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!

Super Bowl LII – Who are you gonna cheer for?

Every year at this time, 15/16ths of NFL fans have already seen their team’s season end unsatisfactorily. The hopes of a championship crushed by the reality that this is simply not our team’s year. For some of us, the roller coaster of emotions and expectations for our favorite team lasted longer than others. I am a Saints fan, and after an 0-2 start, things looked grim, then things turned around and they strung together win after win en route to a division title and a playoff birth. Then, it looked like they would pull off a huge, unexpected comeback against the Vikings, only to watch those hopes dashed spectacularly on a play now known in these parts as the “Minneapolis Miracle“. Vikings, fresh off this win, looked like a team of destiny, a lock to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium – something that has never happened before. But their express train into history came off the tracks against the Eagles and Vikings fans had yet another tough pill to swallow. Those examples of how the seasons ended for a couple of teams that I have an interest in. There are story lines in 28 other fan bases of a season without a championship.

That being said, The Super Bowl is a big event that will be watched by far more people than the fan bases of the 2 teams in the game.  There will be general football fans, prop betters, commercial gawkers, halftime show watchers and social butterflies celebrating a reason to get together with friends and eat piles of good (if not good for you) food. It is a day to celebrate, getting together and hanging out, even if we don’t care much about the results of the game.

But if you are going to watch the game and are wondering who to cheer for, check out the videos below – one from CBN (link only) and one from Sports Spectrum Magazine, for the faith stories of many players in the game. I will also link to the players involved in the game that I have written about on these virtual pages. Feel free to comment below who you are rooting for, or your comments on these faith stories!  Enjoy the game everyone!

From Sports Spectrum

Check out the Sports Spectrum Article here

And the CBN video that features from the Eagles TE Zack Ertz, Safety Malcolm Jenkins, OT Will Beatty, QB Nick Foles,

and from the Patriots WR Matthew Slater, OL Nate Solder, DB Duron Harmon, DB Devin McCourty, TE Dennis Allen,

can be seen at this link

And click on the names of the following players/coaches to read the posts I wrote about them:

New England Patriots

OL Nate Solder

RB Rex Burkhead

OL Marcus Cannon

DB Devin McCourty

Patriots in Super Bowl LI

Patriots at Super Bowl XLIX

Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

Philadelphia Eagles

QB Nick Foles

QB Carson Wentz

TE Trey Burton

OL Stefen Wisniewski 

DB Chris Maragos

DB Malcolm Jenkins

Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich 

Hidden Blessings – Nate Solder – New England Patriots – OL

Patriots OT Nate Solder

Football can be a brutal sport. Every year there are players whose lives are impacted by an injury in one way or another. Sometimes it will be the end of the season, sometimes it can lead to the end of a career. For Patriots Offensive Lineman Nate Solder the injury he sustained on October 11,2015 provided a way to be with his family during a particularly trying time.

In a win against the Cowboys, Solder suffered a tear in his right biceps that would cost him the remainder of the season. Eight days later, the 2011 Patriots 1st round pick out of University of Colorado would learn that his infant son Hudson had been diagnosed with a Wilms tumor (a rare form of cancer) on his Kidney. Solder, and his wife Lexi would see their 3 month-old son undergo a series of Cancer treatments. As the Patriots and Solder prepared for the Super Bowl last February (15 months later), Solder shared the lessons he has learned on this journey with his family. He says “We get caught up in our own personal issues, our own personal pains and sufferings, and we forget that there’s a lot of other people out there that are suffering. “We have an opportunity to help those people and not to get lost in our own pain.” He continues “It’s not just about suffering well in your own life,” he said. “It’s about entering into other people’s suffering, just as Christ would.

Lexi and Nate Solder with son Hudson

Solder sees this challenge as another way that God has shown up in his life.  The story of Hudson has resonated with people in a powerful way. Solder says “I think it was totally in the providence of God, as all things are.”… And after they came out publicly about Hudson’s condition, he heard from several parents who resonated with his story. “That was just one of the many ways that God’s used Hudson’s issue to touch other people’s lives. I don’t know why God does all of the things that He does, but it’s been an eye-opening experience, for sure.”

