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He’s gone from 3-13 to Super Bowl as Eagles’ chaplain

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 the Philadelphia Eagles finally reached this year’s Super Bowl after three agonizing championship game defeats, there was plenty of talk about how quarterback Donovan McNabb had finally matured to lead his team to victory.

There were media stories galore about a newly added starter or greatly improved defense being the reasons for the advancement to football’s ultimate game.

But there was little mentioned in the secular press about the team’s longest-tenured staff member, the person who had seen the Eagles through good times and bad, Southern Baptist pastor David Hoke, who has served as the team chaplain for the Eagles the last 12 years.

“I was there for the 3-13 seasons, so I guess it’s nice to be there for the good years as well,” said Hoke, senior pastor of New Horizons Community Church in Voorhees, N.J., less than 30 minutes from downtown Philadelphia.

“David is a great ambassador for God, a great servant of Jesus Christ, and that’s what we need with this team,” said Eagles running back coach Ted Williams.

Before the Eagles take the field late Sunday afternoon for their match-up with the New England Patriots, Hoke will conduct his regular chapel service with the players and coaches at the team hotel.

“I like to help the players focus on what’s really important. They are playing to win to achieve their God-given potential,” said Hoke, who recently served as president of the executive board for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey.

Each week of the season, Hoke is responsible for a players Bible study and a couples study in addition to the regular chapel service held either on Saturday night or Sunday before the game.

He works with another local pastor, Theodore Winsley, to provide spiritual help and guidance for players and coaches during the week with private discussions and public meetings.

“Our church really sees this as an outreach opportunity to the players and the coaches,” Hoke said. “We may have some coaches attend our church, but mainly we want the players to know what is really important in life and who they can share with. My church has been very supportive.”

When he began his work with the team 12 years ago, the team’s spiritual leader and all-pro defensive star Reggie White had just gone from the Eagles to the Green Bay Packers.

“Reggie had really been handling the chapel, but when he left, we had an Eagles coach in our church, Ted Plummer, who encouraged me to get involved and become active in the chapel. Britt Hager, a linebacker back then, was in our church, and helped me get started and it’s grown from there,” Hoke said.

Since then, he’s gone through three different head coaches, an entire roster changeover of players and more losses than wins, all the while maintaining his focus on helping the Philadelphia Eagles find meaning and purpose off the football field.

“I talked to the Athletes in Action chaplain coordinator one time and he said he wanted to show how our chaplains can really help the team. If you’re a better person you naturally are going to be a better player. That is always going to be the focus when we keep our eyes on the end result.”

Hoke came to New Horizons 17 years ago as senior pastor from North Carolina where he grew up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan largely because of Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

But with a growing congregation of rabid Philadelphia Eagle fans, it didn’t take him long to change his loyalties.

After three consecutive NFC title game losses, Hoke said he has had a unique opportunity to share with several players and coaches.

“They had a pretty good attitude, because they all have a personal life outside the team. It allowed me to work on my relationships with the players about what mattered most.”

But as the Eagles geared up for another title game run this year against the Atlanta Falcons, Hoke dealt with a question from several members of his congregation.

“They wanted to know if it was OK to pray to win,” Hoke recounted. “I thought about it for a while and said if I was a player I would pray to win because it would honor Him with my ability and, regardless of the outcome, that’s what I would always seek to do.”

Hoke named more than a dozen Christian players on the team, including Corey Simon, Roderick Hood, whose dad is a Baptist evangelist in Georgia, Ike Reese, David Akers, Hank Fraley and coaches Steve Spagnulolo, Trent Walters and Williams.

After flying into Jacksonville to look after his players on Sunday, and conducting his chapel service at about 1:30 p.m., don’t look for Hoke on the sidelines. “I gave that up years ago,” he said.

Hoke will be in the background, trusting that his spiritual work with the team has been accomplished for the day.

    About the Author

  • Art Stricklin