PHOENIX, Ariz. (BP)–With the national championship on the line, football nevertheless takes a back seat to faith and family, said Fiesta Bowl head coaches Phillip Fulmer of the University of Tennessee Volunteers and Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles during “Fiesta Sunday” services at North Phoenix Baptist Church the day before the game.
In Sunday worship service interviews with senior pastor Dan Yeary before the Jan. 4 Monday night game, Fulmer and Bowden said that beyond Xs, Os and the game plan there are certain values they try to instill in their teams, beginning with their faith.
Although football and family play an important role in the life of both men, they put God first. “Football is not the number one priority in my life, Bowden said. “I’m not cutting my wrists over football. Football is a way God has given me to support my family and witness to young men.”
To Bowden, the message is simple. “Put God first in your life and you cannot fail.”
To Fulmer, everyday decisions are a matter of faith. “Instead of waiting until that moment, you make those decisions in the quiet time of your faith,” he said. “In your decisions you not only represent yourself, but your family and, most importantly, your faith.”
When times get tough, Bowden and Fulmer said they cling to their faith for support.
“Sometimes you get off track,” Fulmer said. But family and friends with strong family values have held him accountable.
Bowden added, “I’ve always tried to make God number one in my life.” When others are criticizing him, Bowden said that’s when he relies on God the most.
“I’m really only worried about what one guy thinks. If I can pass that test, I can handle the rest of it.”
Both coaches allow their faith to spill over into their family life. Fulmer said he and his wife, Victoria, try to surround their three daughters with an environment that will help them grow spiritually, including church attendance and participation in YoungLife and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Yeary asked Fulmer’s daughter, Brittany, what she likes most about her dad.
Without hesitation she answered, “When my daddy comes home, he gives us his undivided attention. He doesn’t bring football home.”
Bowden said his football team members need dads like Fulmer since half of the team members don’t have dads. “These young men need daddies,” Bowden said, encouraging dads to meet their responsibility as fathers.
To Yeary’s question about advice he would give young people today to help them discover a new direction, Fulmer summed it up, “Get close to the Lord.”
A kick-off for the church’s month-long focus on family, Yeary used the Fiesta Sunday opportunity to encourage members and visitors to build championship families. He also used the Fulmer and Bowden families as examples of families who let God make a difference in their lives.
“The greatest need in America today is for your family and my family to get so healthy that we infect other families in our culture,” Yeary said in his sermon. “We have the capacity and ability to share the good news about Jesus Christ to the extent they can see the difference that he makes. That difference you heard about in the Fulmer and Bowden families.”
Noting a championship family must have a strong foundation, Yeary said, “A foundation always dictates what you build.” He cited the story in Matthew 7 about the men who built their houses on rock and sand. “Are you building on your idea of what life ought to be or are you building on the Savior?” Yeary challenged. “If you do not build on Jesus Christ, you build on sand.”
A strong foundation needs a good framework, Yeary continued. “Coaches refer to the playbook — the game plan that helps you exploit the weaknesses of the other team and at the same time enhances your own strengths and downplays your own weaknesses.” If families build their framework out of anything less than the divinely inspired Word of God, they won’t be able to build a life that is secure, Yeary said.
A strong foundation and framework require focus, the pastor said, comparing the Fiesta Bowl athletes with the Apostle Paul who said, “I press on toward the prize.” But more importantly than the game, Yeary encouraged the teams and families to fix their undivided attention on the goal and strain with everything in them to focus their lives on Jesus. “If you do, you will have a direction that is unbreakable, and your focus will be the key to faithfulness. The Bible says if you and I are faithful until death, we will receive the crown of life.”
Yeary concluded by saying, “If we build on the right foundation, if we put up the framework that is built by a relationship with Jesus Christ, and if we stay focused on the goal, we have a guarantee of life abundant and life everlasting.”
Langley is a staff writer at North Phoenix Baptist Church.