Boston Scott – Not about the Doubters

Boston Scott

Boston Scott, back in his days at Louisiana Tech.  Photo by Andrew Bell

He stands 5 feet and 6 inches tall.

He weighs 203 pounds.

He never received a scholarship to play NCAA football.

He was a walk-on at Louisiana Tech.

That doesn’t sound like the resume of an NFL athlete.  Yet that describes Philadelphia Eagles running back, Boston Scott.

Scott attended Zachary High School in a small town about a hundred miles northwest of New Orleans.  He played football, soccer, and ran track.  He won the state championship in powerlifting.  He totaled more than 1,500 all-purpose yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and scoring 17 touchdowns.  But he was also 5’6.”  In spite of his strength, his speed, and his success, he didn’t look like an NCAA football player.  He didn’t’ make anyone’s top prospect list.  He didn’t catch the eyes of college recruiters.  He didn’t receive any scholarship offers. 

But that didn’t stop his dream.  Scott enrolled at Louisiana Tech and tried out for the football team.  He told Andrew Doughty of Hero Sports; “I loved football. I was going to show up, practice hard and, if things turned my way, I would run with it.”

Run with it he did!  By his senior year, he rushed for 1,047 yards, scored 9 total touchdowns, reeled in 20 catches for 181 yards, and was named a part of the Conference USA All-Conference team in 2017.  He did not garner much national attention but was dubbed by Doughty; “The most elusive player you’ve never heard of.”

In spite of his size and his lack of recognition, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL draft.  He made the Saints practice squad but was then signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in week 15 of the 2018 season.

Athletes often share how they are motivated by the doubters and the haters.  They often set out to prove wrong the people who said they wouldn’t make it.  Boston Scott had plenty of people who said that he wouldn’t make it.  They, however, weren’t his main source of motivation.

Scott told Rob Maadi of the Faith on the Field Show; “At the end of the day, when you do achieve what want to achieve where are the people that said that you couldn’t do it?  They’re nowhere to be found.  I always tell people, ‘yeah it’s cool to prove the doubters wrong, but I do what I do to prove the people who believe in me right…’  That’s kind of the mindset that I’ve adopted and that’s kind of how I move.”

Scott isn’t motivated by his desire to prove people wrong.  In fact, he really isn’t motivated by what others think of him at all!  Instead, he gets his courage, strength, and motivation from God and defines himself – not by what people think of him – but how God thinks of him.  Scott’s favorite Bible verse is Joshua 1:9; Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous?  Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go. 

Concerning those words, Scott told Maadi; so, you know, that stuck with me for a long time, because I’ve definitely been through a lot of adversity.  I was a walk-on at Louisiana Tech.  And there were a lot of times where I face adversity with injuries, you know, with not playing. And I feel like, in the league, it’s a revolving door.  You can be in.  You can be out.  You know, it’s all based on your performance.  How you perform on the field kind of dictates how people see you; how people view you.  But I know that, at the end of the day, no matter if I’m the best football player or if things don’t even work out with football.  I know that, regardless, God loves me for who I am and that’s not gonna change, you know, regardless of what happens to me; whether that’s stepping on the field – whether that’s in life.  I know that, no matter what I go through, He’s always going to be with me no matter what, so that’s why I carry myself with confidence.  That’s why I’m strong.  That’s why I am courageous; because that’s what He’s commanded us to be, because He’s going to be with us.

Scott’s words remind us the of the words of the Apostle Paul.  Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10; for am I now seeking the approval of man or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Scott demonstrates an important lesson for us.  Our motivation in life should not come from a desire to prove others wrong or to gain the approval of others.  We have a God who created us in His image, who loves us dearly, and has given His Son to die for us.  Our identity is in Him.  Our strength comes from Him.  Our motivation should come from a desire to serve Him and to live as His children.  Scott strives each day to prove the people who believed in him right.  We strive each day to give the glory to the one who died for us.

To read more about the Philadelphia Eagles and their Christian faith, check out Rob Maadi’s book, Birds of Pray, available on Amazon.

As an Amazon Affiliate site, if you purchase this book through this link, I receive a small commission.

 

Mason Rudolph – Making an Impact

Mason Rudolph

Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback, Mason Rudolph.  Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri

Image is everything.

In a culture of 33-character tweets, instagram photos, and 30-second news stories, creating marketable images is paramount.  The formula is simple; stage an inspiring photo, broadcast the image to the world, move on, and repeat.

In 2015, a 4-year old boy named Gavin King was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called medulloblastoma.  He endured months of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments.  In October of that year, ‘Coaches vs. Cancer’ and ‘ProCure’ collaborated to give children like Gavin an experience to create joy and hope for those who had gone through so much suffering.  After the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State game, children like Gavin would be pared with an Oklahoma State player for a ceremony.  The day would be a blessing to the children and provide them with a joyful memory that they would never forget!

Of course, there would also be the photo-op.

