Super Bowl glory
The original New England Patriots two centuries ago (Samuel Adams, quarterback) were strongly motivated by Christian faith. Judging by locker-room statements following their January 12 playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, so are some of the current Patriots who are scheduled to play in Sunday's Super Bowl. Willie Clay, who saved the game by intercepting a Jags pass in the end zone, told interviewers, "Thanks be to the Lord." Otis Smith, who recovered a Jags fumble and ran it back for the clinching touchdown, said, "Glory be to God." And Curtis Martin, who scored the Patriots' first touchdown in their 20-6 win, said, "We feel we're a blessed team. We thank God for this victory." Teams that lose are also blessed, of course. Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell said before the game, "The most important thing in my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ." But reporters are not interested: "A lot of people don't ask about your faith. And when you do say something about your faith, you don't see it that night on the news." Such censorship does not occur when players are interviewed on live TV directly following a victory. Reggie White, the leading defensive player on the Green Bay Packers, said after his team's win over the Carolina Panthers, "I have to give Jesus the praise. All glory belongs to God." The 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound Mr. White, an associate minister in the inner city (see adjacent story), wears a jacket with these words on the back: "Jesus Christ, Alpha Omega, Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords." Some Christian critics of professional football are not impressed by the new openness. They are concerned that Christians are supporting a violent game played on the Lord's day.
Praying to No. 1
University of Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel's opportunities for public testimony surged nationally during a whirlwind three-week period in December and January. Immediately after the Gators' 52-20 defeat of Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, resulting in Florida's first national championship, Mr. Wuerffel gathered Gators and Seminoles together on the Superdome field for a prayer meeting. The FSU contingent was led by that team's offensive and spiritual leader, Warrick Dunn. Christians from the two teams celebrated their oneness in Christ after two intense games. In December, Mr. Wuerffel's first words in accepting the Heisman Trophy as the nation's most outstanding college football player, were, "First and foremost, I give all the glory to God, He is the rock on which I stand, and I would publicly like to ask him to forgive me for my sins, of which there are many." The quarterback thanked his teammates, his coaches, his family, and the other finalists, and then said, "It's a blessing to be here, a blessing to play college football and receive an education. But nothing can compare to the blessing of having a living, loving relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ." Keeping with the spirit of the ceremony, host Chris Fowler of ESPN closed the New York awards telecast by pointing out that although Danny Wuerffel had just picked up 25 more pounds of bronze in the trophy, "Proverbs tells us, a good name has more power than gold and bronze."
Coming off the bench
It's a pleasure for Christians to hear the testimonies of high-powered stars--but there are many more players who sit on the bench and need to remain faithful by practicing hard, even though it seems as if the opportunity to start will never come. Such a player is a University of Texas fifth-year senior, Al Coleman, who considered leaving school "plenty of times" since after four years on the basketball team "everyone thought I was an assistant coach because I never played. When you sit on the bench, I used to slouch, but you think, 'This is bad for my back.'" Many players in such circumstances would complain, but--according to an Austin American-Statesman sportswriter--"Coleman's such a goody-two-shoes, he doesn't even curse. He always practices hard, never sulks, is a team favorite, never even once came into [Coach Tom] Penders' office requesting a release." What was the secret behind Mr. Coleman's good attitude? "It was tough," he said last week, "but I gave it up to the Lord." The guard came off the bench twice early in January and played well; on Jan. 12 he received his first start and responded by hitting 10 three-point shots to set a school record; he missed only four times. Afterwards, Mr. Coleman talked with sportswriters about God's work in his life and mentioned that he even tried to get in some evangelism during the previous game while guarding Kansas star Jacque Vaughn: "I asked Jacque during the game, 'How come you're not living for Jesus? Who's your spiritual coach?'"
Minister of defense
Reggie White of the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers has sacked more quarterbacks than anyone in the history of professional football. Some say what he has accomplished during his 12 years in the NFL makes him the greatest defensive end of all time. He is also an ordained Baptist minister whose faith goes far beyond the playing field. In the off-season, Mr. White serves as associate pastor of the Inner City Church of Knoxville, Tenn., an interracial congregation of about 400 members. He is active at Bayside Christian Fellowship in Green Bay, where he occasionally preaches. When he takes the pulpit in one of the black churches in nearby Milwaukee, fans crowd in to meet a football legend, but after hearing one of his forceful evangelistic sermons, many of them end up meeting Christ. Vocal about Jesus, Mr. White also stresses to young people the importance of responsibility, discipline, sexual purity, and respect for authority. Much of his superstar salary goes to support his Inner City Development Corporation to encourage blacks to start small businesses as a way out of poverty and to address the decline of urban neighborhoods. He helped organize the Community Development Bank in Knoxville to give loans to applicants of character who had been turned down by other institutions, putting up $1 million as startup money. Mr. White's signing as a free agent from Philadelphia was a key factor in the turnaround of the Packers from also-rans to Super Bowl contenders. "Since I've been here a whole lot of things have changed," he says. "The atmosphere, the attitude, not only of the players but of the fans." His impact on his teammates--the decline in profanity, the after-game prayer circles with members of both teams, his personal spiritual counseling of a number of troubled players--has been dramatic in a profession notorious for the moral failings of many of its members. His fans in Wisconsin have also been receptive to his open faith. "God sent me here," Mr. White says, "because he knew how the people around this state have reacted to his word." Mr. White's church in Knoxville was firebombed just over a year ago. Though the supposed rash of church-burnings appears to have been exaggerated, there is little doubt, given the racist graffitti sprayed on the surviving walls, that the Inner City Church was burned by someone who opposed its ministry of racial reconciliation. Packer fans spontaneously contributed the money to rebuild it. After the Packers defeated the Carolina Panthers to get in the Super Bowl for the first time in 30 years, Mr. White--who despite his brilliant career had never won a championship in high school, college, or the NFL--spoke about Jesus. "This will give me a wider audience to preach to," he said in the after-game press conference. "It's somewhat sad, but people tend to listen to you when you do what we do .... One person is important .... I may not be able to reach that person if I don't have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I might have an impact on a thousand people, but I may reach farther than that and have an impact on that one person who may reach more people than I ever imagined."