Team player: Former NFL member, sportscaster goes deep on behalf of local ministry affiliateWORTHINGTON — One year ago, Irv Cross was just becoming familiar with the work of Love INC. But it didn’t take him long to get behind the concept. “We just have to reach out and be concerned about our neighbors,” said Cross, former NFL football player, coach and sports anchor who currently serves as executive director of the Love INC of Northwest Ramsey County.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — One year ago, Irv Cross was just becoming familiar with the work of Love INC. But it didn’t take him long to get behind the concept.
“We just have to reach out and be concerned about our neighbors,” said Cross, former NFL football player, coach and sports anchor who currently serves as executive director of the Love INC of Northwest Ramsey County. “It’s as simple as that — to be willing to extend yourself to offer a helping hand to anybody in need in the spirit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s just a natural thing to do, the way I was raised. And if people would just do more things like that, an awful lot of issues would be resolved in this world.”
A native of Hammond, Ind., Cross was drafted in 1961 to play cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1966, but returned to the Eagles as a player-coach. He retired as a player in 1970, but continued to coach for the Eagles.
In 1971, Cross became the first African-American sports analyst on national television, working for CBS Sports. He co-anchored “The NFL Today” from its inception in 1975 to 1989, and also announced NBA basketball, track and field and gymnastics for the network. After leaving CBS, he served as athletic director at Idaho State University from 1996 to 1998.
Family — wife Liz’s family — brought Cross to Minnesota.
“My wife is from Minneapolis, and in most cases, it’s probably true that most men end up living where the wives are from,” he explained during a recent phone interview. “We had been on the East Coast — Washington, D.C. — when I took the job in Idaho. Then my wife’s father, who was close to 90 years old, had a series of strokes, and it didn’t look like he was going to recover at the time. … I applied for a job here at Macalester. Liz saw the ad in the newspaper and said, ‘Here, apply for this and get us back to Minnesota.’”
The job was director of athletics at Macalester College, St. Paul, a position Cross filled until 2006. He then served as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota until last May and has also done football commentary for Twin Cities Fox Broadcasting affiliate Fox 9.
“I’m a member of Roseville Covenant Church, which is one of the founding churches that started this program (Love INC of Northwest Ramsey County) five years ago,” Cross explained. “I didn’t know anything about it until my wife came to me a little over a year ago and told me the Love INC position, and I said, “’What is Love INC all about?’”
Love INC — In the Name of Christ — is a ministry that networks existing church ministries and community agencies and mobilizes individual Christians to fill gaps in services. A network of churches, agencies and individuals helps people by meeting physical needs such as food and clothing and provides longer-term solutions through relational ministries.
It’s a concept that has spread quickly, with nearly 150 Love INC affiliate in 30 states helping more than 1 million people in need each year through more than 9,000 churches, 7,000 community agencies and nearly 300,000 volunteers.
Last year, 17 Christian churches in Worthington partnered to start a Love INC affiliate locally. Cross will be in Worthington on Tuesday to support the southwest Minnesota effort.
It’s a cause about which he’s quite passionate, even though Cross has only been with the organization since June 1, 2010.
“I believe in the mission,” Cross said. “I was born and raised in Hammond, Ind., in a real strong Christian family, and I’ve always done some sort of form of service in the community. So this was a natural tie for me, and it was a part-time position.
“… One of the most basic tenets of the Bible is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves, and it’s the last part that makes this absolutely dynamite. My first week here — I’d been here about two days — there was a woman on the phone who needed some help. She needed lots of help. When she told me her story, I could sense what her needs were and just wanted to put my arms around her. She’d never had any Christian experience, but someone had told her to call Love INC. Well, a transformation took place in the phone call and during the contacts after that. She had a greater sense of who she was. I told her that she was made in God’s image, that God loves her and so do I. I told her, ‘You are a very special person. Don’t ever forget that.’ She sniffled and cried. Nobody had ever talked to her like that.”
Now, each time Cross answers the phone at the Love INC office, he anticipates how he might be able to help the person on the other end.
“What makes you go on is the next phone call, who might be on that line,” he said. “By the time the phone rings and I pick it up, before that person utters their next word, I know they’ve probably gone down in life twice and are about to go down again, and we need to reach out and grab them. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. The abilities within the congregations are phenomenal. You put these churches together and find out what the resources are out there. We try to pool that. We are invisible in the process; we refer people to the churches and get them exposed firsthand to the churches, to a hands-on Christian loving relationship through a church.”
With his one-year anniversary with Love INC approaching, Cross is making plans to move on to other endeavors.
“I wanted to spend some time doing what I could to help the affiliate grow, and we’ve made significant strides, but I’ve gotten to the point in my life — you realize I’m an old fossil — that I pick up the paper and nearly every day read the obituary of somebody I knew well, somebody I played with or coached, and you feel like a part of yourself is lost when that happens,” Cross said. “I want to spend some time visiting some of my old friends who are still walking the earth, find out what their lives are like, do some praying together, talk about what life is all about, our Christian walk, and put some closure to some of these things.”
Although he’ll be traveling the country, Minnesota will continue to be home base, and Cross will continue to keep tabs on the work of Love INC — and reach out his own helping hand whenever possible.
“The founder of Love INC, Virgil Gulker, said something to the effect that this is Christianity at work — seeing Christ’s love at work, loving Christians serving someone in need,” Cross related. “It’s where that exchange of God’s love, Christ’s love, takes place. We need to reach out and care about somebody else in the name of Christ…. Jesus didn’t do things from a distance. He was eyeball to eyeball, right there in the middle of the action.”
The public is invited to learn more about the work of Love INC and meet Irv Cross during a dessert reception at 7 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church, 1000 Linda Lane, Worthington. Free onsite child care will be available.