JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–From the outside, the look was very much of a high-profile Super Bowl XXXIX event. Police were directing traffic as lines of people entered the massive building for a celebrity-fueled evening with a slate of NFL stars.
Amid parties of all shapes and sizes crowding the downtown Jacksonville schedule, the sixth annual NFL Super Bowl Gospel Celebration provided a rocking, faith-filled, family friendly celebration of God during sport’s biggest weekend.
“You may have come to town for the Super Bowl, but you came here to praise God,” Pittsburgh wide receiver Antwaan Randle El shouted as he nimbly moved around the stage before a sold-out crowd of 3,000 worshipers at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.
New England tight end Ben Watson, the team’s 2004 first-round draft pick, was in attendance less than 48 hours before kickoff with several of his teammates, turning down the more worldly attractions offered elsewhere to players and fans.
“This is something productive to do, plus you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble or getting in the newspapers for the coaches to read,” Watson said.
“What we’re doing tonight has a lot more eternal significance than anything that will happen on Sunday afternoon,” he added. The Patriots had an 11 p.m. team curfew Friday, but the players stayed as long as possible to share their faith with the crowd.
Oakland Raiders tight end Roland Williams told the crowd, “My passion is seeing souls saved. Football is just something I do.”
He captured a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV and advanced to another Super Bowl as the Raiders lost to Tampa Bay in 2001. Now in his sixth NFL season, Williams recently formed a foundation focusing on youth, aptly named Youth Lifeline.
“We can use pro football as a platform to share and a platform to talk about Jesus,” Williams said of the spotlight pro football provides.
With the cold and damp weather hovering over this north Florida city, several concerts have had trouble selling tickets; some even offered two-for-one deals to attract a crowd. With the gospel celebration’s tickets priced at $50 each, organizers had no trouble attracting a packed house.
The event included NFL league representatives and official Host Committee volunteers for an official stamp of approval.
“I think the stature of Christian players has been growing phenomenally,” Williams said.
Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Michael Gaines said the gospel celebration gives a better picture of the NFL. “When people think of the NFL, they may think of players and drinking and girls and going crazy,” he said, “but we want to show them that we’re different.”
Watson said he didn’t even know about the celebration at the Super Bowl until he saw a flyer in the locker room a few weeks ago in New England.
“Right away, I knew I was coming to this, because I love gospel music and I want to talk about God.”
Alvin Reynolds, defensive backs coach for Jacksonville, was one of several NFL coaches at the celebration.
“I want to be a different man. This is where the Lord wants me for now and this is a great night to celebrate,” he said.
After the Super Bowl is concluded, Jacksonville defensive tackle Marcus Stroud is headed to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii for the first time. He said his honors on the field come from his faith off the field.
“I get all blessings from God and I give Him all the glory.”