In the photograph, Mason is holding young Gavin in his arms.  Gavin looks to the crowd and waves, while Mason looks up into the stands.  The picture has found its home in the King’s household, perched on a ledge at eye level and encased in a frame which bears white flowers and small Oklahoma State logos.  The frame rests on a white handkerchief with blue cursive lettering.  The lettering reads; He will wipe away every tear… Rev. 21:4.

The picture had been taken.  The image had made its way to the Oklahoman newspaper.  Mason Rudolph and OSU had done their good deed, projected their desired image, and strengthened their brand.  Now, it was time to move on a repeat.

Only that’s not Mason Rudolph.

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Mason Rudolph’s grandfather was a preacher.  He explained to Fellowship of Christian Athletes; “Growing up with my family, my grandfather being a minister, I was always around the gospel. Once I made it to college, my faith had to become my own. The distance away from my family actually strengthened my relationship with Christ. I passionately pursue Christ because I want to be a witness for Him and use this platform to impact our community. I think my faith has grown in every chapter of my life, especially in college.”  To Adam Kramer at Bleacher Report, he added; “I was brought up with a biblical background, with an idea that I could and should do what I could in my community.  If I were to get a platform through football or something else, I didn’t want this just to be a gain for myself.  I wanted to give back and impact people.”

While still at Oklahoma State, that’s exactly what Mason did.  Fellowship of Christian Athletes arranged opportunities for him to read books to children and speak to elementary school students. He led team-building exercises with high school football teams.  He spent his Thanksgiving in 2016 serving dinners at a local food bank.  He took part in Tim Tebow’s 2015 “Night to Shine” event, which serves as a prom for teenagers with special needs.  When he heard of tragedies in the area, Rudolph would go to the hospital and visit the victims.

Oklahoma State coach, Mike Gundy, said of Rudolph; “I said this three years ago, and I’ll say it again.  I have three sons, and if they could grow up to be as squared away off the field as Mason is, it would make me comfortable as a dad.  That’s the kind of kid he is.”

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Mason Rudolph isn’t concerned with his brand, his image, or creating a picture-perfect, inspirational photo.  His goal is to use the platform God has given him to become a blessing to others.

The day after the photograph with Gavin was taken, Gavin’s mother, Angela received a message from Oklahoma State.  Rudolph was seeking permission to contact the family.  He explains, “I wanted them to know I wasn’t just a guy in a picture to them.  I wanted to have some kind of relationship.”  Rudolph would send text messages to Gavin.  He would reach out with words of encouragement during times of treatment.  The two developed a special bond.

Soon after Christmas that year, Gavin was called home to glory.

Rudolph has remained in contact with Gavin’s family.  Their connection continues to be a blessing.  Gavin’s mother Angela explains; “I feel like my child and his story along with Mason’s is just going to keep going.  His impact is still here.”

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As it turns out, Oklahoma State was just the beginning of Rudolph’s journey. In 2018, he was selected in the 3rd Round of the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  On Sunday, September 15, 2019, Steeler’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, went down with a season ending injury.  Rudolph has taken over as the starting quarterback and will receive the first start of his NFL career this upcoming Sunday, September 22, in San Francisco against the 49ers.

There are many who doubt his talent.  Nick Schwartz of “For the Win,” dropped the Steeler’s odds of making the playoffs by 26% when Rudolph was named starter.  Steven Ruiz of USA Today published an article entitled, “Mason Rudolph Isn’t the Short- or Long-Term Answer at QB for the Steelers.”

Beginning this Sunday, Rudolph has the opportunity to prove the world wrong.  His plan is simple.  He will look to Christ for strength.  He tells Sports Spectrum; “Christ is at the center of it.  It’s Christ who will always be there for you; He’s your foundations.  So just getting in the Word and leaning on a few of my life verses throughout the week, as well as constant communication with my parents – that’s my secret to success.”

As young Gavin King would be glued to his television screen during Oklahoma State games, the world will be watching as Rudolph takes the field on Sunday.  Whether his college success will translate to the NFL is yet to be determined.  But his faith, his maturity, and kindness are already making an impact.

Matt Overton – the Man who will Buy Your Colts Season Tickets

Matt Overton

Jacksonville Jaguars Long Snapper, Matt Overton.  Photo by Jeffrey Beall

On Saturday, August 24th, the Sports World was in shock.  Andrew Luck, the 29-year old star quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, unexpectedly announced his retirement from the gave that he loves so dearly. 

People reacted in a wide variety of ways. 

Some offered their empathy and respect.  Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel said that “it takes a strong human being to sand up and do what he believes is right for him.”   Former Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said; “I comment him for having the guts to come forward and be truthful.  Personal health is more important than any game or team!” 

Of course, not every response was a supportive one.  Some criticized his timing.  Others doubted his commitment to the game, to his team, and to his fans.  Some, such as OJ Simpson, were most concerned about what that would means for their Fantasy Teams.  OJ tweeted; “Andrew Luck you couldn’t have shared the news before I drafted you an hour ago?”

