TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–The Pittsburgh Steelers, playing in their seventh Super Bowl on Sunday, will go for an unparalleled sixth NFL title.
If the Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals, strong safety Troy Polamalu will have a stake in that achievement, yet he has a perspective that transcends any title game.
While he may be known as a silent killer for his soft voice and hard hits on Pittsburgh’s top-rated defense, there was nothing quiet about Polamalu’s witness for Jesus Christ during the annual media day prior to the Super Bowl.
“I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on the field and off,” said Polamalu, a former USC star now in his sixth year in the NFL.
“It determines how you live your life when you love God.”
Polamalu was one of numerous Steelers players on the field at Raymond James Stadium Jan. 27 who voiced their faith in Jesus Christ to an array of reporters who have descended on Tampa, Fla., for one of the world’s most prominent sporting events.
Polamalu said he is glad for the opportunities the Super Bowl provides for players to share their faith. “[Arizona quarterback] Kurt [Warner] has a platform to share just like every athlete and he is using it,” Polamalu noted.
Pittsburgh punter Daniel Sepulveda added, “Every time I hear Kurt Warner talking about his faith, I’m saying, ‘Yeah, give it to them.’ It inspires me to hear guys like that who are willing to share. The joy of the Lord is on them. He’s not on my team here, but we’re on the same team all the time.”
Running back Mewelde Moore, like other Christians on the Steelers squad, said God is “No. 1 in my entire life. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it.”
Moore, who rushed for 588 yards this year with five touchdowns, said God “has blessed me with this ability and this chance to play football since I was a senior in high school. I want to give God the glory this week, not man.”
Moore added, “It can change people’s life when you have an understanding to give it all to God.” Moore also noted he finds strength “from other Christians and from hearing other people share His name.”
Sepulveda was wearing his Black and Gold Pittsburgh uniform on Tuesday but won’t be on the playing field Sunday, having been lost for the year due to a knee injury in pre-season drills.
While the injury was painful, both physically and emotionally, Sepulveda said it gave him a chance to share his faith during the worst of times personally amid the best of times for his team.
“It’s more important to share your faith when things are not going good than when they are,” the former Baylor University All-American said.
Defensive end Aaron Smith said he relies on his faith and prayers to God, along with a men’s ministry book, “The Sampson Syndrome,” as his 5-year-old son Elijah battles leukemia.
“My prayers are thanking the Lord for every minute I get to raise him,” Smith said.
Defensive end Nick Eason said Steelers coaches have worked hard to get the team ready for a new set of plays and defensive schemes against the high-flying Cardinals, but he already has his main playbook memorized.
“John 3:16,” Eason said when a reporter asked him for his most important key to the game. “‘For God so loved the world.’ The Super Bowl is only temporary, only a part of my life. I don’t know what will happen in the game. I don’t know how long I will play, but I know He will always be there,” Eason said.
Among other Steelers interviewed on media day:
— Heath Miller, who ended his rookie season in 2006 as a starting tight end for the Steeler’ Super Bowl championship team, told Baptist Press he grew up going to church with his parents and as he matured realized the “importance of having God” in his life and “how big and how grand of a figure that He is.”
Not all young people grow up embracing their parents’ faith, Miller admitted, but he credited their steady influence and the power of the Spirit in leading him as a youngster to accept Christ and then continue to develop a deeper appreciation for his faith.
“Certainly as I grow older, I appreciate the effect that my parents had,” Miller said. “Maybe when I was younger, I was too immature to realize the effect that they had on me. [W]hen you look back, when you’re in the same situation, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why they did it or ‘They handled that really well at the time.’ They’re definitely inspirations to my life….”
“I’m still developing,” said Miller, a member of Sword’s Creek Community Baptist Church in Virginia; “I’m still growing and learning and still trying to become a better person.”
Miller said fellowship with other Christians on the Steelers squad is an inspiration but stopped short of naming any individuals because, he said, “there are so many people you can learn from…. All these people — sometimes it’s surreal to me — definitely have opportunities to reach out and to hopefully touch other people’s lives.”
With the Super Bowl taking place in Florida, Miller said quarterback Tim Tebow, the University of Florida’s Heisman Trophy winner and fellow believer, is “certainly an inspiration to me … his audacity to speak out and the firmness in his beliefs…. And at the same time, you know, I think everyone is different and everyone gets their point across in different ways…. He inspires people and he’s not afraid to go out and do it.”
— Cornerback Anthony Madison told Baptist Press his faith “makes all the difference in the world.”
“Let me tell you, God is so good. He has blessed me beyond my imagination. I personally would have never thought that I would be here at this time, considering the things that I have been through in this game,” Madison said.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned,” Madison said, “is that you have to stay focused, especially in this league, because there are so many temptations, there are so many things thrown your way, and if you don’t keep your focus on the Lord, you can find yourself in some situations that you feel like you cannot recover from.”
Being focused, Madison added, is not as easy as it sounds. “I’m 27 years old. There’s women that throw themselves at you,” he said. “There’s alcohol at your disposal. There’s all these things just right there at your fingertips and you can easily get caught up in that.”
Madison said he tries to “do right by the Lord” and is inspired by his relationships with his fiancé and his older twin sisters who challenge him and hold him accountable for how he lives.
“They tell me straight, they keep me straight, they’re just good people, and I would never, ever cross them — I don’t care how much of an NFL player I am,” Madison said. “We just consider ourselves just people who love God.”
Madison, a graduate of the University of Alabama, also commented on Tebow, describing the Gator signal-caller as “amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Noting that Alabama played Florida in the SEC championship game, Madison recounted, “I was thinking, ‘OK, I want us to win because I’m an Alabama fan; we need to win this game, bottom line. But if we were to lose for some way, I’d want it to be a guy like Tebow.’ The guy’s literally taken the platform he has and he’s using it to glorify God. You have to respect that….”
— Patrick Bailey, a rookie linebacker from Duke University who was active at The Summit (Southern Baptist) Church in Durham, N.C., said last year he sustained an injury that caused him to believe he would never be able to play again.
“The Lord has blessed my life,” Bailey told Baptist Press, recounting, “I was on crutches, I couldn’t even move, but here I’m on the world’s biggest stage.”
Bailey, who said he attends the team’s chapel services and goes to church when he can, noted that his teammates respect each other for their views. Recounting a conversation sparked when he was reading from the Book of Romans and a teammate was reading from the Old Testament about King David, Bailey said it was “a great little time to just converse in that stuff.”
Art Sticklin is a Dallas-based sports correspondent for Baptist Press. Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper (www.floridabaptistwitness.com). They are in Tampa, Fla., covering activities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl, along with Bob Carey, a photojournalist and chairman of the department of communication studies at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.