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Motor City Super Bowl gives players & coaches faith platform

EDITORS’ NOTE: Sportswriter Art Stricklin, in his third year of BP coverage of the spiritual side of the Super Bowl, will be reporting this week from the site of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

DETROIT (BP)–While snow and temperatures in the 20s and 30s are predicted in the days leading up to Super Bowl XL in the Motor City, a number of players from the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks and the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers hope to heat up the week with their testimonies for Jesus Christ.

“I’ve told the Christian players that a Super Bowl ring won’t be worth what a testimony to Jesus in public will be this week,” longtime Steelers chaplain Jay Wilson said. “These players are excited to speak about their faith in Him if they get a chance.”

Several marquee players from both sides — Shawn Alexander and Matt Hasselback from Seattle and Pittsburgh’s Antwaan Randle El and Ben Roethlisberger, with the famous PFJ (Play for Jesus) tape on his shoes — should have ample chances to talk about their faith.

The last two NFL championship games in Houston and Jacksonville were safely inside the Bible belt, with Southern Baptist volunteers involved in an array of committees and activities. But this year’s contest in wintry Michigan, closer to Canada than any Baptist strongholds, represents a different challenge, giving the players themselves and the fans more of a Christian impact.

“Every city’s dynamics are different,” said Tim Knopps, a sports ministry consultant with the North American Mission Board and evangelist based in Oklahoma. “We’re flying more under the radar here. We don’t have as much relationship with the host committee as we have in the past, but we are still working at getting the word out.”

Bobby Gilstrap, a Detroit-area associational director of missions, said it can be a great time for people of faith to share their love for God and for football via the most-watched sporting event of the year, with 1 billion worldwide expected to tune in for Sunday’s game.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to share around the game, and several of our Baptist churches are doing that with watching parties and the Super Bowl of caring programs. We don’t have the size churches you have in the South, but we want to make sure it’s not a lost opportunity for some.”

The week’s activities include the annual Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, when more than 3,000 journalists from around the world will descend on downtown Detroit’s Ford Field, site of Sunday’s Seahawks-Steelers match up, to fire questions at players and coaches over an hour-long period.

Both teams’ Christian players see the media session as a special opportunity.

“I have told our Christian guys that they will have a chance to speak about their faith if they find the right forum,” said Seattle team chaplain Karl Payne, an ordained Baptist minister who pastors Antioch Bible Church in a Seattle suburb.

“We have some very dedicated and articulate players and coaches who I think could be excellent in sharing what is most important to them. I promise if anybody says something controversial, it will get out, so why shouldn’t God’s Word get out as well?” Payne said.

Both head coaches in the Super Bowl XL matchup, Seattle’s Mike Holmgren and Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher, are believers in Jesus Christ and are supporters of their team’s chaplain programs.

The Seattle coach went so far as to ask Payne to accompany the team not only in the home locker room but also on the road for spiritual guidance. Payne and his wife will be on the official team plane bringing wives and family members to Detroit later this week.

“I have a very good situation in Seattle and some very good players,” Payne said. “I think they are eager for this kind of spotlight to share their faith.”

Cowher, meanwhile, is a regular at the Steelers team chapel, which Wilson has led for the last 11 years.

Cowher is leading the Steelers to their first title game in 10 years, when they lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys, 27-17. Holmgren, who coached the Green Bay Packers to a win in Super Bowl XXXI, is leading the Seahawks into their first-ever title game.

Other faith-based events during the week include a special luncheon honoring Christian believers and Fox TV announcers Pat Summerall and James Brown. Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy is expected to speak in honor of the duo. The annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration will take place Friday night at the historic birthplace of Motown gospel, Detroit’s Masonic Lodge, with several players expected to give their testimony to the sold-out crowd.

The annual Athletes in Action breakfast Saturday morning at the NFL headquarters hotel will include the awarding of the Bart Starr Award for the athlete who best exhibits qualities of character in professional football.

The Detroit Convoy of Hope will take place Saturday afternoon as Detroit-area churches provide food to those in need at local housing projects.

The game itself will take center stage on Sunday afternoon, but those who have been working hard to prepare for this week will be looking for the real winner for a long time to come.

“We will still have Christian vendors passing out tracts in the souvenirs bags and still do some street witnessing,” Knopps said. “The key for this week is getting the Word out and sharing with the people.”

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  • Art Stricklin