The response that has garnered the most attention, however, was that of some of the Colt’s fans.  Some booed Luck.  Others demanded refunds on their season ticket. 

Andrew Luck

Former Indianapolis Colt Quarterback, Andrew Luck.  Photo by Erik Drost.

That’s where Jacksonville Jaguars’ long-snapper, Matt Overton comes in.

When Colts fans demanded a refund on their season tickets, Overton had a wonderful response.  He was upset by the negative reaction of fans and said “I thought to myself, how can we turn this into a positive?”  He came up with a brilliant idea.  He went to Twitter with an offer; “To angry Colts season ticket holders who are seeking a refund, I’d be more than happy to buy your season tix off of you & donate them to @Rileychildrens patients and their families.  I’m serious.  All love, Matt.”  Riley Hospital is an Indianapolis Hospital that Overton calls “near and dear to me.”

The name ‘Matt Overton’ isn’t exactly as well known as that of ‘Andrew Luck.’  His story, however, is an intriguing one.  Overton was a talented high school long snapper who also wanted to play linebacker in college.  To find an opportunity to do both, he attended a Division II school, Western Washington.  Western Washington is not exactly a football powerhouse.  The only player ever drafted out of the school was Dave Weedman back in 1960.  During Overton’s time there, however, there was a talented kicker and punter named Michael Koenen.  Koenen was named a Division II All American by several major publications and was named to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Conference team four times as a placekicker and twice as a punter.  He would eventually go on to punt for the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.  As scouts came to watch Koenen, they noticed Overton as well.

Overton, however, did not find immediate success.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of College in 2007 by the Seattle Seahawks, but never made the team.  Receiving no further interest from NFL teams, he went to play indoor football for the Tri-Cities Fever.  In 2009, he moved to the United Football League and played for the Florida Tuskers.  In 2010, he was signed by the Seahawks again, but again failed to make the team.  He went back to the United Football League for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, this time with the Omaha Nighthawks.

It wasn’t until 2012; 5 years after graduating college, that he got his first taste of regular season NFL action. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts, where he played (with Andrew Luck) from 2012-2016.  In 2016 he was cut by the Colts and went on to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Overton’s career did not go the way that he planned.  He didn’t plan on waiting 5 years after college to make it to the NFL.  He didn’t plan on bouncing around through 2 other football leagues to get there.  He loved playing for the Colts, and didn’t plan on being cut.  He told Bryce Johnson at the Unpackin’ It podcast, that the one team he never wanted to play for was the Jaguars.  At times, he considered giving up.  When he faced challenges, however, Overton turned to God’s Word.  James 1:2 says Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of every kind, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Overton learned through his struggles that, even when God’s plans are different than ours, He is always doing great things in our lives.  Overton encourages us to trust in God especially in those moments.  He says “we like to think that we know best… When God takes you somewhere unexpected, just embrace it.  Allow yourself to have an open heart, an open mind, and be vulnerable to it.  Allow God to guide your steps because he will never fail you.”   He offered also the following words of encouragement on Twitter on August 26; “God loves you.  Right where you are.  No matter how big the mess is.”

 Like the rest of the sports world, Overton was shocked to hear the news of Luck’s retirement.  But he also knows that God is good, and that He will bless him, no matter what the next chapter is.  Overton put it this way; “Just listened to Luck’s retirement.  I am shocked just as you are but I 100% understand, support, & applaud.  We play a kids game for a living & there is a wonderful life to be lived outside of football…  Go get your health and your joy back brother.”

 

Trey Flowers – One of Eleven

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Sketch of Trey Flowers by Jack Kurzenknabe

One out of eleven.

Each individual on the football field is one out of eleven players representing his team.

New England Patriot’s defensive lineman, Trey Flowers, had a long time to get used to that ratio.  Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, young Trey was one of eleven siblings.

In a family that large, you have to pitch in.  Trey’s father, Robert, owns Flowers Construction Company.  By the time he was 10-years old, Trey was already constructing walls, hanging shingles, and helping build houses.  Robert explained to Mark Daniels; “I’m a contractor. I worked hard. I wanted them to work, too.  Trey worked as hard as I did. When he was 12-years-old, he was worth $25 an hour to me. He could put on as much shingles or do as much construction work as any grown man.”

Trey learned as a young man the value of quiet, honest, hard work.  He has carried that blue-collar work ethic all the way to the NFL.  Flowers explains; “We grew up on a construction site.  It was just something about coming home, you’ve been gone from 6 in the morning to 8 at night coming home to a good meal, take a shower, go to sleep and do it all the next day. It was something that was instilled into us at a young age.”

Flowers worked hard; on the job site and on the football field.  His work was rewarded with a scholarship to the University of Arkansas.  The staff had discovered him through a YouTube highlight video and scouted him at a basketball game.  He was not, however, heavily recruited.  When he went to Arkansas, he found himself quickly buried on the bench.

