SUPER BOWL: Faith fuels Saints' intensity
MIAMI (BP)--David Thomas wasted no time in setting priorities for his small family when he was traded from the New England Patriots to the New Orleans Saints during the 2009 preseason.
"My wife left, packed up all the pieces and came down," Thomas said. They found a place of worship at First Baptist Church in New Orleans.
Thomas, a fourth-year tight end in the NFL, speaking to reporters during Super Bowl media day Feb. 2 at Sun Life Stadium, told Baptist Press one of his biggest challenges is not to be complacent on and off the field.
"In the NFL there is a lot of comfort involved," Thomas said. "You've got a great life [and] a great job. I think the most important thing is always challenge yourself to never be comfortable with where you are. You can always go deeper, you can always go stronger."
A key to staying accountable in the Christian life, Thomas said, is for believers to surround themselves with those who will speak the truth.
"There's a lot of good guys on this team that really challenge me to step up more and to be more involved and it's been really good for me," Thomas said.
Drew Brees, the Saints' quarterback since 2006, recently told a Christian magazine writer he invited Christ into his life on his 17th birthday during a Sunday church service in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
At media day, Brees reflected on Sunday's Super Bowl, saying, "You have to go through some tough times and fight through adversity in order to get to this kind of level and have these types of opportunities."
The former San Diego Charger, who was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year earlier in his career (2004), said, "I believe wholeheartedly the fact that everything happens for a reason. At times, God is going to put you in a position to wonder why this is happening to me or to us, and yet you know it's happening for a reason. It's there to make you stronger and to give the opportunity to accomplish something later on -- and here we are."
Brees, who is married and has a son, said Sunday's NFL title game is "a Super Bowl for our city and our fans and everything they've been through the last few years. There is no organization or city that deserves a champion more than New Orleans."
Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb also knows how much a Super Bowl victory would mean to longsuffering Saints fans.
"To a man on this team, we want to win this game, to a man," said Stinchcomb, who has been in New Orleans for seven years and has seen firsthand the best and the worst the city has experienced. "But we know that however we play and whatever we do, we have a great victory if we have Jesus in our hearts.
"We believe God's Word is true for us in whatever we do. We want to win very badly, but at the end of the day whoever has Jesus is the real victor."
Stinchcomb has had precious few playoff experiences in his career, leaving him plenty of time to stay at home and watch football late into January and February, actively rooting for Christians, even former Colts head coach Tony Dungy.
"It's always better from us when guys are outspoken about their faith and get the cause of Christ out front," Stinchcomb said. "I have so much respect for Coach Dungy for being a true man of character. You can't help but root for those guys."
Another outspoken Christian on the Saints squad, backup quarterback Mark Brunell, told Baptist Press he talks about his faith because it's the most important thing in his life.
"We've got a number of guys on this football team that love God, and this is a real blessing to be a part of this team," Brunell said.
A 17-year veteran of the NFL, Brunell, whose career has spanned stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers, said he is thankful for the opportunity to finally play in the Super Bowl.
"It's a dream come true," Brunell said.
He is grateful for the platform to share Christ, noting, "There's a lot of coverage and a lot of people asking questions about my faith, and so hopefully with the opportunity to answer those questions, it might make a difference in someone's life."
Turning to an interview with a Christian broadcasting network to be aired in the Angola Prison in Louisiana, Brunell shared the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 and then delivered a personal message: "I don't know how you got to where you are, it doesn't really matter, but I do know that God has a purpose for your life and that He's got a plan for your life and if you will give your life to Him, you will truly find that hope, you will find that future and find that plan that He has for you because that's the most important thing in the world."
Saints fullback Heath Evans, who suffered a week seven ACL knee injury against the Dolphins in his hometown of Miami, has continued to be a Christian leader on the team.
"Man, it's killing me to not play out there," Evans said. "It's bittersweet for sure, but I live in God's plan for my life. I live by the verse Jeremiah 29:11, 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'
"Did I want to get hurt? Did I want a blown ACL? Did I want to miss the biggest game of the year? No, but I know God has a plan for my life and being here supporting these guys is part of it," said Evans, a member of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Evans has been in a previous Super Bowl with the New England Patriot, who lost to the New York Giants in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. But no on-field disappointment can alter his faith, Evans said.
"Life is full of ups and downs, but when you go God's way. He has got a plan."
Kicker Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal in overtime at the NFC championship game booted the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl, lifting more than 40 years of playoff frustration for the team.
But as soon as he finished a post-game TV interview, Hartley rushed to join the prayer circle in the thunderingly loud Super Dome.
They were members of the team seeking to be united before God, giving Him the ultimate credit.
"That goes back to how I was raised," Hartley told Baptist Press. "Always give glory to somebody greater than yourself. That is the true source of power."
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.