Where did this strength of faith come from? Well, remarkably, this hasn’t been the first encounter this young family has had with cancer. Just 3 weeks before Nate and Lexi were married, it was discovered that Nate had testicular cancer.  He underwent surgery and treatment that has left him cancer free.  In this article from Patriots.com we learn that dealing with his own cancer brought him a renewed trust and dependence on God.

Solder and Tom Brady after Solder’s Surprising TD catch against the Colts in the 2014 AFC championship game.

The article says “And through the surgery, his recovery, his wedding, his championship season, and his imminent fatherhood, Solder revealed he has become something else in the past year: a renewed Christian. He found his faith strengthened by the cancer ordeal, and chose to be baptized again because he felt like he was making a conscious decision to recommit his life to his religious beliefs.`It happened so quickly,” added Solder, “I had such a minor case, I had such good care with the doctors and trainers here, the fact that Lexi is such a strong person, we were able to weather the storm, and our faith through the whole deal was made stronger. It was such a blessing to have that.‘”

Their faith and desire to be positive in the face of challenging circumstances have been noticed by the Patriots family who named Solder the winner of their Ed Block Courage award last season.

But far beyond success on the field, awards, Super Bowls or recognition, The new perspective that Solder has on life is his biggest takeaway. He says “I just know how frail everything is, how easily it can be taken away and how fortunate we are to be out here every single day. But I have my priorities set, and my top priority is God and then my family. When those things are squared away, everything else falls into line. My faith in the Lord is so much bigger than anything we’re doing here, so much bigger than the Super Bowl.”

Nate and Hudson celebrating a Super Bowl victory a year ago.

Here are my takeaways from Solder’s story.

1- Striving– Why are we so inclined to think that fame, success and reaching the pinnacle of what the world seems to value will truly satisfy? Over and over again on these pages, I have come across stories of people who have learned that putting God first and living the way He desires of us is the best way to live. We can dress it up any way we want, but putting other things ahead of God is a recipe for disaster. We see it over and over in the Bible, and it is easy to see in our own lives, too. I pray that we may all be able to say, as Solder did, that our faith in the Lord is so much bigger than anything we are doing here. If we are going to strive, let’s strive to show His importance above all else in our lives.

2- Hidden Blessings –  Solder suffered a painful injury that ended his 2015 season. But that injury turned out to be a blessing because it freed him up to be with his young family as they navigated through their son’s cancer diagnosis. For the Solder family, they found blessings in their hardship. Cancer diagnosis for Nate leads them to renewing their faith in God. An injury to Nate helps the family be together in a time of crisis. God uses all parts of our story to draw us closer to Him. Anything that does that is a blessing.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own world as we are trying  to carve our spot, secure our place and build our legacy that it becomes hard to trust God’s plan. Sometimes, bad news helps us out. It invites us to trust in Him, lean on Him, cling to Him and know that with Him, all things are possible.

Support – Aaron Colvin – DB – Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars defensive back Aaron Colvin

Aaron Colvin was invited to the Senior Bowl after finishing his outstanding career at University of Oklahoma – kind of like being called in for an interview, so imagine the disappointment he must have felt , when he tore an ACL during the practices for the Senior Bowl. Not only would he not get the chance to play in the game, but he would face a lengthy recovery from the injury- missing the combine and other work outs as well. He expected to possibly be a first round draft pick but the injury would make slide down draft boards.

In his second ever game, Colvin returned a fumble for a TD against the Giants.

The Jaguars took a chance on Colvin anyway, drafting him in the 4th round of the 2014 draft. He worked on his rehabilitation and made his debut in week 12 of the 2014 season. The next week he returned a fumble for a win-securing Touchdown. It was a relief for Colvin to get back on the field and play. He says “It kind of just brought me back a little and opened my eyes that everything paid off. It took me a lot to get here — 11 months of rehab. The first game, there’s always going to be growing pains, but I harp on myself to get better and come back the next week and make plays.