That didn’t discourage Flowers.  Instead, he did what he did best; worked hard.  In time, his hard work payed off.  He became a starter and eventually got drafted by the New England Patriots in the 4th Round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Reaching the NFL hasn’t changed Trey Flowers.  He’s still known for being quiet, humble, and working hard.  Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores, gave him a nickname; “The Quiet Storm.”

Patriot’s defensive back Jason McCourty told the Boston Globe that the nickname “makes a lot of sense. I remember when I first got here, Trey always had his headphones on and I’m like… ‘he doesn’t talk at all.’ And then when you kind of get to know him a little more, you see he does talk, and laughs and jokes a lot.  He represents what we want to be as a defense, a guy that does more with his play than with his mouth and a tough guy that whatever is asked of him — setting the edge against the run game or getting pressure on the quarterback — he’s able to be versatile.”

Flowers adds; “I didn’t know about the nickname, but I do feel as though it’s one of those things that it does fit my personality.  I don’t say much, just put my head down. Anytime I am saying something, it’s obviously something that needs to be said. I guess people appreciate the words a little bit more than saying, ‘Nah, he’s just talking.’ I think it’s just describes who I am.”

One of the reasons Flowers doesn’t brag or boast about his success is because he knows he didn’t make it here alone.  He knows that his success comes from God.  He explained to Rob Maadi on the Faith on the Field Show; “You go through life and you have different experiences and you just understand that nobody but God could have put you in that situation, So, you just know that and know that, no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, you’re not at this level without Him, so you’ve got to always stay humble and stay grounded and understand to give Him all the glory.”

A man who was one of eleven siblings, one of his favorite Bible Verses also has a one and an eleven; Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Flowers explains; “So, you know, that’s just the definition of faith which is you know the thing you’ve got to have just in life generally, and definitely out here on the football field; You gotta understand that a lot of things probably don’t look to good or your situation might not look to good but you’ve got to continue to keep the faith and continue to work hard, so that’s a big Scripture in my life.”

Brandin “the Archer” Cooks

Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks back in his New Orleans Saints days.   Photo by Keith Allison

The Archer.

It sounds the latest movie the ever-expanding universe of Super Hero movies.

But to football fans, the archer is someone else; Rams Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks.

Cooks was drafted in the 1st Round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.  He played in 10 games his rookie season, starting in 7 of them, racking up 550 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns.  He’s been a staple in the league ever since, starring for the Saints, the New England Patriots, and now the Los Angeles Rams.

Cooks is a man of faith, known around the league for his character.  He’s never been in the spotlight for any controversial reasons.

That all changed in 2016.

After scoring touchdowns, Cooks has a go-to celebration.  With his left-arm push straight-forward, He pulls his right arm back, as if shooting a bow from an arrow.

During the 2016 season, Redskins Defensive Back Josh Norman celebrated in a similar fashion.  He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and fined $10,000 for performing what the league deemed to be, a symbol of violence.  The NFL then banned players from ‘shooting a bow from an arrow’ in future celebrations.

The ban wouldn’t stop him.

Cooks explained to NOLA.com; “Well, there are different forms of doing it. You just can’t shoot [the arrow].  I’m still going to pull it out. Whatever happens after that happens. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my team, but I’ll figure something out.”

For Cooks, the bow and arrow symbolism are not a symbol of violence.  If not a symbol of violence, then, what it is a symbol of?

One of Brandin Cooks favorite Bible passages is found in Genesis 15-21.  God had promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a baby boy – even though they were both quite old at this point.  Beginning to doubt God’s promise, Abraham and Sarah agreed that he should have a child by Sarah’s servant, a woman named Hagar.  After agreeing, Hagar soon gave birth to a son, whom they named Ishmael.  In time, God fulfilled His promise, and Sarah gave birth to a son named Isaac.  As you can imagine, there was great tension between Sarah and Hagar – as well as rivalry between Ishmael and Isaac.  After one specific blowup, Sarah asked Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of their house and out of the community.  Abraham obliged.  When all hope seemed lost for Hagar and her son, God appeared to her, promising that He would protect and provide for them both.  He also promised that, out of Ishmael, a great nation would arise.  Ishmael cared for his mother and became a great archer in the process.

That story stuck with Cooks.  So did another verse; Psalm 144:6; Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them.

Cooks recalls. “I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this.”  The symbolism matters so much to Cooks that he calls himself “The Archer” and had a gold pendant custom-made in the offseason to wear on a gold chain around his neck.  For Cooks, the bow and arrow is equivalent to pointing to the heavens or dropping to a knee after he crosses the goal line.

“It’s one of those things that keeps me honed in and keeps me humble through the success and the gifts that I’ve been given,” Cooks said. “I think it’s a pretty cool way to give God the glory in a different way, and for other people to see it and buy in.”

