EDITORS’ NOTE: Art Stricklin, an award-winning Christian sportswriter and contributor to Baptist Press, is reporting from the site of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston this weekend, providing exclusive coverage from a spiritual perspective.
HOUSTON (BP)–While New England and Carolina wrapped up preparations for Sunday’s showdown at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, pre-Super Bowl parties continued nonstop in this hard-charging Texas city.
Every hotel room for nearly 50 miles was rented for the thousands of out-of-town visitors from all over the country, stretch limos ruled the streets and there were parties, public and private, in all shapes and sizes throughout the town.
But a growing group of Christian NFL players are determined to enjoy the week which ends with Sunday’s Super Bowl with a strong testimony and Christian message.
“This is our Super Bowl too,” said former Minnesota Vikings star receiver Cris Carter, who now co-hosts HBO’s “Inside the NFL” program. “A group of us Christian players got together and said, Why can’t we have something which rivals the best the other side has to offer?”
To that end Carter and dozens of his fellow Christian NFL players partied late into Friday night at Houston’s Reliant Arena, just steps from the site of Sunday’s big game, at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.
“It was a party all right, a Holy Ghost party,” said rookie Atlanta Falcons cornerback Bryant Scott.
Late in the concert, he took the stage with Grammy-
winner Patti LaBelle along with Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Quincy Carter, dressed in a black and white tuxedo.
“This is very exciting,” Carter said on his way there. “I’m nervous, but enjoying sharing what my faith means to me.”
Carter, in his first year as a fulltime starter, took part in a free pre-concert rally earlier Friday, talking about his faith and football.
More than 100 NFL players whose teams did not make the final game are in Houston this weekend for a variety of reasons, with a growing number seeing the football weekend as a prime testimony time.
“People who know me wouldn’t ask me to go to parties I shouldn’t be at,” said Carter, who retired last year after 16 stellar seasons, “but other people who ask me to go to their parties, I use that as a prime opportunity to tell them why I can’t go and why they should be going with me.
“This is the Super Bowl all right, but it’s the Super Bowl for everything which means everything creepy and crawly. You need to be a light in the darkness, but you don’t have to give up your witness to do it.”
More than 1,000 Christian athletes, team executives and fans turned out early Saturday morning at the NFL headquarters hotel for the annual Athletes in Action Bart Starr Awards Breakfast.
The gathering honors a current or former NFL player who best displays Christian attitudes and values as a public example for Christ on and off the football field.
Saturday’s winner was Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks who starred in last year’s championship game as his Bucs captured their first world title.
“Derrick is a super player, but an even more super man,” said Brooks’ former coach Tony Dungy, who now serves as Indianapolis head coach.
Dungy interrupted a Florida fishing trip to help present Brooks with his award after the Bucs star received a standing ovation from those gathered at the annual Christian summit.
“I’m honored and humbled to be given such an honor as this,” Brooks said.
Carter said the growing number of Christians and family events at the NFL showcase event shows the power the growing number of faith-filled players can have.
“I can remember when we just had this little event [gospel concert] on a Sunday morning when everybody would be going to church and getting ready for the game and we
had to beg people to come.
“Now it’s an officially sanctioned event on its own night and we have people calling us to ask if they can sing or they can help out.
“Young people need to know that there’s going to be a winner and a loser Sunday night, but we can all be winners through our faith in God. When we get to heaven, He’s not going to be asking for our trophies or our rings, but what we did for God, not what we did in Houston.”
Scott, who started six games for the Falcons this year after being drafted out of Penn State, said he paid his own way to Houston this weekend because he wanted to see the right kind of festivities and be with other believers.
“There’s a pretty good number of Christians on our team and in this league. Every team has a chaplain and that’s a pretty good thing and we have a chance to pray before we play and give our testimony whenever we can.
“You can never tell how one testimony from one player can help somebody out,” Scott added.
The parties were scheduled to continue right up until the late Sunday afternoon kickoff and resume after the final whistle. While Christians were planning to party on, they were intent in doing it the right way for the right person.