Colvin (22) and Jalen Ramsey (20) now patrol the field together for the Jags. During his suspension, Colvin helped bring Ramsey learn the NFL game and the Jaguars system.

This was not the only time that Colvin would miss time. He was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2016 season for taking a substance that was on the banned list. He knew that he had made a mistake and owned up to it but having secured a starting role in 2015, the team would have to name a new starter. There was  a possibility that the new starter could excel and that would put Colvin’s return as a starter in question. But as you can read in the linked article, Colvin showed a team-first approach and help his potential replacements get up to speed on the playbook and coverages. He said “At first it was pretty tough – I can’t lie – and as a competitor, I’m sure any of these guys would feel the same way. “When you have to take a step back, when you know you can help this team and this defense, it can be challenging at times but you can try to find the silver linings in any situation. That’s what I’m doing right now and I know this defense pretty well, so I’m just helping the new guys and the younger guys to help them go out and do some of the things that I did.” He continued “It’s weird man, it’s crazy because I’m only going into my third year. “But I’m mentoring a rookie and it’s different. I take it as a challenge.”

Colvin had an interception against the Bills last week to secure the victory. How far will the Jaguars playoff run go?

Upon his return from suspension, he played in 10 games, making 4 starts. Then an ankle injury sidelined him again. More adversity. But he returned this year to play well. He had a key interception in last week’s win over the Bills and was named the Jaguars Ed Block Courage Award winner, given to one player on each team who is seen by his teammates as a role model, inspiration and/or courage. He said “Everything I do is for God, but to have my teammates’ support and approval and to realize that the hard work that I’ve put in and the challenges that I’ve overcome to be in this situation, it means the world to me… “My faith is kind of what changed it all. I relied on my faith, my family and my friends and because of the situation with the Senior Bowl I knew what to expect, I knew how to go about my rehab, I know what I did right last time and I know what I did wrong last time. It was an easier transition than the first injury. My faith allowed me to not have any worries. I never doubted God once and I knew that it happened for a reason.”

Now he and the Jaguars take on the Steelers for a chance to go to New England and play the Patriots in the conference championship game next week. It has been a quick rise to playoff caliber team for the Jags. Will their season continue today?

Here are my takeaways from Colvin’s story:

1- Lean on Support – Colvin has been sidelined with injury and with suspension. In each situation, his teammates have were supportive and helped Colvin with his rehab and his return to play. They continue to support and encourage him by naming his their Ed Block award winner this season. Friends and family are great supports and leaning on faith in God is even more dependable. Will you lean on Him for support when adversity comes your way. It may be adversity brought on my circumstances out of our control (like Colvin’s injuries) or one that are in our control (taking a banned supplement). We are called to live in community with others, let them be your support.

2- Support others – When Colvin was facing the suspension for a banned substance. That meant that he would lose his starting job for at least those 4 weeks. He chose to support his team and help them out by working with his replacements helping them trend towards success even though their success could mean (and did mean) loss of playing time for him. There is a lesson to learn for us about selflessness. Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort, our status for the sake of others? I used to work at Trader Joe’s. In the staff room there is a graphic of their company hierarchy. It is an inverted triangle with the customers on the broad top, supported by the crew who are supported by management who are supported by corporate headquarters. it is a backwards hierarchy. You would expect the bosses to be higher than their employees, but they have chosen a model of servant leadership. Jesus demonstrated servant leadership as well in washing his disciples feet and by dying for his enemies. Let’s look for opportunities to serve and support others around us, putting them above us in our hierarchy.