The next time you see Cooks score a touchdown or make a great play and you see him draw his arm back as if shooting an arrow, remember God’s promises.  He promises to protect us from our enemies, as he said in Psalm 144 and He promises to watch over us, as He did with Ishmael the archer.

Faith Brockers – the Woman Behind the Lineman

Colt McCoy, James Laurinaitis

Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle Michael Brockers.  Photo by Keith Allison

Though there are many variations of the phrase, you have often heard it said; “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.”  Whether it was a mother, a wife, or another caring, supportive woman, this phrase rings true to many.  Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman, Michael Brokers, is no exception.

Brockers is a 7-year NFL veteran, having spent each of them with the Rams (initially in St. Louis).  He’s a team leader on the defense and man whom many of the younger players look up to.  Rookie John Franklin Myers shared his thoughts regarding Brockers to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times; “Usually, after meetings, he has two pages of notes of what he needs to do better for that day.  That’s a guy you look up to – how can you be like him.”  Fellow rookie, Sebastian Joseph-Day added; “Every time I ask him for some advice, he’s always been open and always getting extra work with me.  They’ve got me playing multiple positions, and he’s helped me develop.”

Coach Sean McVey calls Brockers “one of the more underrated players” in the NFL, noting not only his strength but also his presence.  He says of Brockers; “Anybody that knows Michael knows he’s got a great personality where you can’t help but kind of be in a good mood when you’re around him.  He’s got that contagious enthusiasm in a positive way that rubs off on his teammates. … He knows the influence that he has.”

When asked about his dedication to helping young players succeed, Brockers responded with the humility that he demonstrates on so many occasions; “Just trying to help those guys get up to speed, because that’s what I feel it should be about – giving back and helping somebody else grow their game.”

Brockers is an exciting player, a leader in the locker room; a man of devoted faith and excellent character.  In so many ways, Michael Brockers is a successful man.

Behind him is a strong woman; his wife, Faith.

Faith is a devoted mother of two, a blogger, the host of a podcast on woman’s issues, and a dedicated woman of faith.  Her father was a Baptist minister, who taught her – and her brothers Isaiah and Jeremiah, about the Lord.  Her father, however, died when she was 13, leaving her struggling with her faith.  It wasn’t until her first year of marriage that she began to take her walk with the Lord seriously again.

Even after recommitting herself to the Lord, however, she still had her struggles.  She writes;

“I always knew I wanted to start a family, however upon attempting to do so my dreams were soon crushed. The day after my wedding, I soon started to prepare to be a mother. However, a year and a half in, my husband and I were shocked with the news that one fallopian tube was blocked and the other being partially blocked (meaning it would be extremely difficult to have children). Though I was devastated by the news we still needed answers so we sought out a fertility doctor whom recommended IVF. During this emotionally and physically draining process I prayed to God to bless my womb and pondered on the scripture about Sarah in 1 Samuel 1:27, also I was reading Psalms 113:9 daily. It gave me such peace and trust in my Lord that all my prayers would be answered. Sure enough, three months later we conceived our daughter through in vitro fertilization. My husband and I were so thankful to God for trusting us with this precious gift, August 2015 we welcomed our baby girl. Just seven months after the birth of our daughter we found out we had naturally conceived our second child. I have to admit at first I was extremely nervous because it was an unplanned pregnancy. I now realize that nothing is unplanned with God, & now I take pride in carrying my baby boy. When man said it was unlikely, God said other wise. Oh the blessings my God has given to me — I am so very thankful and am joyful that He is a merciful God who loves me so much.”

Faith calls Psalm 139:14 her favorite Bible verse; I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.  She explains;

This scripture resonates deep, because though it took me my whole childhood I now know that I am made in His likeness and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a black woman of a darker skin tone and my whole childhood I was mocked and teased for it to where I too believed I was not beautiful because I was “too dark.” Today I revert back to this scripture often when I need reassurance, peace or to thank God for bringing me so far in life through my many storms. His works are indeed wonderful and marvelous. I thank Him for not only healing all my emotional scars but also sending me a Godly man who loves me with all of my flaws. Additionally he lives by the Bible as a priest over our household and loves his family just as Christ loved the church. My God is truly an amazing God!” 

As we watch the Los Angeles Rams take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, we see a great deal of successful men on the field.  We give thanks to God for the many faithful women who helped them get there!

 

Jackie Slater – Los Angeles Legend

Super Bowl Series: Many of you will undoubtedly attend Super Bowl parties this year, watching the big game with friends and family members.  As February 3rd approaches, A Lamp unto My Cleats will feature players from the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots each day.  My hope is that you will read these stories and prepare to share them with others as you watch the game together.  Use this unique opportunity to share the story of the faith and the good news of Jesus Christ as you watch the game together.

