TBT – Living up to His Name – Tshimanga Biakabutuka – Carolina Panthers


Former Panthers running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka

Before I moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I had been to 2 NFL games in my life.  Both times I was privileged to see my favorite player at the time play. In 1997, it was Barry Sanders (who I wrote a post about a few years ag0) and the Lions, and in 2000, it was the Carolina Panthers and Tshimanga Biakabutuka in Atlanta to play the Falcons. I liked Barry because he was fun to watch and arguably one of the top 5 running backs of all time. I liked Biakabutuka because of his unique name and the fact that he was raised in Montreal and there were not a lot of Canadians in the NFL. His name is part of the reason that I am writing about him. The rest of the reason is the way God has been working in his life.

When I started this blog in 2011. I named it Living Up to My Name because my last name “Page” means “servant to the King”. As a Christian, I strive to serve the King of all Kings and live my life for Him. Biakubutuka’s name means “born again” and while that didn’t bear much significance for him during his playing career, in the days since, it has come to represent him as he has become a Christian.

Biakubutuka was born in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974.  He and 4 of his 11 siblings moved to Montreal when he was 4 years old “in search of a better life”.  In Montreal, his mother worked long hours to keep the family fed while his father worked on a PhD. His mom encouraged faith in God but Biakabutuka was not interested. The article that I linked to says that Biakabutuka thought Christians used faith as a crutch.

“Touchdown Tim” got his start in football playing for Vanier College in Montreal

He started playing football in high school, and excelled at Vanier College – similar to junior college – where he earned the nickname “Touchdown Tim”. From there, American schools took notice and “Touchdown Tim” chose Michigan. In his 3 seasons with the Wolverines, he rushed for over 2700 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Carolina liked what it saw from Biakabutuka and drafted him with the 8th overall pick in the 1996 draft. But he played only 4 games in his rookie season before a knee injury ended his season. The next year, it was a rib injury that caused him to miss half the season. In 1999, Biakabutuka became the third player in NFL history to score 2 TDs of 60+ yards in the same game. Then turf toe, high ankle sprain and finally a nasty, one of a kind foot injury. The last one required immediate surgery and there was a possibility that amputation may be needed if it was not dealt with quickly. He would try to comeback, getting invitations to work out with a couple of teams, but as he says “I got invited to Minnesota, Tampa and Houston – but every time I got there, team doctors wouldn’t sign off on it because they’d say, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’ At that point, I knew it was over.”

Biakabutuka earned a scholarship to Michigan and played well enough to be drafted 8th overall by the Panthers.

So what was the start of life after football? Biakabutuka, with the help of Panthers owner at the time Jerry Richardson, opened a business – a high end Jewelery story called Beya fine jewelry. He opened 2 stored in the Charlotte area, but after a couple of tough years, he shut down that business and opened 4 Bojangles restaurants in Agusta. The businessman and restauranteur thanks former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for helping him get started with Bojangles. In his playing days, he had spent some time with the Panthers team chaplain, talking about God and faith. The article I read says “At the same time Biakabutuka began putting his business plan together, he had also immersed himself in religion. At the urging of Bunkley, the Panthers chaplain, Biakabutuka had taken halting, gradual steps toward faith during his playing days. His NFL injuries gave him a sense of vulnerability. Teammates who practiced Christianity — Mike Minter and others — provided compelling examples of how to practice faith without sacrificing strength.” He now says “Nothing in my life brings me more peace and joy than my relationship with God“. During his days in the jewelry business, he offered a line of Christian themed jewelry that he designed himself. He is now living up to his name – as a “born again” believer.

Here are my takeaways from Biakabutuka’s story:

Now Biakabutuka is a businessman, who after a brief stint in the jewelry business, now owns 4 restaurants in Augusta, Georgia.

1- Jesus is a crutch – A Christian comedian said once in a bit, that people say Christians use Jesus as a crutch, but when you are crippled, that is not a bad thing.  The truth is that we are all broken people and the only way to sustain and survive in this life is to lean on the strength that God provides. If we live only in our own strength, when the struggles and hard things in life come our way, it can and does overwhelm. I gladly and freely admit that Jesus helps me in this way. I always need help and someone other than myself to lean on for strength to survive. He is the only One that is dependable.

2- Keep sharing – I love that his mother was faithful to God and shared her faith with her son. For so long, he refused to join her in her beliefs. He went on to college and his pro career, but others came into his life (including Mike Minter who I wrote about a year or two ago) and helped answer his questions of faith, guiding him to choose to follow Jesus for himself. In the end, he did just that. I am encouraged in this to always continue sharing the truth of what I believe to others, even if they reject what I believe. You never know when life circumstances will open them to consider what you and others have been sharing with them.

