for someone who will encourage somebody, who will inspire somebody, to impart some kind of wisdom into somebody, to spread the Gospel — not to force it on people or let that be your only conversation, but being who God created me to be.”