MIAMI (BP)–At 6-6, 353-pounds, Dallas Cowboys lineman Leonard Davis was among the biggest Pro Bowl participants in Sunday’s 41-34 AFC victory over the NFC at Sun Life Stadium.
But the longtime Baptist from tiny Wortham, Texas, has a big understanding of Satan’s intentions for Christians on the Pro Bowl squads and other believers in the NFL.
“The biggest thing is for Christians who come into the league or [for] those of us who are already here is to know is that Satan is definitely on the prowl,” Davis said in a post-game interview. “He wants to see us fail.”
With more than 80 players honored last night for their achievements on the field, Davis, who came to the Cowboys after a long career with the Arizona Cardinals, said Christians selected for the Pro Bowl have the most to lose.
“It doesn’t affect non-Christians, but it’s believers who are successful, that’s who he wants to destroy,” Davis said of Satan and the impact sin can have in a believer’s life.
Davis, like many offensive linemen, is one of the less outspoken players on the team, but he said there is nothing silent about his faith in Jesus Christ.
“Some guys go about their business just serving God; some are more vocal. God makes us all different,” Davis said. “You don’t really hear about us, but we serve God with all our heart.”
Eight-time Pro-Bowler Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans certainly wasn’t the biggest player in the Pro Bowl, but the 6-4 center turns to a larger power on and off the field.
A 1997 car accident, which took the life of his brother and best friend John who played college football with him at Louisiana State, caused Mawae to question “who really controls everything,” he said.
“At one time in my life I was just living for myself, living the dream, playing football, making the money,” Mawae said. After his brother’s death, Mawae said he questioned God’s existence but nevertheless came to the conclusion God is in control of everything that happens.
“I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and have been living for Him ever since,” Mawae said. “It’s been 13 years now and it was the best decision I ever made in my life.”
Mawae, in his fourth season with the Titans, spent his first four NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and then eight seasons with the New York Jets. He has been named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team and is the current president of the NFL Players Association.
A 39-year-old father of two, Mawae said he believes one of the ways he has stayed accountable in his spiritual life, even in the NFL locker room, is to ask a few of the “core guys” to help keep him in line.
But ultimately in his daily walk, Tracy Mawae has earned the trophy in that regard.
“I’ve been married 17 years and my wife Tracy is my No. 1 accountability partner, and that’s the only way you can do it,” Mawae said. “A man can’t be on an island by himself; he’s got to have someone there to keep him spiritually healthy and keep him accountable to himself and to God.”
Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who grew up going to First Baptist Church in Elizabethton, Tenn., came to the Cowboys after starring at the University of Tennessee.
“I have been blessed because God is control on my life. It gives me the clarity to know what’s really important,” said Witten, who is in his seventh year at Dallas, garnering six Pro Bowl selections.
Dallas cornerback Terence Newman, also is in his seventh year in the NFL, said his faith in God is what has allowed him handle the highs and lows of the league.
“It’s true, you get injured, you get cut, get traded, but there is always somebody to lean on,” Newman said.
The Cowboys missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl this year, falling two games short of their the goal, and Newman’s situation with the team next year is still unclear. But he said he’s certain about one thing on and off the field, his faith in Christ.
“They can take a lot of things away from you in this league, but they cannot take away your faith,” Newman said. “It’s the only thing that helps you with the ups and downs of the NFL.”
David Akers of the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the NFL’s most successful kickers, knows what it’s like to be uncertain about the next step in his career.
Admitting a series of “peaks and valleys” before being traded to the Eagles, Akers, at practice the day before the Pro Bowl, said his football career has been a journey that in retrospect was tough, but ultimately beneficial.
“Philadelphia has changed my life and everything happens under God’s tutelage and where He wants us to be,” Akers said. “You look back at it now and I see why I had to go through that, but it’s kind of tough at the time to go through it.”
Akers said it’s not always easy either, for NFL players, who live largely in the spotlight, to know when people who come to them with ideas have good intentions or are using them to get something from them.
“The fans and the press, they see what goes on on the outside, but they don’t see some of the struggles and the things that go on behind the scenes, some of the struggles that the players go through,” Akers said.
Doing God’s will is important to Akers who said he believes there is a purpose to what he does.
“Every time I kick I try to give glory to God to let people know that this isn’t me that’s out here, that this is really for Him,” Akers said. “The reality is that God put me on this platform to be able to do some good and I want to be able to use it and to do His will.”
Philadelphia fullback Leonard Weaver attended Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., without knowing much about its Baptist heritage.
But the first-time Pro Bowl player, now in his fourth year in the league, said in a post-game interview that finding fellow Christians in college and the NFL has strengthened his faith.
“It’s not just about the platform; it’s about the opportunity to share our faith. I think God places people in different places all over the league — that is very key,” Weaver said.
“For guys who play in this game and recognize Him, it’s not about what we do, but what He does. None of us would be here without His grace,” Weaver said.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was also enjoying his first Pro Bowl after his finest season as the Packers’ signal-caller.
“One thing God always shows you in this league is to be humble,” Rodgers said. “Usually when I am not humble is when God teaches me a lesson, usually through an injury.
“I want to be humble at all times, no matter what happens,” Rodgers said.
He said he is looking forward to fellow Christian quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy coming into the league next year and hopes to help them mature as fellow believers as he has.
“God knew what was best for me when I was sitting in the [NFL draft] green room waiting to be drafted,” Rodgers added. “He brought me to Green Bay and He will bring those guys to a place.
“I’m glad to be their Christian friend and buddy and help them any way I can.”
Art Strickin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press. Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.