Modern Monday – Character Through Adversity – Kaden Elliss – LB – New Orleans Saints


Saints 7th round draft pick Kaden Elliss

Last time out, I wrote my first Throwback Thursday post of the football season. Today is Modern Monday, but it is going to have a throwback feel to it as well. Today’s post is about Saints rookie Linebacker, Kaden Elliss – the 244th overall pick in last April’s draft. What’s the Throwback angle on that? Kaden is the oldest of former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss. The senior Elliss played 10 seasons in the NFL, all with the Lions except 2004, his final season, which he spent with the Denver Broncos. After he retired, He now serves as defensive line coach at University of Idaho.

Elliss played Defensive End and Linebacker for the University of Idaho Vandals, and also played some Tight End.

At the University of Idaho, Kaden was a four-year starter. He played edge rusher, linebacker and tight end. The Saints picked him in the seventh round of the draft last spring impressed by his football IQ and sense for the game.  But even as a great player for University of Idaho, Vandals are not frequently drafted in the NFL. Elliss was not invited to the NFL Combine. So what made Kaden Elliss stand out?  Well, his workouts turned heads at the pro days at both University of Idaho, and University of Utah.  Elliss was the first Vandal drafted out of Idaho in 7 years. Then there is the previously mentioned NFL pedigree and time spent in NFL locker rooms as a child, hanging out with the likes of Robert Porcher and Barry Sanders. For me, it is how outspoken he is about his faith in God.

Kaden as a baby with his dad Luther Elliss who played for 10 seasons in the NFL.

This is something he no doubt learned at home – his father, after retirement and at one point filing for bankruptcy, founded a church in Salt Lake City and then spent 2 seasons as chaplain for the Denver Broncos. Luther says “I see a lot of turmoil and struggle that goes on internally for guys on the team and I understand it. It’s a hard life being in the NFL. Even if they have grown up in the church and know Christ, it’s hard to balance being a superstar football player as well as a man of God. Their whole lives have been based on being a football player. This is their identity and a lot of times, when that is taken away they don’t know who they are. They are lost. But if they have placed their hope in Christ, they can know that there’s something so much greater—something that lasts for eternity. Meanwhile, there’s a balance that the players need to find as they ask themselves, “How can I live out my faith while also being a part of the world?”  In fact, this is one of the biggest struggles for all people. 

Kaden got lots of playing time in the preseason games with the Saints this year.

This is great perspective gained from going through life as a Christian in the NFL himself, what a great platform to share with others and help them make good decisions about life and faith. Kaden was listening as well. He says “He went bankrupt after playing football, and honestly seeing the way he grew from that and the way he ran to his faith and then his family in that situation made me idolize him more. Obviously growing up, your dad is always your idol, but sometimes as you get older you see maybe he isn’t as great as he is, but I’d say growing up he has showed me that he is that great, and he is an awesome man. I hope to be like him one day.” “He’s really showed me how to choose character through adversity”

About his own faith, he adds “What I really want is to honor Him, my lord and savior Jesus Christ, before every game by the way I play and the passion I bring. At the end of the day, it’s to honor Jesus Christ with the platform he has given me.”

Here is my takeaway from Elliss’ story:

1- Being Like Dad – Kaden Elliss had a pro football player for a dad. As he sees his dreams of an NFL career of his own coming true, he has someone who has been through it as a role model. And he gives his father credit for showing character through the adversity that he has faced. He speaks highly of the lessons that he has learned from watching his dad go through hard things. As a son, I appreciate the lessons that I have learned from my dad. He has helped me recover from mistakes that I have made and has been a model of faith for me to follow and learn from. I am grateful for the example that God has given me in my dad.

2- Being a dad – As mentioned, I learned in my mistakes from my dad. I also have learned as a dad that I am a role model for my 4 daughters. I am far from perfect. I still make lots of mistakes. And I am challenged from the story of Luther Elliss to own my mistakes. To not hide from them, not blame others for my poor choices or play the victim when circumstances beyond my control make things difficult for me or my family. Instead, like Kaden Elliss saw in his dad, I want my kids to see a strong Godly character that shows at all times, even in the face of adversity. I pray that I will lean on God at all times, and that whether at the pinnacle of a great moment or in the valley of hardship, that my eyes will always look to God and my mouth will always speak of how amazing He is.

