By Joshua Cooley
Sometimes, Terina Dutton still can’t believe the thing is actually sitting in the garage. But there it is, day after day, taking up space … a lot of space. And more often than not, it’s plugged into the wall, chugging electrical currents like a parched distance runner does water, just so it can function.
With a white exterior, red interior, convertible top and boatish length, John Dutton’s 1969 Cadillac Coupe DeVille is quite a sight to behold. But the best part about it is its alleged history.
“Ohhh, the Cadillac,” Terina said, recalling the indelible moment when she first heard about her husband’s new purchase. “I’m taking a nap, and he runs into the room: ‘Oh my gosh, you’re not going to believe what I just bought! A mob boss owned this car!’”
“Dutton’s career, like his Caddy, is proof that perception isn’t always reality.”
Dutton, the starting quarterback for the Arena Football League’s Colorado Crush, paid $5,500 on eBay for the car, which has an italicized inscription chiseled into the upper left corner of the windshield that reads: “The Boss.” According to the selling dealership, the mafia chief who once owned the car was killed, and it eventually went to auction.
“He loves that car,” said Terina, John’s wife of seven years. “Wherever he goes—it could be snowing, raining, whatever—he loves driving with the top down.”
The Cadillac has been a big hit among Dutton’s Crush teammates, who are tickled by the ostensible mismatch of their clean-cut quarterback driving a car that’s typically associated with baby boomers, rappers and, well, Mafioso.
“I pull up to practice—it was my first year here; I didn’t know anybody—and here’s somebody driving this long, white boat,” Crush lineman Chris Watton remembered. “I said, ‘Man, whose hoopty is that?’ Somebody said, ‘That’s the quarterback’s.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. The quarterback drives that?’”
Dutton’s career, like his Caddy, is proof that perception isn’t always reality. There was a time when he thought he had everything figured out. He grew up in a Christian home and never strayed far from his upbringing, accepting Christ in college and becoming active in FCA. Still, football quarterbacked his heart for a long period, dictating his steps and desires.
Then God intervened. The room was becoming quiet—and uncomfortably so. The third round of the 1998 NFL Draft was nearing an end, and Dutton’s name had not been called. The group of family and friends at his draft-day party—to say nothing of John and Terina—was growing antsy. Projected to go as high as the first round, Dutton wasn’t a household name, but surely someone would take a chance on what could become a shining jewel with the right amount of time and polish.
The fourth round passed. Then the fifth. Nothing. Finally, midway through the sixth round, the Miami Dolphins selected Dutton. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Not after the kind of college career he had enjoyed.
John Dutton #8
Weight: 225 lbs.
College: University of Nevada
Born: September 20, 1975
AFL Experience: 8 years
After two years of backup duty at Texas, Dutton transferred to Nevada, an unheralded program on the fringes of Division I football. He dazzled in Reno, earning Big West Conference offensive player of the year honors twice and leading the Wolf Pack to their first bowl win since 1948 as a junior in 1996.
Dutton’s draft-day disappointment foreshadowed even greater frustration. Between the summers of 1998 and ’99, he was cut from three different NFL training camps—Miami, Atlanta and Cleveland—the latter coming after a broken ankle.
“It was humbling,” he said. “You have this great career in high school and college and you get all these accolades. And then the NFL is the first time you get rejected. I was asking the questions: Am I good enough? What does God have for me? I didn’t know what to expect next.”
Funny he should ask. After putting out feelers in the NFL and in the Canadian Football League, Dutton eventually landed in the Arena Football League with the San Jose SaberCats, where his emotional roller coaster ride continued to climb and dip with maddening regularity. In his first start with San Jose in 2000, he broke his arm and missed most of the season. The following year, he was mysteriously benched in favor of backup Mark Grieb despite a 5-2 record at the time.
It was God’s way, Dutton said, of reprioritizing his life.
“Football, family and God,” he said. “It’s the reverse of my priorities now, but that’s what it was. God stepped in. He wanted me to be a Christian who was using a platform to spread His Word. He had to step in because I wasn’t doing it on my own.”
In 2002, Dutton finally broke through. When Grieb broke his collarbone in the last game of the regular season, Dutton reclaimed the starting job and led San Jose to the ArenaBowl XVI title, winning the championship MVP award with a 236- yard, five-touchdown performance.That off-season, he received a call from Colorado Crush co-owner John Elway, the legendary Hall of Fame quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and eventually signed the first-ever free-agent contract with the expansion team.
But the Crush’s inaugural season of 2003 brought another low. While Dutton threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 77 touchdowns, a 2-14 record and no home wins sparked venomous fan reactions toward Dutton and, at times, even his wife. Job security felt tenuous, at best.
“That was the year we truly realized we play for an audience of One,” Terina said. “We play for God and nobody else.”
“He wanted me to be a Christian who was using a platform to spread His word. He had to step in because I wasn’t doing it on
Soon enough, the wins started rolling in. Dutton, 31, now has led the Crush to the playoffs three straight years, including his second ArenaBowl title (XIX) in 2005. Last year, he enjoyed his best AFL season, setting new career highs for completions (390), attempts (614), passing yards (4,421) and touchdowns (95). Earlier this season, he eclipsed the 20,000-yard and 400- touchdown career marks.
Dutton has clearly grasped the nuances of the AFL game, whose numerous deviations from the NFL include a smaller field, fewer players and a much greater emphasis on passing. And with his large frame (6’4”, 225 lbs.), he can withstand the blows dished out by the AFL’s aggressive defenses.
“This is a quarterback-oriented league,” Crush Head Coach Mike Dailey said, “and John is a great quarterback.”
Some men sing in the shower. Dutton cries out to the Lord in it.
Before every game, a dozen or so Crush players, including Dutton, usually gather (fully clothed) in the shower area to pray. He often leads player-only Bible studies and occasionally speaks at local schools in the community to share his insightful life lessons. FCA chaplain Chip Simmons calls Dutton “the spiritual leader of the team.”
“Everyone knows where John stands with the Lord,” Simmons said. “He’s always available to talk about Christ. A lot of players look up to him for that. Because of his leadership and his living it on and off the field, other players are coming to Christ.”
Once self-absorbed in football, Dutton now actively uses his notoriety as an impetus for spiritual change, both locally and abroad. His Dutton Family Foundation has many branches to help underprivileged and at risk kids. This includes Project Hope, a partnership with an Ethiopian church to expand a small, existing orphanage in the town of Holeta, where roughly 2,500 homeless children roam the streets. The Duttons, who have two young boys, traveled to Holeta last offseason to assess the situation and are already in the process of adopting an 11-yearold boy from the orphanage.
Favorite food: Steak and Mexican
Favorite movie: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Favorite CD: “Anything by George Strait”
Favorite AFL team to play against: Arizona Rattlers
“It was life-changing for me and my wife,” Dutton said. “It’s a whole different world over there.”
Dutton is now nearing the end of his eighth AFL season, an impressive achievement considering his early struggles.
Dailey thinks his star quarterback has a lot left in the tank.
“If he stays healthy, I think he could play seven to eight more years productively,” Dailey said.
So, if you’re ever in Denver and you see a 6-foot-4 guy driving around a white ’69 Cadillac with the top popped, ask him about his football career. Chances are, you’ll hear less about what football has done for John Dutton and more about what God is doing in him through football.
“He’s taken me up, and He has taken me down, but He has always been faithful,” Dutton said. “Now, I tell everyone about my three F’s: faith, family and football. I give 100 percent and let Him figure out the wins and losses.”
For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Courtesy of the Colorado Crush & Terina Dutton