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Each year, as the calendar turns from January to February, Football fans all across America anticipate the Super Bowl.  Fans across the country pick a side – a team to root for – and hope to cheer that team on toward victory.  As we prepare for Super Bowl LIII, fans choose between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

I wonder who Jackie Slater will root for.

On one hand, Slater is a Los Angeles Rams legend.

On the other hand, Jackie’s son, Matthew Slater, plays for the New England Patriots.  (More on him next week).

Jackie Ray Slater was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Jim Hill and Wingfield High Schools where he competed in football, track, and basketball. Jackie was the first in his family to attend a desegregated High School.  He recalls; “It was a different time in the South. A lot of young people back there now take it for granted that they’ll go to school here, or go to school there, do this or do that. It makes me feel real good to see the positive change that has taken place.”

Slater received a scholarship to play football at nearby Jackson State.  At that time, Jackson State’s running back was none other than Walter Payton! In a Paul Zimmerman article entitled Last Stand, featured in the July 10, 1995 edition of Sports Illustrated, Payton told the story;

“I was coming off my freshman year at Jackson State.  All they were talking about was this big tackle here in town, in Jackson, at Wingfield High–6’4-1/2″, 285 pounds, agile, great basketball player. They sent me to his house to pay a visit. He only lived five minutes away from the college.  Of course a lot of my interest was selfish. Nothing better than recruiting another good offensive lineman. He was not at all cocky, always seeking information, kind of amazed at everything that happened. And dedicated. You could tell that right away.”

After a successful collegiate career, Slater was selected in the 3rd Round of the 1976 draft by the Los Angeles Rams.  Slater says that, as a rookie, his overall objective was to “to become the best offensive tackle in the history of the game.” But his more immediate goal, he confessed, “was just to make the team.”

He achieved far more, however, than simply making the team.  He went on to play 20 seasons with the Rams, which, at the time of his retirement was NFL record for the most seasons with one team.  He also played 259 regular-season games for the Rams which was also the most ever by an offensive lineman. He blocked for 24 different quarterbacks and 37 different running backs – 7 of which rushed achieved 1,000 yards seasons behind him (Lawrence McCutcheon, Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson, Charles White, Greg Bell, Cleveland Gary, and Jerome Bettis).   He was elected to the Pro Bowl on 7 occasions and named the Lineman of the Year by USA today three times.  He played in 18 Playoff games, 5 NFC Championship games, and 1 Super Bowl – Super Bowl XIV in 1980 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  His success made him an easy choice as a 1st ballot Hall of Famer.  Walter Payton summed up his evaluation of Jackie Slater by saying, “Of all the people I played with or against, he’d be one of the first three I’d pick if I were starting a team.”

Jackie Slater enjoyed a long and successful career.  Playing until he was 41 years old made him the butt of many jokes.  Quarterback Jim Everett once said; “Jackie Slater is proof that they were playing football in the prehistoric days.  I’ve seen the calluses on his feet where he used to have to stop his car like Fred Flintstone.”

Playing for 20 years also put him in a leadership position in which many young players looked up to him.  Slater says; “I’ve been blessed with a mind and an attitude that I feel you just have to have to compete with guys who are ten years or twelve years your junior. I’ve also been blessed with an excellent support group in my family, and good coaching, and good guys on either side of me.”  Throughout his career, he was admired for being deeply religious, humble, and a hard-worker.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Slater didn’t sometimes struggle.  As a man who played with great passion, one of his greatest challenges was his temper.  In the Book “Men of Integrity,: A Daily Guide to the Bible and Prayer,” Slater provides a devotion based on Proverbs 14:29: A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.  He explains;

“Even though I had become a Christian while in college, I still had a terrible temper.  I was ready to fight anytime, anywhere.  Until the Lord let me seem myself as others saw me.  I was out on the practice field going through one-on-one drive-block drills with the rest of the Los Angeles Rams, when I noticed a problem developing between two players.  A young guard was blasting a long-time veteran so hard he was driving him right off the board.  After this happened several times, the veteran got mad and started throwing punches.  Before the young hard could fight back, however, it was broken up.  I watched the young guard storm off the field and stand along the sidelines, seething with rage.  ‘That’s you, Jackie,’ the Lord seemed to say to me.  ‘That’s just the way you look when you lose your temper.’  I knew it was true.  I decided I didn’t like what I was seeing.  Right then and there, I resolved to seek the Lord’s help each and every time I felt myself beginning to lose control to my anger.  As long as I have remembered to do that, He has never let me down.”

Many of us struggle with our tempers.  While our list of accomplishments isn’t as impressive as Slater’s, we often think highly of ourselves and become frustrated when people don’t see things our way, do things our way, or simply aren’t as impressed us as we think they ought to be.  We should all commit the words of James 1:19 to our hearts and minds; “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Brandon Mebane – Walking by Faith

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A sketch of Brandon Mebane and Joe Pawelek sacking Brett Favre by Jack Kurzenknable

Prior to yesterday’s Division Round Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers, there was a moment of silence.  The football world paused for a moment to remember Makenna Mebane, daughter of Charger’s Defensive Tackle, Brandon Mebane.