 

Throwback Thursday – Run to Win – Carroll Dale – Green Bay Packers


Carroll Dale played for the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings during a 14 year NFL career.

As the National Football League kicks off its 100th season tonight, with a game celebrating the league’s oldest rivalry in a head-to-head match. It seems fitting that I launch my football blog season with a Throwback Thursday post in honor of the Bears-Packers rivalry. And so tonight, I start the season off with a look at Wide Reciever Carroll Dale.

Carroll Dale was drafted with the 86th pick in the 1960 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He spent 5 seasons with them, 3 as a Tight End before transitioning to Receiver. He was traded to the Packers where he was a key part of 3 consecutive NFL championships, including Super Bowl I & II. He was named to 3 straight Pro Bowls as well after the ’68, ’69 and ’70 seasons. He played a total of 8 seasons with the Packers, and after 1 final season with the Minnesota Vikings, Dale retired. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.  All told, he amassed over 8,000 yards and scored 52 touchdowns in his career. The football stadium at his high school in Virginia is named after him.

Dale was a member of the Packers teams that won Super Bowls I & II.

Playing for those early Super Bowl era Packers teams means that Dale played for legendary coach Vince Lombardi. He recalls one exchange that he had with Lombardi. Lombardi said “In the New Testament, St. Paul talks about three words, ‘Run to win.’  Then he looked at me and said, “You’ve heard those words before, right Carroll?”  I said, “Yes.” After the game, which we won 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders, I went home, and searched in my Bible and found the words Lombardi talked about: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Lombardi, perhaps inspired by this verse, also famously said “Winning is not everything — but making the effort to win is.”

Dale was a high school student when he came across the bible verse that helped guide his life. I appreciate it because this verse has meant a lot to me in my life, too. It is Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He considered it in the context of his life, saying “I didn’t think being a Christian would make me a successful football player, but having this first helped everything else fall into place,”. It all comes down to priorities.  In a message he shared a few years ago while speaking at a church, he said “Priorities, putting first things first, is a life-long message. It’s not just for athletes.” His priority is putting God first. Sounds like an important reminder to me!

Dale is a member of the Packers Hall of Fame

Here are my takeaways from Dale’s story:

1- Priorities – What a treasure that verse in Matthew 6 is! Seek God first, and all the other things will be taken care of. This verse comes at the end of a chapter where a lot of conversation centers around worry. We worry a lot. For me, I worry about being a good husband, a good father, a good employee. Am I a positive influence over the people I have influence over? Will my mistakes catch up with me, or lead people down a wrong path? Several years ago, I was offered a chance to work a dream job, kids ministry at a church I had been attending. I wanted to take it, but for some reason, I knew I wasn’t supposed to. As I prayed and considered my next steps, I felt led to go to a Missionary Training Program and go into full time missionary work. It was scary, it was out of my comfort zone, and I chose it, turning down a job that I really wanted. And at missionary training, I learned a lot about God and grew in my walk with Him. I also met the woman who would (a year later) become my wife. And now, years later, I am doing a job I love – Elementary ministry at a church, and I am still married to this amazing woman that I met at missionary training. I have 4 amazing daughters that teach me and hold me accountable for what I teach them. Has life been perfect? no. Have there been hard bumps in the road? yes. Will there continue to be those? I’m almost certain. But this verse reminds me that my responsibility is to make God number 1 in my life. I can’t do that on my own, but in His grace, He helps me remember to “Seek Him first and look at His example of righteousness”. And the other details in life will work out according to His plan. And His plan is the best!

The Gym at Dale’s high school alma mater has borne his name since 1967

2- Run to Win – Paired along with that last thought, I know that my efforts to follow God on my own will fail. But He has somehow worked it out that He will help me to follow Him. It is not our abilities that please God. It is our willingness to ask for His help and live in obedience to Him. Putting Him first and seeking Him every day is how we run this race of life to win. And because of Him, we are victorious. We are victorious over the challenges and hurdles that without Him would overwhelm us. It is only because of Him. He is the victor and has won for us. We get the benefit of His redemptive work. So let’s run to win, knowing that He has secured victory for those who choose to live for Him.

Pressure – The Bichette Family – Dante Sr., Dante Jr., and Bo


The Bichettes – Dante Jr, Mariana, Bo and Dante Sr circa 2011. Faith and Baseball are big parts of this family.

