Life has changed in so many ways over the past three years. Alabama is no longer in the SEC cellar and Auburn is no longer enjoying the view from the top of the SEC. Three years ago Nick Saban was in his first year with the Miami Dolphins and the thought that he would be the next great coach in the storied Alabama tradition would have been laughable. Three years ago it seemed unlikely that Tommy Tubberville would be on the hot seat at Auburn…well, some things do stay the same.
Three years ago, while attending the Alabama-Auburn game at Jordan-Hare stadium in Auburn, my perspective changed and I haven’t viewed the Iron Bowl the same since. While sitting in seats that seem to have fallen into my lap by divine providence after my wife’s prayer for the tickets, the gloom of Auburn’s 3 touchdowns in the first quarter was shattered by the cries of Mrs. Culpepper. Mr. Herman Culpepper was having a heart attack and I found him unconscious and quickly fading. It seemed like an eternity before the EMS services responded, but a nurse and I did CPR on Mr. Culpepper as long as we needed to do so. After several unsuccessful attempts with the defibrillator Mr. Culpepper was taken down the steps and through the tunnel to the waiting ambulance. I prayed in my heart that he would live though my mind didn’t hold out much hope. By halftime of that game I received word that Mr. Culpepper had indeed survived and would be fine after stints were placed. The elation I felt at that moment completely placed that game and sports in general into proper perspective. Life isn’t about events, it is about people.
I spoke to the Culpeppers several times after that day and the story we share even made headlines in several newspapers and one national publication. I had the honor of speaking with Mr. Culpepper again today and I am pleased to report that he is doing just fine. In fact, the man that Mr. Culpepper is today continues to serve as an inspiration to me and so many others. Mr. Culpepper wasn’t exactly wasting his life prior to three years ago. The devoted husband, father and grandfather was most pleased after his last heart attack that he would be able to spend more time with his family. For him, life wasn’t about finances, schedules or politics. Life is only lived to the fullest when it is spent in devotion to impacting the lives of others.
Mr. Culpepper told me today about what is going on in his life. Not surprisingly, he spoke about his family first. He said, “I have been able to spend time with my grandchildren and discuss the Lord with them”. He went on to mention that he is a Sunday School teacher and continues to be very active in his church. He also serves disabled veterans that return from Iraq and Afghanistan and helps them find purpose and direction in their lives. As Mr. Culpepper talked I couldn’t help but smile. Few things are more encouraging and uplifting than people loving and serving others. Mr. Culpepper and I discussed on so many occasions before, and again today, that God has a reason for him to still be here. In fact God has a reason for us all to be here. Mr. Culpepper is a shining example of living out that purpose to the fullest. His example becomes more inspiring as I realize he does it all with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life itself.
Mr. Culpepper thanked me today, as he has each time we have talked, but I couldn’t let it go at that. I thanked him too. For serving others, for putting his family first and for living each day with great purpose. He said, “You and God have given me three more years on this earth”. In fairness I think he is being way too kind. The life that was given by God alone is sustained by God alone and Mr. Culpepper seems content to celebrate that fact daily.
The Iron Bowl this year has changed as Alabama is expected to win for the first time in years. With Auburn’s success the past six years that is certainly a welcomed change for Bama Fans. If I can find some reasonably priced tickets for the Iron Bowl, I will be watching the game this year from the stands for the first time since the day Mr. Culpepper was given a new lease on life. While I will be pulling for Alabama as hard as ever, I will be doing so with Mr. Culpepper in mind. The Iron Bowl is discussed all year in this state and athletic success of coaches and programs are often determined by the results of this game. Mr. Culpepper serves as an example to us all that real success in life is determined what happens off the field, out of our offices and in so many ways, what happens outside of our own lives. Life is about the people we love and those who extend that love in return. Here’s to Mr. Culpepper for showing us all how that looks.