While still in the womb, Brandon and his wife, Amena, were informed that Makenna had something called Trisomy 13, a rare chromosomal condition that can cause intellectual disabilities and physical abnormalities in addition to heart defects, brain or spinal abnormalities and weak muscle tone.  In Makenna’s case, she didn’t have a heart valve.  She was due in December, and would have heart surgery soon after.

Those plans quickly changed.

On November 12, Makenna was born early, thankfully without any complications.  However, just two weeks later, she was diagnosed with Necrotizing Entercolititis – an intestinal disease that often affects premature babies.  She had surgery to remove parts of her intestines and her heart surgery had to be put on hold.

Watching your child suffer is among the most painful challenges in the world.  At first, Mebane would fly back and forth between Los Angeles and Omaha, Nebraska, where Makenna was receiving care.  He called watching his daughter suffer “harder than anything I’d ever dealt with in my life.”  After Week 11 of the season, after prayerful consideration, and with the blessing of the Chargers, he missed 4 games this season to care for his family.

During this challenging time, Mebane and his family turned to God in prayer.  He explained at Chargers.com; “We’re just praying (a lot).  We thank everybody that’s been praying for us.  It make me pray even more, and up my relationship with God and talk to Him more throughout the day…  (This is) something that made me more aware of talking to God more, praying way more, praying not just as night with my kids, but before we drop them off at school…”  He added in an interview with USA Today Sports; “at this point, man, when you talk to God and pray, you can’t worry about the things that’s happening, you just got to have faith.”  During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Mebane took out his phone, opened an app for Bible scripture and scrolled down until he found what he was looking for;  2 Corinthians 5:7; “For we live by faith, not by sight.”  Said Mebane: “That’s my all-time favorite.”

On January 3, Makenna was called to glory.

After losing his daughter, Mebane didn’t lose his faith.  He explained to ESPN; “I’m still thankful and I thank God every day.  I still pray.  We’re taking it one day at a time.”

Mebane was able to suit up and play for the Chargers in their playoff games against the Ravens and the Patriots, albeit with a heavy heart.

Mebane’s story reminds us of King David, who also lost a child in 2 Samuel 12.  After losing his child, David faithfully proclaimed that he believed that he would one day be reunited with his son.  He declared that now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  Brandon and Amena Mebane can rest assured that they, too, will one day go to heaven where there daughter Makenna will be waiting for them.

How blessed we are knowing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again on Easter Sunday, winning eternal life for all who believe.  As Jesus famously declared in John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

That is God’s blessed promise to the Mebanes and to us all.  Through the tragedies, hardships, challenges, and struggles, we rest hang on to our faith and rest on God’s gracious promises, giving thanks that we, indeed, walk by faith and not by sight.

*****

On Sunday, January 13, Amena Mebane posted the following on Instagram, which was too beautiful not to share;

Missing my baby.  I would whisper to her every morning ‘every day with you is a blessing sweet Makenna.’  If you had told me I would only get to hold her for seven weeks, I would still have chosen to carry her to term, to move across the country for care, to move my family across the country, to enroll my kids in a new school, to be admitted to the hospital for weeks, to have a c-section, to pump every three hours even when she couldn’t eat, to sleep in a chair in the NICU night after night.  I would have still chosen to fight for her, because she was worth it.  Smelling her, seeing her face, holding her hand, tickling her feet, feeding her milk swabs, singing to her, listening to her cry, seeing her furrowed brow… was all worth it.  Her life mattered and despite her genetic difference, she was worth fighting for.  And although her time here was short, her impact on us was immeasurable.  her impact on us will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

Cody Parkey – a Champion in Defeat

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The name Cody Parkey is now a part of NFL history.

A week ago, Cody Parkey was anything but a household name.  Growing up fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I remember him beginning his career in the Metallic Green and Black, and I fondly remember his Pro Bowl Season back in 2014.  After that season, though, Parkey faded into obscurity.  Prior to the 3rd game of the 2015 season, Parkey tore all 3 muscles in his groin, causing him to miss the entire season.  He was released the following fall.  From there, Parkey bounced around the league, going first to the Cleveland Browns, followed by headed to Miami to play for the Dolphins.  He finally found a new home prior to the 2018 season with the Chicago Bears, signing a 4-year contract.

The season didn’t go the way Parkey had planned.  The low point of the regular season came on November 11th in a game against the Detroit Lions.  Parkey famously – and know somehow fortuitously – hit the uprights on 4 separate kick attempts – two field goals and two extra points; none of them going through.  Following that game, however, Parkey seemed to return to form.  He connected on 10 of his 12 field goal attempts to close out the regular season.  He also opened the Post Season on January 6th against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, by connecting on his first 3 field goal tries.