I’m a long time baseball fan. Long enough that several of the players that I grew up watching now have kids playing professional baseball. I have blogged about some some multi-generation pro athletes (the Slaters, the Kupps, the Geoffrions, the McCullers, the Tollesons and the Ingrams).  If there is “pressure” to succeed as a professional athlete, I imagine it increases when your last name carries with it a pedigree of a professional athlete like a parent and in some cases a grandparent, too. Today’s story will share the tale of a father and his two sons who have made baseball their vocational pursuit.  Today, Let’s meet the Bichette family.

The Blake Street Bombers Clockwise from bottom, Galarraga, Dante Bichette,  Walker, Castilla.Dante Bichette Sr. was a 17th round draft pick by the (then) California Angels in 1984.  He made his Major League debut with them in 1988, splitting the next 3 seasons between them and their AAA affiliate in Edmonton. A trade sent him to Milwaukee for 2 seasons, and another one brought Dante to Colorado to join the expansion Rockies. And with the Rockies, Bichette flourished. He hit the team’s first home run in regular season history, and in his 7 seasons with the Rockies, he was a massive threat, hitting .316, with over 200 home runs, and more than 100 stolen bases. He went to 4 All-Star games, finished 2nd in 1995 MVP voting, had a 30-30 season and won a Silver Slugger award. After stints with the Reds and Red Sox he retired in 2001. In all, Bichette Sr. played in over 1,700 Big League games.

And Bichette knew pressure. He felt it as a player, he felt it when speaking to the media, he felt it as a Christian, to be a role model for others to look up to, and he felt it as a father. He says “But sometimes, the pressure is overwhelming. That’s when I rely on God. I’ve learned that every time I’m done, when I seem to have no one to turn to, God is always there. I pick up the Bible and find direction and focus, and hope, when I thought there was none, or at least when I had lost sight of it.”

Dante Bichette Jr.

Dante Jr.’s career has not led him to the Majors yet, but it did bring him to the Twin Cities to play for the Saints.

Bichette Jr. was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft by the New York Yankees. He is compared to his father – similar build and similar skills. But Bichette Jr has struggled some in his route to the Majors. After 5 seasons in the Yankees system, he became a free agent in 2017. The Rockies signed him in 2017, but released him at the end of Spring Training.  He spent the 2018 season here in the Twin Cities with the St. Paul Saints where he put up respectable stats. This year, he joins the Washington Nationals and is  playing with their AA afiliate in Harrisburg, PA. At age 26, he is still in pursuit of his Major League dream. He talks about how despite his name, he never felt the pressure to play baseball – but being around it all the time made it a fun part of his life. He even played in the Little League World Series tournament in 2005.

But along the way, he has shared that his relationship with God is an important part of his life and his journey. He says “My relationship with God has become extremely important to me over the past year. I was raised to believe in God, pray every night, try to live like him…etc. But only over this last year have I really taken it upon myself to establish a relationship with him and really dive into his word daily.”

Bo Bichette

Bo has had a record-setting start to his Big League career. He started his career by hitting a double in 9 straight games.

Bo Bichette was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft after a strong High School Career.   Bo flew through the Blue Jays minor league system and made his debut on July 29.  And what a start it was! He began his big league career with an 11 game hitting streak. Bo set new Major League records for quickest-to-reach-10-extra-base-hits, doing so in 9 games and set another MLB record as the only player to ever hit a double in 9 straight games. At this point, in just over 20 games played, Bo is batting .333 with 7 home runs and 2 stolen bases. The Blue Jays seem to like second generation players. Bichette is the third to make his debut for them this year joining Vlad Guererro Jr, and Cavan Biggio. Interesting fact, the Jays also prospect, Griffin Conine, and Kacy Clemens whose dads Jeff and Roger respectively played in the Majors for a number of years.

Bo Bichette also wants people to know that he is a Christian. and while I haven’t found any articles about his faith in particular, his Twitter feed makes frequent reference to bible verses and his faith in God.

My takeaways from the Bichettes.

Pressure – All 3 have known success in baseball at various ages and levels, but they all talk about the importance that God plays in their life. God can handle the pressure no matter how strongly it comes, and with Him at work in our lives, He will help us deal with pressure too. Plus He will remind us of what is important. I think of the story in Luke 10. The disciples have returned from their journeys and have seen many things happen that they are excited about. Jesus reminds them not to get caught up in what they are doing, but instead celebrate that their names are written in Heaven. When we consider all the things that happen in this life, the good and the bad, it is easy to get caught up in that and feel the pressure or revel in the success. But the most important thing is our relationship with God. Putting Him ahead of everything else is always the best choice. Each of the Bichettes share this in one way or other. I am challenged again to do the same.

