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.

Divided Loyalties – Jackie Slater -OL- Rams Hall of Fame & Matthew Slater – WR – New England Patriots

The Big Game is just 4 days away.

Imagine the loyalty that you would feel if you were drafted by an NFL team, and played there for the entirety of your 20-year Hall of Fame career. The team has retired your jersey number (78) and you are widely considered one of the best players to ever put on their uniform. You played with the franchise as it moved…twice. You are a key part of the history of a franchise that has been around since 1936.  You were a member of the franchise’s trip to the Super Bowl in 1979 (a loss to the Steelers). The franchise has split 2 Super Bowl appearances since then, and is making their 4th trip to the Big Game. It makes sense that with your history and connection to the franchise, you would be excited to cheer them on to victory.

 Jackie Slater played 20 seasons with the Rams. He was added to the Hall of Fame in 2001

But for Jackie Slater, despite all the deep-rooted connections to the Rams, this Sunday at Super Bowl LIII, it isn’t a cinch that he’ll be cheering for the Rams to win. You see, Jackie’s son, Matthew is a special teams ace for the New England Patriots – the Rams opponent on Sunday. And for Jackie, blood lines run as strong if not stronger that his history with the Rams.  But he sees the positive in it. He says “I can’t lose”.

Their numbers are remarkably similar despite the opposite ends of the football spectrum that they play. Jackie was a big offensive lineman, playing every snap of every game.  Matthew is officially a receiver but has caught only 1 pass and been targeted only 8 times in his 11 year career.

 Matthew Slater (#18) is a spiritual leader for the Patriots

Both have been to 7 Pro Bowls. Both have spent their entire career with the team that drafted them. They both have much sought after rings – albeit for different purposes. Matthew has 2 Super Bowl rings, Jackie has a Hall of Fame ring.

There is another thing that they have in common, too – a deep-rooted faith in God.

For Matthew, his greatest stage to share his faith has been his Super Bowl appearances (3 in a row now and 6 overall).  Check out this video from Super Bowl LI Media Day.

As for Jackie, he shared the importance of God in his life during his enshrinement speech at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He closed by talking about all the hard work, great teammates and great coaches that he played with.  “Well, you see, I know that God provided it all. The good health, the teammates, and even the driving desire to be the best, I’m thankful to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” 

But even more than to the fans of football at the Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2001, Jackie’s God first approach to life started on the field and at home. Matthew shares the reason he always calls heads at the coin toss to start an NFL game. “Well, I remember as a child watching my father play in LA and him going out and doing the coin toss for the Rams…He always called heads, so I asked him one time, ‘Hey, why do you do that? What’s the story behind that? I think anyone who knows my family knows faith is important to us, and for him, he was always like, ‘You know, God’s the head of my life, so I call heads’. That was something he came up with, and I’ve kind of just embraced it.”

Here are my takeaways from the Slaters’ story:

1- In the end, it’s just a game – As I get older, I see the passion that fans carry for their favorite team. I know that I can get caught up in allowing my mood to be affected by the success of my favorite teams. This can be a heart-breaking habit to form. Because generally in sports, in any year, there is only one champion – the rest of the league ultimately is disappointed with how the season ends. And the fans tend to carry the burdens of success and loyalty more strongly than the players do. If a team fails to win, change is called for. If a player should leave one team and go to another, especially if it is a rival team, hatred and boos greet the player the next time he/she is in town. We can’t allow our identity or our mood to get wrapped up in something as trivial as a sports event or else we wind up in despair more often than not.

 Jackie will cheer on his son on Sunday, but both will use the opportunity to share what God has done.

2- More Important Things – I have often written on these pages the way pro athletes use the platform of fame and success to share their faith with the world. I appreciate that so many take that opportunity. I know that the stories of Christian Athletes and their boldness to share their faith were significant in my faith journey. God used their boldness to as part of His plan to draw me back to Him. And we can take the same challenge on, too.  We may not have the media of the entire world putting a microphone in our faces and asking us about our faith, but we do have opportunities, every day, to shine the light of God’s love in the world around us. Join me in praying for those opportunities and for boldness to share our journey of faith. 

3-Like Father Like Son – I love stories like this. They challenge me to consider the legacy that I leave for my own kids. Will they see the importance of faith in my life? Will they feel comfortable to ask me why I strive to value God above all? Will they understand grace even more when they see me stumble? Will they choose the adventure that God has in store for them? I pray that the answer is “Yes”.

Championship Weekend Special – 4 Teams, 4 Reasons to Cheer

Championship weekend is here. I have been delinquent with my NFL posts this season, but there is no time like the present, right! Anyway, in an effort to atone, I will share part of the story of a player from each team that remains.

And I have some more lined up for the two teams that move on to the big game in a couple weeks.  So let’s dig in.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp

Los Angeles Rams – Cooper Kupp WR.

Kupp has been part of their dynamic offense since the Rams drafted him in the third round in 2017. Injury has cut this year short. He is on IR after a knee injury in week 10 and will not play in the game this weekend. In the first half of the season, he averaged over 14 yards per catch and 6 touchdowns.

Kupp is a third generation NFL player. His dad was a QB in the Early 90s and Cooper’s grandfather, Jake played in the NFL from 1964-1975 and was an original Saint (selected in the 1967 expansion draft). He is in the Saints Hall of Fame.

