A couple years ago, the NFL loosened its rules on Touchdown Celebrations. Since then, we have seen some very creative expressions of joy and celebration. There have been tributes to video games, bowling, movies, and even epic baseball fights to name a few. Here in Minnesota, the Vikings have won fans over with a limbo contest, leapfrog, Duck-Duck-whatever, and Thanksgiving dinner.
But in the last decade, the most well-known expression by a football player is still Tim Tebow (read the post I wrote about him a few years back). He would often be seen kneeling and bowing his head. He was quick to share that it was an expression of love and devotion to God. It quickly became known as “Tebowing” – a term the former NFL quarterback has trademarked.
And while Tebow was not the first to do it, this pose quickly became something he was known for? So, trivia buffs… who was the first?
That honor belongs to Herb Lusk, a running back that the Philadelphia Eagles drafted in the 10th round of the 1976 draft (273 overall). He was known as “The Praying Tailback”. He played parts of 3 seasons with the Eagles. On October 9, 1977, Lusk scored on a 70 yard TD run. He knelt down in the end zone and said a prayer of thanks to God. “It was my way of saying thanks. I hurt my knee in junior college and the doctors said I’d never play football again, but I put my fate in God’s hands. I prayed every day and I knew if my knee healed, it was His will for me to continue playing.” It was actually his second touchdown of the game. He knelt after the first one, too but it was after a 1 yard run and surrounded by celebrating teammates, it was not as noticed. But after a 70 yard dash to the end-zone, he was alone to celebrate as he saw fit. Those would be the only rushing touchdowns of his career. All told, he played in 28 games with the Eagles. But he stayed closely associated with the team. He is a pastor in the Philadelphia area and has served as a team chaplain. Check out this video from the Eagles Super Bowl winning season.
After 3 seasons with the Eagles, Lusk left the team to pursue life as a pastor. “I’m leaving the game very happy and very proud,” Lusk said at the time. “I don’t feel like I’m going to miss the game. I’m moving up to better things.”
And the better things that Lusk has been doing? He became the pastor at Greater Exodus Baptist Church on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. When he started there, there were 17 members in the church and large debt – somewhere around $1 million. “I remember there were leaks in the roof, we had buckets of water everywhere,” Lusk said in an interview with NFL Films president Steve Sabol.
“So how did you turn it around?” Sabol asked. Lusk pointed to the heavens.“Once again, I put my faith in God,” he said.
And God has led him to some great work. The church has grown, Lusk has started a job training program, a charter school, housing for homeless, and food distribution program.
He also has been active in providing spiritual guidance for the Philadelphia Eagles – a team that has many players and coaches who are outspoken about their faith in God. When asked if faith in God alienates some teammates in NFL locker rooms, he says “Not really. Not our relationship with Jesus Christ because basically what we do is, we love everybody. The great commandment is that you should love your Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s impossible to alienate people when you love them.”
While Lusk did not have a long, Hall of Fame career in the NFL, he is leaving a legacy of faith both with his actions as a player and his guidance as a pastor.
Here are my takeaways from Lusk’s story:
1- Always on Display – He took the moment of greatest NFL success to point to his Savior. Many didn’t know the journey he had been on before then – the injury and prognosis that suggested football was done – He trusted that God would carry out His will and Lusk would simply walk in obedience. Before that moment, Lusk continued to pray that God’s will be done. He continued to go through the doors that God opened for him. That is all that any of us can do. God always leads us to the best possible place for us to be – we are called follow and trust, even when obstacles and trials arise. This is not a simple task, but it is always for the best. And so often, the plan God leads us to is even beyond what we could hope for. When those moments come, may we also just bow in honor and recognition that everything we have is from Him.
2- Do not Alienate People – So often, Christians in an effort to hold true to the word of God, take God’s place as judge of other people and their lives and choices. The only person that we have any control over as far as choices go is ourself. And even then, we sure need God’s help to make good choices. And while there are others around us that make choices that go against God’s teaching, convicting them of their sin is not our role. Our role, the task that Jesus himself calls us to is to love each other. If we are loving others as we love ourselves, we will not alienate them. We will be a channel of God’s love to reach out to them. He will take care of their hearts. We are just called to love. May we as Christians live that as our purpose – to love others with all that we have.