EDMOND — NEO Athletic Hall of Famer Chuck Bowman looked at the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham as his hero.

“Billy Graham was my hero,” said Bowman, who led Northeastern Oklahoma A&M to football national titles in 1967 and 1969 before embarking on a career with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Graham, dubbed “America’s Pastor,” died Wednesday, Feb. 21, at his home in North Carolina.

“I never missed one of his crusades or meetings in Oklahoma,” Bowman said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Of all the Christian evangelists, he was the best. And, the reason was his simple way of sharing the salvation story.”

FCA was a ministry close to Graham’s heart, and he understood the importance of FCA’s vision “to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes,” he once said. “A coach can influence more people in one year than the average person in a lifetime.”

Graham also wrote on the occasion of FCA’s 50th anniversary in 2004, “FCA has grown into the most extensive ministry of its type in the world. Through its outreach, it has touched countless thousands of young people and adults for Christ through their shared interest in athletics. Not only that, but through the example and witness of those individuals, FCA has influenced our whole nation for good.”

“He preached the basic truths of the Bible,” Bowman said. “Salvation had to come from repentance, acceptance and Faith. I loved his message as it was the same every time and a child could understand it.”

Graham’s daughter, Ann, married a North Carolina basketball player, Danny Lotz, after they met at an FCA summer conference, Bowman said.

“Ann saw the importance of FCA's ministry and became a national speaker for FCA,” he said. “She became a member of the National Board of Trustees with Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. The entire Graham family loved the outreach of FCA to millions of coaches and athletes.

“FCA was right down their alley.

A crusade in 1949 launched Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflow crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night. Many of his subsequent early crusades were similarly extended, including one in London that lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957, which ran nightly for 16 weeks.

“FCA's purpose has always been what Billy Graham preached,” Bowman said “Here is a direct quote from Graham: "The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is one of the most effective movements in this nation for the presentation of the Gospel to young people."