EDITORS’ NOTE: Sportswriter Art Stricklin, in his third year of BP coverage of the spiritual side of the Super Bowl, is reporting this week from the site of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
DETROIT (BP)–Pittsburgh special teams coach Kevin Spencer has spent a lot of his time wondering this week.
Not wondering if his Steelers can match up with Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL — or if his special teams can keep the opponents from making a big play, but wondering about God’s goodness to him in his coaching profession.
This is the fourth NFL team he has worked for and his fourth year to lead the Steelers’ special teams. But it’s his first trip to sport’s most-watched game, with more than a billion people expected to tune in from around the world on Sunday.
“You wonder why God puts you in a position like this,” Spencer said. “You pray a lot and you ask for guidance, but you don’t know why God decides to bless you like this.”
Spencer, who became a coach after playing the game himself, has watched countless big games on television and has seen plenty of championship moments, but now he will be a participant in the biggest match up of the year, live and in person.
“When they gave the [AFC] championship trophy to [team owner] Mr. Rooney after the game, my locker was only about two to three feet away from that and I was able to stand there and watch the entire thing in person. God is so good to me.”
Rather than being nervous about the biggest game of his career, Spencer said his faith has helped him gain a confidence during this hectic week of preparations.
“When you lean on your Christian faith, you know it’s in the Lord’s hands, who loves me and will take care of me. That helps me cope and enjoy the week.”
Steelers’ director of player development Ray Jackson, another first-time Super Bowl participant, planned for a week full of fans, meetings, media and distractions.
But one of the first things he did when he checked into his room at the Steelers’ headquarters hotel was flip on the television set — not to catch the latest headlines on ESPN or hear how great the Steelers appear to be, but to get some food -– spiritual food.
“I wanted to see if I could find some spiritual program, preaching or teaching which would lift me up,” Jackson said.
“Then I called my wife and we had a prayer over the phone about the week ahead. During the week we have the family members get together for Bible study and prayer on Wednesday night and I don’t want to miss that.”
During the season, Jackson makes a commitment not to read the newspaper because he doesn’t want to read the overly negative or positive things being written about his team. He also makes it a point to stay close to the other Christian players and coaches on the team.
“That way, we can hold each other accountable. That’s the greatest thing Christian men can do for one another,” he said.
After watching the Steelers finish off the Broncos two weeks ago to earn the Super Bowl trip, Jackson found Pittsburgh center and fellow believer Jeff Hartings for a bit of perspective.
“In two to three weeks, most people probably won’t remember who was in the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “This will all be gone, but knowing God gave His Son Jesus to die for us, that is something that will live forever.”
Jackson has personal experience with the way God can unexpectedly change a person’s life. Last year, he coached for the Cleveland Browns, which suffered through another tough season, leaving him without a job at the end of the year and watching the Super Bowl on TV.
This year, he has a new job, new Christian friends and an on-the-field view of Sunday’s game.
“You can’t get caught up in the world’s view; you have to have God’s perspective. Last year, I was working for the Cleveland Browns. This year, God put me here to witness all of this and be a witness for others.”
Tight ends coach James Daniel likewise is grateful for the platform he has been given, if only for a brief time, to share his faith with those he comes in contact with during the Super Bowl week.
“You have to have faith to prepare to do a good job,” Daniel said. “You have to have faith to stay grounded in His Word and you have to be ready for this platform to touch other people’s lives in whatever way you find them this week.”