A buddy of mine, Mike, had season tickets to the Detroit Lions' home football games. One year, they had such a miserable record that he couldn’t give away two tickets to a game he wasn’t able to attend.
While parking at a mall, he decided to leave the tickets under his windshield wiper. “And that worked?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” said Mike, “I returned to find six more tickets to the same game.” (http://www.rd.com/jokes/funny/sports/our-15-favorite-football-jokes/#ixzz2rHe5ugCR).
In truth, it has not been much of a year for football fans here in Tennessee either. To begin with, the Titans did not do very well. (And it cost the head coach, a likeable man, his job.) Neither did the Volunteers, who did not even make a bowl game. For that matter, the Southeastern Conference itself did not fair all that well either, coming up short in several bowl games.
But in spite of all this, most everyone here in East Tennessee is brimming with excitement as we await the approach of Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, February 2, up at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Why is this? It is not necessarily that people in these parts are big Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos fans. But Peyton Manning did go to the University of Tennessee. And, as a result, people around here are definitely Peyton fans!
For my part, I did not yet live here in Tennessee when Peyton played ball at the University of Tennessee. But I am still quite impressed with him - and not just for his football skills. A wonderful article, titled Peyton Manning, the Quietly Christian Quarterback, came out earlier today in the Christian Post. It helps in part to explain why I am so impressed with him.
In this article, writer Jeff Schapiro details the deep and abiding Christian faith of Peyton Manning. His opening statement sums up the entire article: “Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning doesn't publicly discuss his faith as frequently as some other Christian athletes; but he has said that he wants his actions to speak louder than his words.”
From there, Schapiro goes on to detail many of the ways that Peyton Manning chooses to express his faith by his actions, many of which are well known to those of us who do live here in East Tennessee. You can read more about all these things at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/peyton-manning
-the-quietly-christian-quarterback-113220/. A similar article is here: http://mindingthetruth.com/2013/12/30/peyton-manning
You may also want to check out Peyton’s actual book, Manning (New York: Harper entertainment, 2000), coauthored with his father, Archie Manning, and writer John Underwood. On pages 362-364, he speaks plainly about his faith in Jesus Christ:
Like my dad, I make it a point when I speak to groups to talk about priorities, and when it’s school kids, I rank those priorities as: faith, family, and education, then football. For me generally it had always been the big four: faith, family, friends, and football. And I tell all of them that as important as football is to me, it can never be higher than fourth.
My faith has been number one since I was thirteen years old and heard from the pulpit on a Sunday morning in New Orleans a simple question: “If you died today, are you one hundred percent sure you’d go to heaven?” Cooper was there and Eli [Peyton's two brothers] but it didn’t hit them at the time the way it did me. It was a big church, and I felt very small, but my heart was pounding.
The minister invited those who would like that assurance through Jesus Christ to raise their hands, and I did. Then he invited us to come forward, to take a stand, and my heart really started pounding. And from where we sat, it looked like a mile to the front.
But I got up and did it. And I committed my life to Christ, and that faith has been most important to me ever since. Some players get more vocal about it—the Reggie Whites, for example—and some point to Heaven after scoring a touchdown and praise God after games.
I have no problem with that. But I don’t do it, and don’t think it makes me any less a Christian. I just want my actions to speak louder, and I don’t want to be more of a target for criticism than I already am…
Christians … make mistakes, just as non-Christians do. My faith doesn’t make me perfect, it makes me forgiven, and provides me the assurance I looked for half my life ago. I think God answered our prayers with Cooper, and that was a test of our faith. But I also think I’ve been blessed—having so little go wrong in my life, and being given so much.
I pray every night, sometimes long prayers about a lot of things and a lot of people, but I don’t talk about it or brag about it because that’s between God and me, and I’m no better than anybody else in God’s sight.
But I consider myself fortunate to be able to go to Him for guidance, and I hope (and pray) I don’t do too many things that displease Him before I get to Heaven myself. I believe, too, that life is much better and freer when you’re committed to God in that way. I find being with others whose faith is the same has made me stronger. J.C. Watts and Steve Largent, for example. They’re both in Congress now.
We had voluntary pregame chapel at Tennessee, and I attend chapel every Sunday with players on the team in Indianapolis. I have spoken to church youth groups, and at Christian high schools. And then simply as a Christian, and not as good a one as I’d like to be.
How do I justify football in the context of “love your enemy?” I say to kids, well, football is most definitely a “collision sport,” and I can’t deny it jars your teeth and at the extreme can break your bones. But I’ve never seen it as a “violent game,” there are rules to prevent that, and I know I don’t have to hate anybody on the other side to play as hard as I can within the rules.
I think you’d have to get inside my head to appreciate it, but I do love football. And, yes, I’d play it for nothing if that was the only way, even now when I’m no longer a child. I find no contradiction in football and my faith.
Ah, but do I “pray for victory?” No, except as a generic thing. I pray to keep both teams injury free, and personally, that I use whatever talent I have to the best of my ability. But I don’t think God really cares about who wins football games, except as winning might influence the character of some person or group.
Besides, if the Colts were playing the Cowboys and I prayed for the Colts and Troy Aikman prayed for the Cowboys, wouldn’t that make it a standoff?
I do feel this way about it. Dad says it can take twenty years to make a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. I want my reputation to be able to make it through whatever five-minute crises I run into and I’m a lot more comfortable knowing where my help is.
And to that, brother, I'll just say "Omaha!"
NOTE: Peyton will not be the only Christian quarterback playing in the Super Bowl this year. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is also a believer. See: http://www.christianpost.com/news/seattle-seaha