MIAMI — Only 15 years ago, offensive lineman Alan Veingrad of the National Football League Dallas Cowboys thought he achieved ultimate fame by winning the Super Bowl.
“I thought I was on top of the world and would never have need for anything else in my life,” said Veingrad at the time, who retired following his Super Bowl victory.
Fast forward to today and Veingrad is not just another NFL alumni player who relishes his past glory as a Super Bowl champion. Instead, Veingrad now sees “the top of the world” as a reference to God.
Veingrad is now an Orthodox Jew, who carries the Torah most Shabbats at the Coral Springs Chabad Congregation in suburban Miami.
“HaShem has a special mission for me and all of us to follow,” said Veingrad at Miami’s Beth David Congregation at a breakfast that honoured him and other Jewish athletes.
During his playing days from 1986 through 1993, Veingrad was clean-shaven, looked at his NFL playbook as a guide for living and was inspired by coach Jimmy Johnson. Now the 44-year-old Veingrad sports a grey beard, is inspired by Torah and the teachings of the Lubavitch rebbe, and does not watch much football anymore.
Following his retirement from football, Veingrad was invited to spend a Shabbat with an Orthodox cousin. He became intrigued by Judaism, and within a year, he had visited Israel, started wearing a yarmulke and began calling himself by his Hebrew name, Shlomo.
“I saw quickly that the Torah was a not a boring history book but a very inspirational guide to life. I wanted to immerse myself completely in Judaism, much like I did in football when I was playing.”
Although Veingrad downplays his past as an NFL player, he nevertheless has become a marquee attraction at Jewish sport celebrity breakfasts and other speaking engagements across Canada and the United States.
“People are drawn to him because he played in the NFL and won a Super Bowl. He’s a guy people can relate to. People see me, a rabbi, and think I don’t understand them. A football player is a real guy and that captivates people, “ said Rabbi Schneur Kaplan of Fort Lauderdale Downtown Chabad, who has invited Veingrad to speak to his congregation multiple times.
Veingrad has been in such demand that he has been approached by publishers to work on an autobiography. He’s received publicity in the Miami Herald and on a Miami television station.
Born and raised in Miami, Veingrad had a bar mitzvah at a Reform temple. He worshipped everything football as a teen and was the lone Jewish football star on his high school team. When he attended college on a football scholarship at East Texas State, Veingrad again was the only Jewish player on the team.
“It never bothered me for players [from the Bible belt] to come up to me in college and not know what a Jew is. I never experienced any anti-Semitism at all.”
A few years ago, Veingrad was inducted into East Texas State’s Sports Hall of Fame and officials rescheduled the ceremony from a Saturday out of respect for Veingrad’s observance of Shabbat.
Upon graduating, Veingrad tried out with a few NFL teams, but made the roster with the Green Bay Packers. He later signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys for $1.4 million (US).
“Alan was always very intelligent and valuable to us because he was versatile and could play any position on the line. Without his ability to be versatile, he would not have made the NFL,” said Jimmy Johnson, Veingrad’s coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
Had Veingrad been Orthodox in his prime, as is the case with basketball and hockey hopefuls Tamir Goodman and Benjamin Rubin, respectively, odds are Veingrad would never have had a NFL career.
“I really don’t want to look backward, just forward. Maybe things would still have worked out… for an Orthodox NFL player, because games are on mostly on Sundays and Mondays. I had a calling that came after I was retired. HaShem has a plan for all of us, and there is a reason for everything, whether we are aware or it or not.”
Veingrad is divorced from the mother of his three children. He married Chaya, who is also Orthodox, last February and he works as a real estate and mortgage broker.
Veingrad is focused on his mission in life to serve God, be a good father and let his past as a Super Bowl champion attract people to his speaking engagements, usually titled “From Super Bowl to Super Jew.”
“I am so glad that HaShem has given me my path to inspire young Jews not to give up on knowing their identity as Jews and pursuing their dreams,” said Veingrad.
For more information, visit www.alanveingrad.com.