TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–In a jammed preview week leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl, every angle of the game seems to get media attention, including a trend that has buoyed Christians across the country: The fact that a faith-filled player or coach will find a special moment to proclaim his love for Jesus Christ.
From Tom Landry to Roger Staubach, Shawn Alexander, Tony Dungy and last year’s Super Bowl hero, David Tyree, a passion for Jesus Christ has been seen by millions of Super Bowl viewers.
“You have the eyes and the ears of the world during the Super Bowl, so it’s natural players will want to talk about their faith in Jesus,” said Miami Dolphins Chaplain Corwin Anthony, who oversees the Athletes in Action pro ministries program that provides chaplains to 12 NFL teams.
“When you have the name of Jesus in you, you just have to get it out,” as New York Giants receiver Tyree put it before last year’s miracle catch in the Giants’ upset win over the New England Patriots.
This year’s spotlight will be on the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers as they head toward Sunday’s confrontation in Super Bowl XLIII.
Anthony has been the Dolphins’ chaplain for nearly a decade. While he says he hasn’t seen a large increase in Christians in the league, typically a player has shared the Super Bowl spotlight through an opportunity to voice his faith in Christ.
“Go back to [Dallas head coach] Tom Landry and the influence he had. There were quarterbacks Roger Stabauch, Kurt Warner and coach Tony Dungy. There is always a guy in every era who uses his platform for Christ,” Anthony said.
That influence extends into the college ranks, Anthony said, noting the example of players like Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy who have spoken of their faith to national media audiences.
Even the NFL itself, which takes a decidedly neutral stance toward matters of faith, acknowledges a Christian presence in the league.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a question-and-answer interview with Baptist Press published Jan. 23, called faith a private matter for players and coaches, but acknowledged that faith is “an important aspect of their lives.”
The annual Saturday Super Bowl Breakfast sponsored by Athletes in Action is into its second decade, while the Friday evening Super Bowl Gospel Celebration is marking its 10th anniversary. Both events are now officially sanctioned NFL events during the Super Bowl week of activities. For the first time this year, representatives of the two events have been scheduled at the NFL media center to talk about their mission and activity.
The Super Bowl is “the super gathering for everybody,” former wide receiver Cris Carter once said. “The Super Bowl for parties and for products and for games. Why shouldn’t it be the Super Bowl for Christians as well?”
While both Arizona and Pittsburgh have drawn plenty of media coverage in their respective metro areas, it’s nothing like the media crush and fan interest they will see this week in Tampa.
The NFL annually credentials 4,000 members of the media, including three from Baptist Press, from all over the world. The game itself is broadcast in 35 languages worldwide.
The league has reams of data on the popularity of the Super Bowl, but among the most impressive is that last year’s game between New York and New England doubled the rating of the best-seen night from last summer’s Olympics from China. The Super Bowl ratings are triple what TV gets for the Academy Awards ceremony or the NCAA Final Four.
The Steelers Super Bowl loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 holds the record for most viewers, with just over 100 million fans tuned in.
“There’s no doubt it’s the most popular championship game in the world, maybe along with [soccer’s] World Cup,” Anthony said. “Everybody will be looking for a quote; everybody in the [media] world will be there.”
Anthony noted that Christians in the NFL “are always pressured to compromise their faith, but they see the examples put before them as inspiration to share what is important.” Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, for example, will be among the most interviewed players, having pulled his career from the NFL scrap heap a decade after leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title.
While Warner’s witness for his faith is no secret to anyone who has watched his career, Arizona chaplain Chad Johnson said the veteran player is grateful for another chance to share.
“Kurt isn’t a get-in-your-face type of guy,” Davis said. “But he is a sincere witness.”
That’s exactly what millions of Christian sports fans are hoping to see in this week’s Super Bowl buildup to Sunday’s ultimate game.
Art Sticklin is a Dallas-based sports correspondent for Baptist Press who will be covering activities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla. Also part of the Baptist Press coverage team in Tampa are Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper, and Bob Carey, a photojournalist and chairman of the department of communication studies at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.