Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles holds his seven-month-old daughter Lily while being interviewed by NBC Sports’ Dan Patrick after leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a 41-33 win over New England in Super Bowl LII. NFL/YouTube
I’ve always considered it would take an act of God for me to root for any Philadelphia team.
Well, in came Nick Foles … and Carson Wentz … and Torrey Smith … and Chris Maragos — all strong believers in Christ, all Philadelphia Eagles. This season they became the core of a band of brothers that became a strong presence in the Philly locker room.
This isn’t to say that locker room became a weekly Gaither Family Gathering, but guys couldn’t help but notice. Soon, impromptu baptisms became a thing. Many became serious about personal Bible study. These Eagles had become birds of pray.
And you want to know what formed the loudest megaphone for their witness? How they responded to adversity.
Even before his MVP-caliber season was cut short, Wentz’s spiritual influence had become obvious. Afterward, it was undeniable.
On Dec. 12, two days after leaving the game against the Rams with a season-ending knee injury, Wentz posted a message on Twitter. He was honest in expressing his disappointment. However, he was clear in keeping a focus beyond the field.
“But as I reflect tonight, I just know the Lord is working through it. I know Jesus has a plan through it. I know He’s trying to grow me in something, teach me something, use me somehow, some way.”
— Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz) December 11, 2017
Average fans like you and me see athletes with X-Man-like skills, but we can’t begin to understand the competitiveness that got them there. All of us remember guys who had the capabIlity, just not the desire. So, when an injury cuts short the best season of your life for a fan base hungry for its first championship in 58 years, “tough” doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word. Wentz’s on-field leadership had become clear by that point. But, his spiritual leadership post-injury proved to his teammates this Jesus thing wasn’t just for when things go according to plan.
And just as Wentz’s injury gave his faith a bigger platform, so did it of backup-quarterback-now-Super-Bowl-MVP Nick Foles. Drafted by the Eagles in 2012, Foles competed for the starter job with high-profile free agent Mike Vick. The next year, Foles would lead the Eagles to an NFC East title and playoff appearance.
But then came the trade to the Rams. Productivity fell off. Los Angeles drafted their quarterback of the future, Jared Goff. At that point Foles and Case Keenum, both devout Christians whose careers would experience a rebirth this season, found themselves on the outs.
And for awhile Foles was out. Out of football. He was sure of it. At 27 years old, he was finished with the sport he’d loved. The kid who broke all the records at his high school set by another Super Bowl MVP, Drew Brees, was finished. He wanted to be at home and help care for his wife who struggled with an illness that causes lightheadedness. He wanted to move on.
Then came a fishing trip with his brother-in-law. Foles prayed and found peace in returning to football. And despite his place as a backup, Philly.com reported this morning how back in August Larry Foles had a feeling his son would eventually start, and lead, the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
So while the story of the Eagles’ first championship since Eisenhower was in office is getting attention, so has the faith of this year’s team. As alluded to before, reports say many players have been baptized in the training pool. Tight end Zach Ertz, who caught the go-ahead score, accepted Christ in March shortly before his wedding to U.S. Women’s Soccer star Julie Ertz. He points to that decision as the cornerstone of his marriage. Several players joined together to form a Bible reading plan on humility available through YouVersion.
Before the Super Bowl, Foles made known his post-football plans of becoming a pastor for high school students. That time in their lives, he explained, comes with a lot of decisions and temptations. There will be times you make mistakes. You’ll be tempted to give up.
But that adversity can’t be allowed to win. Because it’s at that point, as the Eagles have shown us, when God uses you loudest.