 

Relearn the Game – Vic Beasley Jr – LB – Atlanta Falcons

Vic Beasley Jr – LB for the Atlanta Falcons, led the NFL last season in sacks

Things looked great for the Atlanta Falcons to win their first ever Super Bowl last February 5th in Houston Texas. They had taken a 21-3 lead into half time and were surprising many as the Patriots were favored to win the game. The Falcons would score first  in the second half, too building a 25 point lead midway through the third quarter. But then, the unthinkable happened. The Patriots calmly started to catch up. They scored 19 a third quarter touchdown and then 19 points in the 4th quarter to send the SuperBowl to its first ever overtime game. The Patriots won the coin toss and drove down the field to score the winning touchdown. It was a remarkable comeback that was celebrated all over Patriots Nation. But in the other locker room, the agony of defeat was immense. They had a chance to defeat the mighty Patriots and win a championship, but couldn’t hold the lead. It was the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.

I’ve tried to come up with some scenario from my life that would help me relate to this situation, but I came up empty. All I can say is that it had to be a stinging loss.  Victory seemed imminent but ultimately was not to be. I can only imagine the sick feelings that filled that Falcons locker room on that day. As you can read in this article from the Christian Post, even in the midst of that tough loss, Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley was keeping his mind and thoughts on God. Shortly after the game, he tweeted “Some things in life you never FULLY UNDERSTAND!!! BUT in the midst of all God is still good!

Beasley (center) with parents. His father passed away during Beasley’s senior year at Clemson.

Vic Beasley was finishing up his second year in the NFL. An 8th overall pick out of Clemson, it was the end of a breakout year for him and a sign that great things are to come for this Atlanta Defense. During his college days, he faced the challenge of learning different positions. Since starting high school, Beasley has played 7 different positions. His final position change was after joining the Falcons who turned him from a Defensive End to Linebacker. He was named an All-Pro last season after leading the league with 15.5 sacks. This season he battled injury early on, but has been an important part of the return to the Playoffs for the Falcons.

Beasley hits Tom Brady for an incompletion during Super Bowl LI. The Patriots completed and epic comeback to defeat the Falcons

The Super Bowl loss was no doubt tough, but Beasley had battled even tougher losses than that one. This Christian Index article  and This Washington Post article tell us about how that “during his time at Clemson Vic’s father and brother both died and he had to be strong and a source of strength for his mother and other family members. They discovered they could draw from his faith and dependence upon God. Dunne declares, “He (Beasley) persists as a source of joy to everyone around him. The call him ‘a different bird,’ a ‘devout Christian’ … and a ‘beacon of light.’” He is also quoted as saying “God has strengthened me through the death of my dad. He’s been my armor the whole time, all the time I grew up and my mother taking me to church and stuff. He’s always come through for me. I might not have always done the right thing, but God has always been on my side.”

Here are my takeaways from Beasley’s story.

Beasley scored a TD on a fumble recovery earlier this season. The Falcons are hoping to get back to the Super Bowl again this year.

1- Praise God in adversity – I heard a speaker once say that faith is like a muscle – it grows when it is exercised. Faith is exercised when we need to depend on something to help us because things are out of control. We put our faith in lots of different places. We put faith in ourself, our money, our family, and when all else fails, we put faith in God. We seem to have this backwards. The reality that this life teaches us over and over again is that  we are not in control of anything except our decision of whether or not to put our faith in God. Beasley shows through his story that faith in God is all that consistently supports and sustains us.

2- Relearn the Game – I mentioned that Beasley has played 7 different positions. He started as a defensive back and wide receiver, transitioned to tight end, linebacker and running back (his preferred position) he even returned a punt. When he changed position, he had to learn some new things about football. His coach Marion Hobby said “(the) first mission… was to completely rewire the way Beasley thought about football. Beasley needed to learn the proper stances, how to play the six- or five-technique, react to the ball movement, reading keys, taking angles, recognizing formations. Everything. It was basically Football 101 from the beginning, It was a process that I knew was going to take some time.”

I find it interesting that it seems the more I learn about God, the more I see that I don’t know. God reveals more about himself to me and as I learn, I know that I will never understand how God works or why he chooses to stop some things or allow some things. But I learn more about the depths of his love and the vast reach of their grace. Each time that He challenges me to follow the example that Jesus lived, loving others around him, serving others and living righteously, I have to reset my mind to follow that example. But He is a patient coach and wants us to succeed.Dig out your playbook and let the coach help guide you.