The biggest day in American sports took place this past Sunday, with the Kansas City Chiefs battling against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Big Game. But, on Saturday, the annual Super Bowl Breakfast reminded others of the sport’s historical ties to the Christian faith. As you may notice, it’s rare to find a football team, at any level, without a chaplain or a game that starts without a prayer. Some even know football as America’s Christian sport. And the Super Bowl Breakfast and other elements unique to the game demonstrate why that might be the case.
The Stars of Yesterday Mentor the Stars of Tomorrow
This year’s Super Bowl Breakfast featured faith-driven messages by famed Coach Tony Dungy, Hall of Fame Alum Anthony Munoz and an appearance by Kansas City Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt. Even Eli and Payton Manning contributed Manning Cast content for the event. It’s no surprise that this type of event draws retired or senior players and coaches back. But football provides a unique avenue for them to speak into the next generation of players.
Look no further than the backup quarterback on many teams. This player is often an older, more experienced quarterback rather than the up-and-coming rookie looking for his big shot. Why? To put it in similar terms as Jesus, football is all about discipleship. Players can’t succeed in their natural talent in this sport. They need the coaching and mentoring of senior players and coaches to really win at this sport. And believers easily gravitate to this aspect of the sport because the Bible teaches us that this is true for all of life, not just football. So whether you call it coaching, mentoring or discipleship, believers understand the power of these relationships.
On-The-Field and Off-The-Field Truths
The Super Bowl Breakfast also features the Bart Starr Award, which recognizes players who exemplify character, integrity and leadership on and off the field. Many of the leadership and teamwork principles coaches preach in the locker room apply to life on the outside. Coaches from pee-wee leagues to the NFL preach this message to their players.
This year, Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings won the Bart Starr Award for his work through the Julie & Kirk Cousins Foundation. While not every player has the sort of dedication to impacting their community as Cousins does, coaches and veteran players alike preach character, integrity and leadership as standard fare in locker rooms around the country. For many, football becomes a metaphor for how we should live life, not just another sport aimed at entertaining the masses. And these are principles that believers have been championing long before someone ever stitched together the first pigskin.
Everything Is for the Team
Football is about community. All team sports require a team. But football is an intensely choreographed and interdependent sport in ways that no other sport is. In baseball, you can have a terrible team and still swing that bat well enough to earn a few runs. In basketball, you can have a solidly mediocre team and still rack up a decent ledger of stats. But the greatest quarterback can do nothing without his linemen and receivers. Every play is a team play. The best football players are those athletes who master their part on the field, not as individual athletes but as parts of a single unified movement that the whole team partakes in. Life outside of football works the same. Those who win at life know the value of true community.
The Instinct to Pray
The reaction to Damar Hamlin’s on-field medical emergency is also a clear illustration of how faith weaves into the fabric of the football community. Players, coaches and even on-air announcers erupted into prayer when Hamlin experienced a cardiac event during a game several weeks ago. Prayer is also a regular fixture at football games around the country. The Super Bowl Breakfast illustrated this importance, too. The event featured a pointed attempt to begin the nation’s largest sporting event with prayer.
Football is full of imperfect people like everywhere else. Plenty of aspects of the game line up differently from the ideals of Jesus. But anybody close to the sport can attest football has some unique elements that do. Like in football, life requires lots of prayers, a caring and involved community and people willing to pass on the truths they’ve learned to the next generation. Football has this intrinsic ability to teach us these truths. (Plus, Sunday’s game was just fantastic!)