I haven’t been much of a National Football League fan this season. First of all, I don’t care for those who use the National Anthem as a means of protesting their cause. There are other ways to register one’s disapproval of some issue or voice a complaint over some perceived injustice.
Furthermore, my team, the Washington Redskins, a powerhouse three decades ago under the tutelage of Joe Gibbs, has become a perennial non-contender. It is depressing to follow the mishaps and misfortunes of a loser.
However, the Philadelphia Eagles, who handily pummeled the Redskins twice this past season, was the team I was cheering wildly for in this week’s Super Bowl.
Why? Well, first of all, I don’t like dynasties – especially if it is not my dynasty. The New England Patriots were beginning to look like a dynasty; and if there is going to be a Massachusetts dynasty, let it be the Red Sox, my American League Baseball team. No section of the country needs more than one professional sports dynasty.
You want to know why I am a Redskins, Red Sox, Cubs, Celtics (well, maybe Massachusetts could have two dynasties) fan? Those were the teams my Dad favored in the 1940s and 50s when I was a boy; and I wouldn’t dare pull for a team that opposed my Dad’s team – and there were no southern teams back in those days. The Falcons, Braves, and Hawks all came later; and I was taught not to change loyalties, so I am sticking with all those teams my Dad choose to cheer on to victory.
However, for this year’s Super Bowl I was committed to the Eagles for a higher and loftier reason. They have some outspoken Christians on their team (as Scott Barkley pointed out so poignantly in his article “Acts of God and the Philadelphia Eagles”) and the coach – Doug Pederson – why, he is a familiar word in the Harris home.
We know Doug Pederson. Our twin sons played football with him at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana at Monroe). He was the quarterback on the team when our sons, John and Jerry, became NLU Indians.
John recently stated, “Doug was in the room next door. He couldn’t have been any closer. We shared a wall. He was not only our quarterback, but the spiritual leader of our team.”
Jerry recalled, “Doug gave his testimony for our Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministry). He was personable and a real leader. It was obvious that he was a man of faith. He was also a real student of the game and a very smart football player.”
Therefore, I was not surprised when Coach Pederson proclaimed his faith and thanked Jesus Christ for the opportunity of being in the Super Bowl.
Dan Patrick, sports journalists and broadcaster, asked Pederson, “How do you explain this, that nine years ago you’re coaching in high school and here you are with this [Super Bowl] trophy?”
Pederson answered, “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for giving me this opportunity and I am going to tell you something: I’ve got the best players in the world.”
Pederson, who was mostly a backup quarterback in the NFL, started his post-playing days coaching Calvary Baptist Academy and turned the Shreveport, LA program into one of the best in the state.
One of the players he coached at Calvary was Hayden Slack, who went on to play football at Louisiana Tech. Slack began sending daily Bible verses through texts to his college teammates. It was an idea he received from a member of Georgia’s 2009 Independence Bowl football team.
Pederson indicated that he wanted to be on Slack’s thread to receive the daily Bible verses. On Sunday morning just hours before the 2018 Super Bowl was played, the Philadelphia coach got Slack’s daily Bible verse via text message.
The message was Isaiah 40:31: “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
The Shreveport Times reported that Slack ended the message with: “Fly Eagles, Fly.”
The Times added Slack’s comments about Pederson: “He didn’t just talk the talk. He lived it out – on the field, in the classroom and chapel. He was the real deal – a man of character who I could look at as a role model.”
There are a significant number of professing Christians in the Eagles organization. Although I am a lifetime Washington Redskins fan, I have a marked affinity for people of faith. So, I am highly motivated to cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles next season, because I am beginning to wonder if I can find a significant number of righteous people in Washington.