MIAMI (BP)–With a full beard and a decade-plus of NFL aches and pains, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday is one of team’s veteran leaders as they go for their second Super Bowl title in four years Sunday.
Saturday, whose pro career is much closer to the end than the beginning, said he’s encouraged by seeing new Christians enter the league, energized by their boldness to serve Jesus Christ.
Saturday was given one of the individual risers at Tuesday’s media day at Sun Life Stadium, reserved for the teams’ star players, but he said his experience on the field pales in comparison to his passion for Christ off the field.
“Everything I have is because of Him,” Saturday said before an international media contingent of nearly 3,000 people at the site of Super Bowl XLIV.
“This is a huge platform [but] without a purpose it really means nothing. Christianity is what defines me. My life hopefully glorifies Him and I give Him all the credit and honor.”
In the Colts’ AFC Championship victory over the New Year Jets, Saturday and quarterback Peyton Manning played in a team record 17th playoff game.
While Saturday was not ready to issue a retirement announcement at media day, he said he is happy that high-profile Christian players like quarterbacks Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow will be entering the league via the 2010 draft.
“God is never going to have a shortfall of men who are going to put His message out there,” Saturday said.
“Guys like Tebow and McCoy who are stepping up for their faith in Christ, it’s powerful, man, because kids see that and know it’s not all about what they see on TV or the movies. We are all fathers and husbands and locker room leaders. I love watching those guys play and share their faith.”
Tight end Dallas Clark, at age 30, has been with the Colts for seven years, but like Saturday is considered one of the team leaders. He said he has grown “a lot” spiritually in the past two years.
“It’s special to have so many guys that care and we’re just a special team to be a part of,” Clark said. “There are a lot of great men in the locker room to turn to and it’s special to be a part of that.”
Clark can also appreciate the value of his team’s allegiance to former head coach Tony Dungy.
Considering head coach Jim Caldwell’s leadership, Clark said the two head coaches share a faith that transcends style and — sometimes — understanding.
“There are just a lot of different ways to do a lot of different things,” Clark said of Dungy and Caldwell.
“There are a lot of different philosophies, some people agree and some people disagree, and there are a lot of different feelings, but there are a lot of different ways to be a man in football, to be a man of faith, to be a coach.”
Colts kicker Matt Stover, in his first year with the team, signing as an injury fill-in last fall, is in his 20th year in the NFL, making him one of the league’s oldest players. After a long career with Cleveland, then moving with the team to Baltimore, he was looking for a new team for the 2009 season.
Stover said he feels as though God delivered him to a team so heavily favored with fellow Christians like Indianapolis.
“It’s just a God thing for me to be here. I had some other chances with the Jets and others,” Stover said, “but being here with these guys is just an investment in my career.” Like any kicker, Stover could be the Super Bowl hero with a winning kick late Sunday night, or the goat with a missed opportunity.
But Stover learned long ago to work his hardest and leave the results up to God.
“I’ve applied Christ in my life for a long time and I am never at a loss for what happens. I know a lot of Christian kickers and it’s just huge to have a faith and to believe in something bigger than myself.
“God had a plan for me when the Ravens didn’t re-sign me and He has a plan for me on Sunday,” Stover said.
Colts defensive tackle Daniel Muir has only been with the team for two years after spending his first season with Green Bay, but he’s learned that maturing as a Christian in the NFL takes time even on a team of fellow believers.
“What you do, really, is pray about it and let God handle it; trust God to handle it,” Muir said. “A lot of people want God to bless them now, they want help now. But if you pray and let God take care of it and trust that He will take care of it, He will.”
With the possible loss of Colts star defensive tackle Dwight Freeney due to an ankle injury, Muir knows he could find himself more in the spotlight in Sunday’s game. But he is content to leave the results of his increased Super Bowl exposure up to God.
“Really, I’m ready because God shows me so much favor on my life. To see where I came from and see how hard of a struggle it’s been to get here, and then the success that He keeps giving me, it’s tremendous.”
Tight end Jacob Tamme finds himself in a similar situation, never knowing if he is going to catch the ball in the Colts dynamic offense.
With only three catches in 2008 and three catches in all of 2009, Tamme said he’s learned to be ready at any time for whatever happens in his life.
“The Colts are known for having the reputation of a godly Christian example. That is because the coaches here set the Christian example.
“I define my life as a man centered around God, not centered around football.”
Tamme said he grew up with a Baptist mother and a Catholic father and considered himself a “Catholist” early in life but is glad to be God’s servant in the brightest of sports spotlights.
Colts defensive back Jerraud Powers makes no apologies for his youth or his humble beginnings, yet he delivered a stirring testimony on media day about what God has done in his life.
Born in Decatur, Ala., Powers said his mother was a single parent who expected — but did not force — him or his three sisters to go to church.
“I just started asking my mom a ton of questions about God, about Jesus, about sin, about everything,” Powers recalled. “And when I was 12 I ended up getting saved.”
From that time on, Powers told Baptist Press he has been influenced and mentored by “great people” who have come into his life.
A third-round draft pick for the Colts in 2009, Powers said he was “blessed just to be drafted by the Colts with such strong believers on this team and this staff. I thought it was just God working His miracles. I could have just as easily went somewhere else with non-believers….
“I just feel like God’s putting me around people each and every year just to help me stay on that path as I help others.”
Powers, also commenting on Tim Tebow, said he admires the famed collegian’s leadership, tenacity, skill and courage and would like “to meet him outside the football field and just talk it up with him.”
“Tebow gets a lot of criticism,” Powers said. “I think Tebow’s a great guy. He’s on a pedestal in college football; he took that platform and did it all in God’s name.”
Art Stricklin 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.