All-Star Focus – National League Edition – 3 All-Star Rookies


Two weeks ago, the MLB All-Star game was played in Cleveland. I wrote a post on some of the participants for the American League. Now it is the National League’s turn. All three players whose stories I will share were first-time All-Stars and appeared in the game. Let’s meet these stars:

David Dahl – Colorado Rockies OF.

Dahl had a hit and a run scored in his first All-Star game on July 9

I guess this is becoming a tradition for me. At All-Star time, I write a post that includes a Colorado Rockies player. In 2014 it was Charlie Blackmon, in 2017, Nolan Arenado was in the spotlight. Last year, I wrote about Trevor Story.  This year it is David Dahl’s turn.  For Dahl, it has been an arrival that many have anticipated. Dahl was selected by the Rockies 10th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school. He has played very well in this his third season in the majors, and he has avoided the injured list – a place where he has spent lots of time. He has battled a torn hamstring (2012) a lacerated spleen (2013) and a stress fracture in his ribs (2017) that led to back spasms. And last season, he spent 2 months on the shelf with a broken foot. But as you can read in this article from 280living, in the face of adversity, he leans on his faith in God.  He says “I have a tattoo of a Bible verse on my arm, Joshua 1:9, which says ‘Be Strong and Courageous…I’ve learned that if you have a good relationship with Christ, everything falls into place.”  

For many of us, we face the waves of hardships, challenges and annoyances that things aren’t going constantly on an upward trajectory to bigger and better things. These bumps in our roads are great times to remember that God is with us in the hard times, struggles, moments when we feel alone and frustrated. But He guides us to places of celebration and victory in those circumstances. Maybe it isn’t in a place where everyone gets to see it – like an All-Star game, but the hope and victory of knowing God helps us realize that our only choice is to “Be strong and courageous” in Him and trust Him to bring us to His best plan.

Ronald Acuna Jr. – Atlanta Braves OF

Acuna and fellow Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman

The 2018 National League Rookie of the Year was also named to his first All-Star game, earlier this month. He has taken the majors by storm in his season and a half in the bigs. Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he moved very quickly through the minor league system, and was promoted to the Braves in April 2018. He was the youngest major leaguer at the time. He finished hitting just below .300 with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He won the Rookie of the Year and finished 12th in MVP voting. He is building on that great first season with a similar home run total and even more stolen bases. The Venezuelan star has a high ceiling and credits his faith in God as a reason for his success and a help in the hard times.  He says “The most important thing is to never lose your faith. Just because your faith is what helps maintain you, especially during the tough times that happen on the field and off the field. Every time I take the field or even when I wake up, I have a conversation with God…I feel like I always pray to Him and have that relationship and I feel like He listens.”

Acuna’s mention of frequent conversations with God and building a relationship with Him is the key. You can’t get to know someone you don’t talk to or spend time with. The best way to get to know God is to spend time with Him, reading his word, praying and getting to know Him. And He loves to reveal Himself to people. I am challenged by Acuna’s word. With my work, I get to spend a lot of time reading and studying God’s word, but I know that it is more than reading the words, it is asking Him to speak to me and building that relationship with Him that will help most in my job and in my life.

Ketel Marte – Arizona Diamondbacks IF

Marte was named an All-Star starter for the game on July 9

Like Acuna, Ketel Marte was named a starter in the All-Star Game. And like both Acuna and Dahl, Marte is a first-time All-Star who has faced adversity and leans on his faith in God.  Marte was signed as an international free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He made his debut with them in 2015 and played well enough that the Mariners traded their shortstop to make room for Marte. But Marte struggled the next year with injury as well as in his performance.  After 1 season as the Mariners #1 shortstop, Marte was traded to Arizona. He started the season in the minors, but was brought up to play 73 games for them. The next season, he played regularly between 2nd base and shortstop, leading the National League in triples. This year, he was named a starter in the All-Star game and currently leads the National League in hits.

For Marte, the hardest thing that he has had to deal with is the death of his mother who was killed in an accident in July 2017. It was in this grieving process that Marte shared “I’m the type of person who has a lot of belief in God, a lot of faith in God, and that’s helped me through difficult times. My mother always wanted the best from me and for me, … I know she’s gone, and that’s very hard to deal with. But again, I’ve always been one to trust in God, and I know I will be OK.”

I guess the theme of this post is dealing with different adversity. Adversity will have some similarities but will mostly be different for each of us. The hard times, the unexpected bumps can really blindside us, but depending on God, trusting Him to be there to give us strength and help us through the things that we could never take on on our own is the best plan – in fact it is the only plan that works.