MIAMI (BP)–Perhaps never before in the 41-year history of pro football’s annual culmination of on-field competition and off-the-field festivity have two head coaches and many of their team members been as determined to use their worldwide platform to express the difference their faith in Christ makes in their life.
“Coaches have sold cars and airlines for years [in commercials], so why shouldn’t they promote the King of kings and Lord of lords?” said Indianapolis Colts chaplain Ken Johnson, a close friend and prayer partner of Colts head coach Tony Dungy.
“We don’t have to compromise our views for the world and Tony is not going to compromise his before the world’s media this week.”
Former NFL player and Chicago Bears chaplain Harry Swayne said he’s excited that head coach Lovie Smith and the players he’s been working with for years can share what is most important during this media-crazed week leading up to Super Bowl XLI.
“I’ve told them not to set trophies before God,” Swayne said. “One of the things we’ve been talking about in our Bible studies is, ‘finish,’ and I’ve told our guys not to forget who brought you here. Don’t forget Christ.”
While the world’s media and fans of both AFC champion Indianapolis and NFC winner Chicago are mostly concerned about football supremacy for another season, many of the game’s coaches and players are determined to use the week much as NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Super Bowl MVP Antwaan Randle El, now with the Washington Redskins, did last year in professing their personal faith in Jesus Christ.
This year it’s Dungy and Smith in the media spotlight for their faith.
“I think there are more players professing their faith publicly now, don’t you?” said Swayne, who played for four different NFL teams as an offensive lineman after playing college football at Tulsa with Colts chaplain Johnson.
The uptick in high-profile coaches and players publicly expressing their faith has caught the attention of National Football League officials who don’t endorse the trend, but certainly acknowledge it.
“Our players and coaches come from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, “and they certainly seek to share their faith in a variety of different ways.”
While careful not to show favoritism to any particular faith, the NFL has credentialed a half-dozen national religious media outlets including Baptist Press for the week’s activities, a Super Bowl first.
The Bears arrived in Miami, the site of eight previous Super Bowls, on Sunday afternoon and the Colts were scheduled to follow Monday night, with thousands of fans and media to quickly follow.
Dolphins Stadium, site of Sunday’s showdown between the Bears and the Colts, will host the annual Media Day on Tuesday, with more than 3,000 reporters and photographers from around the world on hand to interact with players and coaches from each team.
The annual Pat Summerall Legends of Charity luncheon will take place Friday afternoon followed by the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration hosted by Cedric the Entertainer at the University of Miami’s Knight Center Friday night. Bears defensive lineman Tommy Harris, who often writes verses from the Psalms across his nose strip, is among the NFL stars scheduled to give his testimony at the gospel event.
The 19th Annual Athletes in Action Super Bowl breakfast is slated for Saturday at the NFL headquarters hotel. Last year, Dungy was the keynote speaker at the breakfast, just weeks after tragic death of his son James. This year, he will have a chance to fulfill a long-held goal.
“I’ve always had a dream to attend the Super Bowl breakfast as a Super Bowl head coach and have my team sitting here with me,” Dungy said.
Various implications of their faith likely will be voiced by players and coaches from both teams during the week.
“You going to hear a lot about racial reconciliation in this game [with two black head coaches in the Super Bowl for the first time], but it’s the same thing that will bond Christian brothers together on each team,” Johnson said.
“The Super Bowl is a win-win for whatever happens, because the name of Christ will be lifted up,” Swayne added. “The game will be over [next] Monday morning, but God’s Word and His cause will still go on.”
Baptist Press sports correspondent Art Stricklin is on site at Super Bowl XLI in Miami, filing daily reports on the spiritual side of the Super Bowl.