POSTED Saturday, February 3, 2007.
MIAMI (BP)–“This is our chance to have peace and fellowship in a world of chaos,” St. Louis Rams tight end Roland Williams said at Friday night’s eighth annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.
“We play in a violent game, but this gives us peace,” Williams said at the officially sanctioned Super Bowl XLI event featuring an evening of gospel music and testimonies by more than two dozen current and former NFL players.
Many of the players agreed that the Gospel Music Celebration provides a time to draw together amid the parties and other fleshly distractions during the run-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.
Former MVP quarterback Randall Cunningham, now a Las Vegas pastor, was among the stars sharing their faith before a sold-out crowd at the Knight Center in downtown Miami. Other speakers included New Orleans Saints lineman Willie Whitehead, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Baltimore Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli.
Colts head coach Tony Dungy also made a brief appearance during the three-hour celebration, thanking the crowd for their support and their prayers for him and his team during the week.
Cunningham, who often acknowledged his faith during his long playing career, credited the late Reggie White for an increased openness among NFL players and coaches for sharing their faith.
“Reggie was really bold in his faith and really inspired us and opened the door for us to share our faith on a consistent basis,” Cunningham said of the defensive tackle who played for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles and was inducted posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
“I’m a pastor today, because Reggie got in my face and challenged me to study the Word,” Cunningham said.
Still popular for leading the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs, Cunningham said every Christian player in the NFL has an unique ministry.
“That’s why I always sign John 3:16 on my autographs because sooner or later you’re going to look it up and be blessed,” Cunningham said.
In a reference to Dungy and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, Cunningham noted, “Seeing these two Christian coaches in the spotlight is a powerful thing.”
The presence of White’s widow Sara stirred the crowd. “Reggie was enlightening and touched so many people,” she said. “Looking at the two godly head coaches playing in this game, that’s what Reggie did. He never backed down from his faith and always used his platform. We all have a platform — use it.”
Sara White just completed a yearlong project — a DVD on the life and times of Reggie White titled “Minister of Defense.” The hour-long DVD includes interviews with White’s former teammates and those who knew him best. (For more information, go to www.reggiewhitedvd.com.)
Reggie’s son Jeremy also recently released a book titled “In His Shadow” recounting what it was like to grow up in the home of a legend on and off the field.
“The first couple of chapters where tough to do,” Sara said, “but it was good for the whole family. We don’t want to remember how he died, but how he lived.”
The Saints’ Whitehead recounted the team’s experiences after Hurricane Katrina, which forced them to relocate in San Antonio temporarily, to this year when the Saints bounced back to earn a berth in the NFC title game -– a first for New Orleans. Within a win of the Super Bowl, the Saints lost to the Bears.
Katrina “really showed a different side to many people because this thing was real,” Whitehead said. “It gave people a different perspective on Christians because some people think it’s all glory and glamour, but what we had was a chance to test our faith and reflect His glory.”
Baptist Press sports correspondent Art Stricklin is on site at Super Bowl XLI in Miami, filing daily reports on the spiritual side of the NFL’s championship game.