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Church provides common ground before national championship game

PHOENIX, Ariz. (BP)–How did the two Fiesta Bowl coaches end up at North Phoenix Baptist Church the day before competing for the national college football championship?
Phillip Fulmer, head coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, and Bobby Bowden, head coach of the Florida State University Seminoles, were interviewed by North Phoenix senior pastor Dan Yeary during the morning worship service on Jan. 3. Each coach shared about his faith in God and the importance of his family during “Fiesta Sunday: Building Championship Families,” a kick-off celebration for the church’s annual family month focus. Additionally, the entire University of Tennessee team also attended the worship service.
It all began when Yeary served as pastor of University Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Fla., a number of years ago. He and Bowden were introduced by mutual friends at First Baptist Church, Tallahassee, and each year the Seminoles played in the Orange Bowl, Yeary invited Bowden to speak at University Baptist.
After Yeary became pastor of North Phoenix in 1993, he wrote Bowden at the beginning of each season, saying, “Since you’ll be playing in the Fiesta Bowl this year, put North Phoenix on your calendar and plan to give your testimony in church.” Each year, Bowden would write back and agree to join NPBC’s services.
This year, Bowden wrote back saying, “This year it’s going to be a long shot since the Fiesta Bowl is the championship game!” But as soon as FSU was selected to play in the Fiesta Bowl, Yeary was on the phone confirming Bowden’s presence for Fiesta Sunday.
Larry Fields, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in the Knoxville, Tenn., is the chaplain of the University of Tennessee Volunteer team. He and Yeary are friends. Fields called to inquire about the possibility of the team attending worship at North Phoenix. Coach Fulmer makes a habit of taking bowl teams to church, and at Yeary’s request, agreed to join Bowden in a Sunday testimony.
And that’s how the coaches of the rival college championship football teams both attended North Phoenix the day before the big game. Understanding the significance of hosting both coaches the day before the championship, NPBC wanted to invite the public. The church sent news releases to local and national media outlets and placed an ad in the sports section of Phoenix’s newspaper the Arizona Republic. The paper’s religion section also highlighted Fiesta Sunday’s special guests.
“Both coaches prioritized their relationship with God, and there was a clear presentation of the gospel,” Yeary said. In fact, there were numerous spiritual decisions as a result of the coaches’ testimonies and the pastor’s message on building championship families.
“It’s nice to steal the thunder from the secular press,” Yeary said. He has counted mentions and footage on ESPN, CBS and in USA Today.
“More importantly,” Yeary said, “Fiesta Sunday interviews allowed us to show the coach’s real priorities.”
After all, Bowden said, “Football is not my number one priority in life. I’m not cutting my wrists over football. Football is a way that God has given me to make a living and support my family and to witness to young men.”
Without hesitation, Fulmer responded, “Get closer to the Lord,” when Yeary asked him what he would tell America’s youth if he had one shot at helping them establish a new direction.

    About the Author

  • Laura Langley