Cooper and his wife Anna chose to return to Eastern Washington for Cooper’s senior year. The couple chose to return to be positive influences, guiding the younger players on the team to prepare for college and making good decisions. He says “That’s one reason we came back: to have an influence on young adults in a very important time in their lives…When you see the way God impacts lives, it makes it a lot easier.

For more on his story, check out this CBN video

My takeaway from Kupp’s story:

Influence: My wife and I recently started a podcast about influence. We are reminded that influence happens naturally. We will all influence the people we are around. The question is will that influence be positive or negative. I really appreciate Cooper and Anna’s decision to be positive influencers on campus, even forgoing the NFL for a year to influence younger students at their college. It would have made sense to head to the NFL after his junior year, but after prayer and fasting, they chose instead to play one more year of college ball and intentionally use their influence to set younger students up for success. I’m challenged to remember to seek God’s leading instead of what may make the most sense to my selfish nature.

Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater

New Orleans Saints – Teddy Bridgwater QB

I am a Saints fan, but I live in suburban Minneapolis and so when the Saints traded to secure Teddy Bridgewater as a backup quarterback, I was familiar with him. He was a first round pick by the Vikings in 2014, and took over as the starting quarterback early on in the 2014 season. In 2016, after a couple of decent seasons, great things were expected of him. Instead, a horrific knee injury at practice sidelined him for that season and much of the next one. There was some question about whether he would ever be able to play again.

So what do you do when it all comes crashing down, and the things you had counted on or planned on come to a halt. For Teddy, it was important to keep strong faith in God and keep trusting that it would all work out for the best in the end. What was his perspective? “I just knew that it was in God’s hands…  I don’t know what just happened, but I know there’s someone out there who’s going through something worse than I am, so I just have to keep my faith and believe that everything’s going to be all right.'”

He also said “I never asked God why this happened to me, I’ve only told him thank you. A year later, he’s showing me why this happened to me.”

My takeaway from Bridgewater’s story:

Why? – When bad things, or hard things happen in our life, it is always tempting to ask “Why?” and try to figure out if we are being punished for something we have done. But I love the story found in John 9 where the disciples ask Jesus who is responsible for a blind man’s blindness – him or his parents. Jesus replies in verse 3 “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Sometimes hard things happen so that when God shows up and works it out our minds are completely blown away. That is what Teddy hints at when he tweets a year exactly after the injury, he is feeling grateful for God showing him why this happened. Let’s look for how God shows up in our hard times to celebrate that the Creator of all things is active in our life! What a joy that is!

Patriots TE Dwayne Allen

New England Patriots – Dwayne Allen – TE

New England is playing in their 8th straight AFC championship game. They embody the very definition of the word “dynasty”. Dwayne Allen is in his second year with the Patriots. He has already been to one Super Bowl with them and is hoping to make it two in a row, this time with even better results. He also reached the playoffs twice in his time with the Colts who drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft.

Allen has caught only 13 passes in his 2 seasons in New England, after scoring 19 TDs on 126 passes during his tenure with the Colts. But as you can see in the video below, Allen has more than stats in mind. He grew up in a tough situation.His mother had a string of abusive relationships that brought many challenges to the house. That resulted in a lot of anger in his life which on one hand, led him to football, but on the other hand, still had to be dealt with. Dealing with is led him to Jesus, who changed his life. These days, Allen, motivated by his hard upbringing, works with youth and advocates against domestic abuse.

My takeaway from Allen’s story:

Trade – The video talks about trading anger for forgiveness and grace. A change in his life is what allowed him to work through the anger and on to something more productive. We can all learn this lesson too. We all have things that we are holding on to, things that can block us from letting the true light of God shine through us. I pray that we can identify those things and allow God to work them out in our lives.

Chiefs Punter Dustin Colquitt

Kansas City Chiefs – Dustin Colquitt P

A few years back, I wrote a post on Dustin’s brother Britton who played at the time with the Denver Broncos. I wrote that post before the Super Bowl 38, which they lost. Britton would be a member of the Broncos team that won Super Bowl 50, so he did get his ring. And the Colquitt’s dad Craig won 2 Super Bowls as a punter with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will this be Dustin’s year?  Today will determine whether the Patriots or Chiefs move on to Super Bowl 53.

Dustin was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2005 draft. He is now in his 14th season with Kansas City and has been named to 2 Pro Bowls in his career. He is the Chiefs nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award this season. He is very active in the community representing Fuel Up to Play 60 and Team Smile as well as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action. He and his brother and father have also started the First Family of Fourth Down Scholarship Fund at the University of Tennessee.

But beyond punting, Craig Colquitt has instilled a love of God and a desire to serve others in his sons. Dustin says “Even though my dad played professionally, he just wanted us to be happy,” says Colquitt. “He was always more concerned with us having a relationship with Jesus Christ and how we treated others.”

He goes on to say “In society, being a football player is probably the most important thing, but to God it isn’t. I only play football for seven minutes each season, but it’s an earthly platform that God is using to spread His Word. To me that’s cooler than any punt I’ll ever make.”

Here are my takeaways from Colquitt’s story:

Platform – A punter is not the most involved, active member of the team. As Dustin says, he only accounts for about 7 minutes of action each season. But he has used that role to gain a platform to make a difference in many different areas, from dental care and healthy eating to sharing his faith in God, Dustin shows the importance that God plays in his life but taking opportunities to share. What are the opportunities that we have to share God’s importance in our life? Are we making the most of those opportunities? Let’s step up!