But then, in an instant, everything changed.  In the final seconds of the game, Parkey had the opportunity to win the game.  He lined up for a 43-yard field goal.  If he was successful, the Bears would win 18-16 and advance to the next round of the playoffs.  The snap was good.  The kick felt good.  Eagles defender Treyvon Hester got a finger on the ball, but it was so slight that no one seemed to notice.  The ball drifted to the left, hit the goal post, fluttered down to the cross bar, and bounced out.  The Bears lost.  Their season ended.  Parkey hung his head in shame while being consoled by teammates.

And then in happened.

Parkey lifted his eyes to sky, and pointed upward, giving glory to God.

Parkey had failed.  His team had lost.  He will go down in infamy in the annuls of Chicago Sports History.  He will be the most hated man in the city, joining the ranks of Steve Bartman.  His future, both with the Bear and in the NFL is, at least for now, in question.  But Parkey still gave glory to God.

After most of the cameras had left the downcast Bears sideline and the jubilant Eagles as they stormed the field, they found Parkey again.  He was kneeling in between Bears punter Pat O’Donnell, Eagles offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski, with a group of players from both teams in prayer.

His response was everything it should have been; beautiful, inspiring, puzzling.

For some, Parkey served as an inspiration.  He reminds us of what it means to keep all things in their proper perspective, to give glory to God in all circumstances, to support fellow Christians – even if they play for the other team.  Dan Andros wrote an article the following morning entitled; “Why I’m Telling My Sons to Be Like Bears Kicker Cody Parkey.

To others, Parkey’s faith made no sense.  Barstool Sports went to Social Media to mock Parkey, writing “Look, I know some people put a whole lot into their faith and it’s their whole live and blah blah blah, but you gotta tell God he’s at least sleeping on the couch tonight.  I’m not saying forget everything and rebuke him and all that, but let him know you’re upset.”  The post continued with more foul language and disregard for the 2nd Commandment.

Our basic human response when things don’t go our way to is to get angry at God; to blame Him; to want nothing to do with Him.  But Parkey took a moment of weakness and showed the strength of his character and his faith.  He reminded us that God is good, even when life doesn’t go our way.

On Parkey’s Instagram page, he has one Christian Devotion posted.  The devotion asks “What mountain is in front of you this morning?  It suggests that perhaps one’s mountain is a sickness, a troubled relationship, or a floundering business (it never suggests a missed field goal).  As we consider our obstacles, a verse in mentioned – Joel 3:10, which reads beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” 

In his moment of weakness, Parkey acted like a warrior.  He kept his head up and found a way to give glory and honor to God at a moment when many of us would have felt like hiding in the shadows.  He may not have won the game, but Parkey reminded us what a champion truly looks like.

Matt Forte – The Workhouse Returns to His Stable

 

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Former Bears Running Back, Matt Forte.  Photo by John Martinez Pavliga

 

Change can be terrifying.

Running back, Matt Forte, is going through a major change in his life right now.  After 10 seasons in the NFL, Forte will be hanging up his cleats.  Forte played college football at Tulane, was drafted by the Bears in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, and then finished his career with the Jets.  He retires with 9,796 rushing yards, 75 touchdowns, and two Pro Bowl appearances.

In addition to having had an impressive NFL career, Forte has an impressive faith.  He has been vocal about his faith throughout his career, even announcing his retirement through Sports Spectrum.  Here are a few of the gracious words he had to share (though I also recommend checking out his entire statement);

For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old.  But, after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL. Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room…  The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable. While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life, I am excited about what the future holds. God Bless and Bear Down!

In times of anxiety and change, Forte has learned to look to God for strength.  He explains to The Increase;It’s easy to become anxious, but the Bible warns against letting worry overtake our lives. In fact, anytime we allow worry to seep into our lives, it means we’re not trusting God. We may be trusting Him, but only to the point where we feel like we’re still in control. When we begin to realize we’re not in control, anxiety rears its ugly head. I know that is when I need to lean on God and trust Him the most.”

A verse that is near to Forte’s heart is James 1:2-4; Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Forte points out that the Bible “doesn’t say if you face trials, but when. We’re promised trials, and if you aren’t prepared for the trials that will come, you’ll find yourself overcome with anxiety. But since you know hardships are going to come, you can prepare your heart and mind to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty.  It’s one thing to say you’re not going to worry, it’s another thing to apply it to your life. For me, the more I stay conscious of my anxiety, the more I’m able to surrender it to God and trust in Him. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I tell myself to slow down, I go to a quiet place, and I pray. During these moments I need to realize there’s a bigger picture than what’s going on in my life this week or even this month. God calls us to take it one step at a time, without worrying about the future.

As we face changes in our own lives, we, too, can rest on God’s promises.  He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, to listen every time we call to Him, and to help us in every time of danger.  We never need to be afraid or feel alone.  As Psalm 46:1 reminds us; God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!