Among the many wonders we witnessed last night—Tom Brady fumbling the football, Nick Foles becoming the first man in history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl—the greatest, perhaps, was watching the transformative power of true faith.
It’s easy to mock athletes for thanking God, as if the Almighty had little more on His mind than guiding the hands of Corey Clement as he struggled to grip the pigskin, and as if all human efforts—all that skill, all that training—are dwarfed by the Lord’s mysterious predilections. But what we saw on display last night wasn’t that facile sort of faith that rankles us when we see a player glibly point towards heavens during a touchdown. Instead, we witnessed belief at its best, a mighty engine that can drive even the meekest among us to transform their lives and their circumstances.
Take Doug Pederson: His career as a player ended on a minor note, languishing as Brett Favre’s backup before a tackle left him with a cracked back bone, a torn muscle, and a broken rib. A devout Christian, he retired and found work coaching a private Christian high school in Louisiana, a position he held as recently as ten years ago.
How, he was asked moments after winning the big game, did it feel to go from high school football to the Super Bowl in the span of a decade? Pederson had no hesitations. “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity,” he said, following up by expressing his love and his gratitude for his fellow coaches, his players, and the team’s fans.
Nick Foles, the Eagles’ quarterback and the game’s MVP, struck a similar note. “Unbelievable,” he said, holding his infant daughter in his arms. “All the glory to God.”
If you question the candor of these very public expressions of faith, consider how different both these speeches could’ve been. Pederson could’ve been forgiven for ribbing all those in the media who sang the praises of his rival, Bill Belichick, while failing to give him the respect he deserved. And Foles might’ve taken the opportunity to gloat at anyone—including fans and former coaches and teammates—who doubted his talent and dismissed him, both figuratively and literally. That both men instead chose to focus not on themselves but on the higher power that guides them speaks volumes.
You are free, of course, to dismiss such God talk as hokum, but do so at your own peril. Football, like life, is a team sport in which even the most incandescent passes mean little if there’s no one down the line to catch them and carry them forth to the end zone. And if faith teaches you anything it’s that you’re never alone in the game, and never ultimately in command. The men who thanked God last night seemed to have learned that lesson well, which means that they understood that having faith isn’t an invitation to abandon their sense of agency but rather an obligation to tether their bodies, their hearts, and their souls to a cause greater than themselves and their narrow interests and indignities. Their humility was evident, on the field and off. Let all of us who today are stuck in dead-end jobs, who are cast aside and written off, who look forward and see nothing but darkness, rejoice, then: We may not be able to throw for 373 yards, but we can have faith in something greater than ourselves and we can embrace those who toil alongside us. As our own history reminds us all too frequently, there’s no better path to transcendence.