Bill Glass, a former Baylor University All-American football player and prolific, four-time Pro-Bowler (defensive end) for the Cleveland Browns, recently returned to his alma mater in Waco to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his successful prison ministry called “Behind the Walls.”
Bill Glass Ministries hosted the 50th Anniversary Gala at the Baylor Club at McLane Stadium on Aug. 17, featuring special guest speaker, Roger Staubach and many other football legends and entertainers.
In addition, Glass joined the current Baylor football team on the field for the opening coin toss at the Baylor vs. Stephen F. Austin game on Saturday, Aug. 31. He served as the honorary team captain for the day.
William (“Bill”) Sheppeard Glass, Sr. was born Aug. 16, 1935, in Texarkana, Texas. Glass attached himself to football at an early age. He started his athletic journey during his junior high years and then moved on to play high school ball for Ray High in Corpus Christi, where he and his family lived at the time. He was one of the three children born to Vernon and Mary Glass.
Because Glass felt God’s calling to the ministry as a 16-year-old teenager, he chose to head to Waco to play football for the Baylor Bears, a Baptist University. He was such a dominant offensive guard in college that he was voted unanimously as a top All-American player in 1956.
Glass contributed to some of Baylor football’s greatest successes in history, including a Sugar Bowl victory and the second-highest final AP ranking ever.
While attending school, he linked-up with Dr. Bill Bright to establish Baylor’s chapter of “Campus Crusade for Christ.” This was also where Bill met the love of his life – Mavis Knapp – of Harlingen, his wife of 60 years until her passing in 2017.
Life in pro football
Back in the 60s, Glass was quite the giant of a man, though not so large by today’s standards. He stood 6-foot-5-inches and weighed 255 pounds when he joined the ranks of NFL professional athletes.
Bill Glass was the Detroit Lions’ no. 1 draft pick in 1957. He played one year in the Canadian football league before returning to Detroit. Glass was a Lion for five years — an organization that he wasn’t very happy being a part of.
Glass was excited when he was traded in the spring of 1962 to Cleveland. He played as a Brown from 1962 until his retirement from football in 1969. During that period, he became a four-time Pro-Bowler (defensive end) and a World Champion in 1964 as a member of the Detroit team.
Glass was a huge fan of his new owner, Art Modell, from the very beginning. He loved the Browns’ organization, and he openly said, “Running back Jim Brown (one of his teammates) was the greatest player that ever played the game of football.”
Seminary and Rev. Billy Graham
Glass recognized his on-field success provided him a platform from which to speak about his faith off the field. In the early 60s, he and his growing family were living in Fort Worth so that he could attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1963, he earned a degree to help him with his destiny to work in Christian ministry while still playing pro ball.
In 1965, Glass gave his testimony at one of the very first nationally televised “Billy Graham Crusades.” After the event, Graham convinced him to pursue evangelism as his life’s work in the ministry.
When Glass finally retired in 1969, he answered the call of Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me’!” (NIV Bible). He formed the “Bill Glass Evangelistic Association,” where he had his first city-wide crusade campaign in Ohio that October. And, thus, Bill Glass Ministries was born.
A new kind of prison ministry
In 1972, one of Glass' board members challenged him to take the gospel to the incarcerated. That's when the “Behind the Walls” prison ministry came into existence.
Bill says, “I was thrown into it kicking and screaming, but the response from the inmates was just unbelievable.”
His idea of taking famous athletes and entertainers into the prisons of America was innovative and a sure-fire way of luring even the most skeptical inmate to check out all the excitement involved around the Bill Glass Prison Weekends.
The men (and women) would willingly come out for the entertainment, and then Glass would follow up by bringing the “good news” to the prisoners, who were often all alone, hurting badly and very open to his preaching.
In the early days of prison ministry, Bill would bring superstars like former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach and former Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg. Inmates would come out of their cells in throngs to see and hear these famous sports figures.
The “Behind the Walls” mantra is: “We do evangelism, we teach others how to evangelize, and then we take them to the best fishing holes in America – prisons all over the country.”
For five decades, the evangelism organization has trained and equipped more than 57,000 Christians to share their faith with millions behind the walls, with over 1,100,000 adult and youth offenders making a commitment to Jesus Christ. Currently, more than 5,000 Christian volunteers annually give their time to share the gospel at prisons, jails and juvenile centers in over 40 communities throughout the United States.
Glass and Mark Pfefferkorn, the marketing and communications director for “Behind the Walls,” recently spoke at Bill’s local church home, Waxahachie Bible Church.
“It is so sad to realize that almost 95 percent of Christians never share their faith," Pfefferkorn said.
He encouraged that any believer can be an effective “representative of Jesus Christ” in prisons, and remarked, “God just wants you to ‘try’ to share with others. It’s not us doing it, it’s the Holy Spirit giving us the words to share. If you truly want to be a witness for God, then the best place to find struggling unbelievers is in the prisons and jails across America.”
Successful author and motivational speaker
Over the years, Glass has authored over a dozen books, but his latest was published in early 2019. The title, “Hero to Zero,” is all about his lovely wife, Mavis, who suddenly passed away in 2017, leaving him to suffer and grieve before he finally gave it all over to the Lord for help.
Glass was formerly a very sought-after motivational speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as well as all over the country, in his younger years.
He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and has been inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Glass was also inducted into the Cleveland Browns’ Legends Program in 2007. He served on the Baylor University Board of Regents for nine years, and all three of his children and three of his grandchildren have attended Baylor.
In 2013, Glass was the recipient of Baylor University’s Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service, awarded to an individual whose broad contributions to Christian ministry have made an immeasurable impact upon a local or global community.
Personal life and family
At Baylor, Glass' first real romantic interest was, as he termed, “the prettiest girl at Baylor,” Mavis Knapp. Both fell deeply in love, and they were married soon after college. The happy couple had two sons, Billy Glass, Jr., and Bobby Glass, who went on to play high school football at Duncanville, Texas, and follow in their father’s footsteps to play for the Baylor Bears. The Glass’ third and final child was a beautiful girl named (Mavis) Mindy Glass.
Bill and Mavis’ first grandchild was a boy, born to Billy and Laura Glass in 1982. The entire family was shocked and saddened when they realized their grandson would never be able to carry on the family tradition of playing football, as Billy Ray was born with Downs Syndrome.
But after some time had passed, Glass’ wife Mavis told others, “Billy Ray has turned out to be the biggest surprise blessing of their lives. We love him so much, just the way he is. He is perfect for us and our entire family.”
Today, Billy Ray still lives at home with his parents and works for Central Market in Southlake. He is now 37 years of age and in good health.
Glass adores his family. His oldest son, Billy, and his wife Laura, live in Southlake. His next son, Bobby, and his wife Angela live in Highland Park. Daughter Mindy resides in Waxahachie. Bill is the grandfather to eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Glass’ legacy to continue
Glass remains the acting founder of Bill Glass Ministries, and even though he is semi-retired, he still loves to come into his Duncanville home office from time to time. He is extremely proud of his efficient staff and knows that his organization is in good hands with Jim Marvine as the CEO of “Bill Glass Behind the Walls.”
“It’s my greatest desire to see this ministry continue long after I’m gone to be with the Lord," Glass says.
For more information about Bill’s ministry, go to www.BehindTheWalls.com or contact his office at 972-298-1101.