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JENKINS: Mormon sports legends Murphy, Young invade Lilburn

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

A couple of years ago, while Dale Murphy was signing autographs at the Braves spring training facility, a little boy standing in line tugged on his father’s arm and asked, “Daddy, who’s that?”

“That’s Dale Murphy,” the father replied. “He used to be kind of like Chipper Jones.”

“Wow,” said the boy. “Do you think he could get me Chipper’s autograph?”

Murphy, the Braves legend and two-time National League MVP, told that story Thursday night to a capacity crowd at the Lilburn Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was in town with football great and fellow Mormon Steve Young to tour the remodeled Atlanta LDS temple along with other VIPs.

The temple, near Perimeter Mall, has been closed for extensive renovations since July 2009. The Church will host an Open House for the general public April 23, before the building is rededicated on May 1.

Former Boston Celtics star Danny Ainge, now the Celtics’ president, was also scheduled to appear but was called back to Boston unexpectedly.

Murphy and Young spoke to a group made up mostly of teenagers. At one point, Murphy, 55, quipped, “I know many of you probably don’t remember me playing, and that’s not a bad thing. The Braves didn’t have too many good years when I was here” from 1976-1990.

Young, 49, joked that his speaking partner was “considerably older. He was my hero growing up.”

Murphy fondly recalled his days as a Brave. “Atlanta is like home to me,” he said, noting that his trade to the Phillies in 1990 “should have been my signal to retire.”

“The Phillies were an interesting group of guys,” Murphy said. “John Kruk once stated that our clubhouse consisted of 25 morons and one Mormon.”

Murphy joined the Church in 1975, as a 19-year-old in the Braves minor-league system. Young is a life-long Church member, a former football star at Brigham Young University and a direct descendant of the Mormon pioneer.

Both men spoke about the importance of faith and perseverance. “Life isn’t about going 4-for-4 everyday,” Murphy said. “A lot of times it’s about striking out. But life is really more like a race than a ballgame. You don’t have to finish first; you just have to finish on the right path.”

Young, the former 49ers quarterback and Super Bowl XXIX MVP, told of having to learn to throw the football blindly, calling it “the defining moment of my career.”

“At 6 feet tall, I was too short to see over the line,” he recalled. “I had to learn to release the ball without actually seeing my receiver. Faith was the essential component.”

Young is now a mainstay on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Murphy has had a number of business and philanthropic interests and also served as a mission president for the LDS Church in Boston.

Rob Jenkins is a freelance writer and college professor who lives in Lawrenceville. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.