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Christian players on Pats grounded by prayer, Bible study

EDITORS’ NOTE: Art Stricklin, an award-winning Christian journalist and regular contributor to Baptist Press, is reporting from the site of Super Bowl XXXIX with exclusive coverage on the spiritual side of the Super Bowl.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–When hard-hitting New England Patriots cornerback Rodney Harrison gets ready to start another day during the football season, he usually has a full schedule.

The 11-year all-star usually has a packed schedule of team meetings, practice, endorsement deals and sessions with agents, reporters and sponsors.

But there is one thing Harrison, who is looking to collect his second Super Bowl title in as many years with the Patriots, won’t start the day without — his daily time of worship, prayer, meditation and Bible study.

“Without my faith in the Lord, there is no way I would be here,” he said during the media day at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., as a prelude to Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I have to start my morning out right with devotion, prayer and reading God’s Word. I can’t start my day without it. I pray about becoming a better dad, a better husband, a better person in Christ.”

Harrison, who played for the San Diego Chargers for several seasons before joining the Patriots, was one of many players happy to express their faith in Jesus Christ to any of the 4,000 media people at the stadium where football’s on-field championship will be decided Sunday evening.

Wide receiver Bethel Johnson, who is now in his second year with the defending world champions after playing for Texas A&M, said the Patriots have “a strong group of Christians … and we know that what happens on the field Sunday is not the most important thing in our lives.

“If we win or we lose, I know it’s in God’s hands and I want to give whatever glory to God for what happens,” Johnson said.

He credited the Christian leadership on the team by linebacker/defensive back Don Davis and strong safety Je’Rod Cherry along with longtime team chaplain Walt Day for helping carrying the team to its stellar record.

“Guys’ character off the field carries over on the field. Anybody who doesn’t think so is foolish,” Davis said. “What you are in the dark, in your room, will be shown on the football field and that’s why we have such a strong group.”

Davis leads a players Bible study every Thursday night during the season and has begun to disciple some of his younger spiritual teammates. His experience has even led him to consider going to seminary for further training when he retires.

“There are eternal blessings in everything you do, like moving from linebacker to safety in the middle of the year,” Davis said. “All this is temporary,” he said, pointing to the Super Bowl field. “We have a great group of guys who want to walk in light, not darkness.”

Cherry, a nine-year veteran from the University of California, was determined to walk in the light this year and share some of God’s insights in the New England community. Acting on Day’s advice, Cherry has spent every Monday afternoon at a Boston-area juvenile detention center, sharing his faith in Christ and mentoring the junior and senior high kids.

“I wanted to be mentoring them and showing them God’s love and really witnessing His goodness. I didn’t want to just show up on Thanksgiving passing out turkeys. Through weekly Bible studies, I have a chance to see kids’ lives really changed and see them come to know the Lord as their Savior.”

With the Patriots’ recent run of success on the football field, Cherry is able to use his newly elevated platform for God. “When I come in there wearing a Super Bowl ring, to me it’s just a thing, just a piece of jewelry, but it catches their attention and gives me an opportunity to speak. It can be tough for a pastor in jail to get the respect, but the kids are willing to listen to what I have to say.”

With the prayers and work of the team’s Christian leaders, Cherry said this year has been as exciting off the field as on the field. “We’re seeing some team evangelism, we have people coming to Christ and strengthening their walk in Him,” he said.

“It’s all about God, not all about football,” Cherry added. “He still opens and closes the doors for all of us. No matter what happens on Sunday, that’s not nearly as important as seeing some off our players walking for Him.”

Johnson was involved in a strong college ministry while playing for the Aggies but said he was pleasantly surprised when he was drafted by the Patriots to find a number of mature spiritual believers on the team.

“I thought it would be less in the NFL, but ministry and the fellowship is still the same. No matter what kind of money some of these guys are making, they still want to serve Him.”

Nearly 100 million people are expected tune in Sunday to see if the Patriots can claim their third Super Bowl title in four years, stamping themselves as the first football dynasty of the 21st century. But for the Christian New England players, the final score in Sunday’s game is not as important as the final score in their personal lives.

“You have to be grounded in the Word, grounded in the Lord,” Harrison said. “Without Him I could get caught up in all of this hype. You have to depend on Him for all things.”

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  • Art Stricklin