Houston Chronicle article
May 9, 1992

Faith on the Field

Former Dallas Cowboys coach praises ministry to athletes

by Carey Kinsolving

Former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry’s admiration for Washington Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs is unabashed. No small part of the reason is that they both are equally serious Christians.

“It’s pretty hard to hate the Redskins with Joe Gibbs as the coach,” Landry told a Fellowship of Christian Athletes fund-raiser at the Touchdown Club recently. “It was a lot easier when George Allen was the coach (of the Redskins).”

Landry – although former Buffalo quarterback Jack Kemp was in the audience – admitted he cheered for the Redskins in their victory over the Bills in this year’s Super Bowl.

Two years ago, Landry was inducted into the Touchdown Club Hall of Fame. Landry said Allen, who since has died, was still talking about the pass from Clint Longley to Drew Pearson that beat the Redskins in 1974 and spoiled Thanksgiving for Washington fans.

Landry recalled his spiritual journey starting with his boyhood years in Mission, Texas. His parents taught him to attend church. But as he climbed through the football ranks, he experienced a “restlessness and emptiness,” first as a player and then as a coach.

In 1956, Landry coached defense for the New York Giants team that defeated the Chicago Bears for the National Football League championship. Vince Lombardi, who later became one of the game’s greatest coaches as leader of the Green Bay Packers, directed the Giants’ offense.

But even as he neared the top of his profession, Landry wondered why his happiness at his achievements didn’t seem to last. He considered leaving football.

Two years later, Landry shared his restlessness with a Christian friend who invited him to a Bible study in Dallas. Landry said he knew the Christmas and Easter stories and didn’t think he needed to study the Bible. His friend, however, persisted.

Landry found he was challenged by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”

Landry said God opened him to the gospel. “I’ve often said that if they would have told me you’re saved by grace, it would have saved me a lot of time,” Landry said. “It took me a while to get through all the facts to really understand the Bible and what the gospel of Jesus Christ was all about.”

Sounding like a Bible expositor, Landry recounted a story from the New Testament book of Acts. A fearful Philippian jailer was about to commit suicide when he assumed his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake. In those days, jailers who lost prisoners were executed.

After the Apostle Paul assured him that his prisoners had not run away, the jailer, moved by their kindness, asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” Landry said, quoting Paul’s response.

Landry said he was 35 years old at the time, had attended church all of his life and yet never entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. “I thought that when you went down to join the church that made you a Christian,” he said.

Football had been his No. 1 priority. Now, he said, God was No. 1.

When Landry became head coach of the fledgling Dallas Cowboys in 1960, he said he was a rookie head coach and a rookie Christian, “a terrible combination.”

In 1962, Landry began three decades of boosting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when he attended a summer camp with 1,200 coaches and athletes in Estes Park, Colo.

“I saw that week of inspiration and perspiration and saw what took place during a short period of time in the lives of coaches and athletes,” Landry said.

FCA hosts weeklong summer camps in 53 locations where 10,000 athletes train under the supervision of professional and college athletes and coaches. Amateur athletes hear pros talk about how their faith makes a difference on and off the playing field. They meet in small groups to discuss how biblical principles apply to today’s problems.

In Northern Virginia, Dan Britton, FCA area director and professional lacrosse player for the Baltimore Thunder, works with athletes from 32 schools. Athletes from junior high school to college meet weekly in “huddles” for prayer, Bible study, outreach programs and special projects. Last year FCA athletes in Northern Virginia raised money to distribute turkeys to needy families during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“The big key to FCA is that kids get blown away by being loved for who they are,” Britton said. “That’s the Christlike way, and they’re not getting it at home, with their friends or at school.”

 

Sports Spectrum – Cover Story
September – October 1992

A Race for the Hearts

Four times Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green has entered the “NFL Fastest Man” competition, and four times he has won. But in 1988, Green officially entered another race with much higher stakes than anything the NFL can muster.

by Carey Kinsolving

Darrell Green’s most important race began one evening in 1988. He was driving home from one of those personal appearances that professional athletes make – the kind that gets them good publicity but adds little to the lives of those they visit. Green had gone to a downtown Washington apartment complex, but as he made his way home, he started thinking about what he had just done.

“I started asking myself, ‘What did I do for these kids?’” Green recalls. “All I did was sign a few autographs. I was on my way home knowing some of those kids didn’t have underwear.

“All I had done was pass out a few generic gifts, none of which were necessities. I started to cry, not because of the kids, but because I had not done anything for them.”

Green decided to get off the sidelines. The Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation was born. He asked his teammates for clothing and food for inner-city youth, he loaded a used van with the donations, and he began a series of trips into downtown Washington. “I just asked God to lead me to the right places,” Green says about the foundation’s first efforts. “I would pull up to an apartment and say, ‘Hey, I’m Darrell Green, do you need some clothes?’”

What the NFL’s fastest man had started was a race for the hearts – and indeed the lives – of America’s children. It is the kind of response this country needs to conditions reported by a 1990 Senate committee. Their “code blue” report concluded that self-destructive behavior causes the most suffering among America’s youth.

· Homicide ranks second among causes of death for adolescents.
· Unmarried teen pregnancies have risen 621 percent since 1940.
· 85 percent of teenage males abandon the teenage girls they impregnate.
· 25 percent of young black males in America are either in prison or under court supervision.
· Average age for first time drug use is 13 years old.

Sitting in the clubhouse of the Bretton Woods Recreation Center in Germantown, Maryland, with small white specks from a pre-season case of the chicken pox still on his face and arms, Green talked about his work with Washington’s inner-city kids. Admitting he should probably be in bed, Green had just spent a couple of hours posing for photos with golfers who played in the annual Darrell Green Hope Springs Golf Tournament.

Although Green receives help from fellow Redskins and friends in his efforts to help inner-city kids, he often feels like a lone player trying to score against an All-Pro defense. “In this type of service, you’re full, yet you remain hungry. We’re not winning the way we want to win; we’re not as strong as we would like to be,” Green says.

Green’s forays into the inner city have led to activities in city parks. Green and some helpers wearing Super Bowl rings show up in Washington’s inner-city parks with hot dogs, kickballs, volleyballs, and clothes.

Last year the foundation launched its most ambitious project, the Darrell Green Learning Center. Bible-based computer reading programs aid volunteers in teaching children both character development and technical skills. About 50 students enrolled in the pilot program last winter, and Green expects about 300 students this fall.

Trying to tackle the difficulties of these children at risk is not like a football game with instant results, rather “it’s a lifetime for children – from one grade to the next and one crisis to the next,” Green explains.

Green readily admits that it’s easy to become discouraged, because the pats on the back don’t come as frequently as they do in a football game. “But if God gives you a work to do, He’ll supply you with the strength, endurance, and courage that you need,” Green says confidently.

Green likens his role to that of John the Baptist. Just as John said he must decrease so that Jesus could increase, Green said the emphasis on his high profile must diminish so that the foundation’s work can expand. Green sees his football fame as a tool to cut through bureaucracy so he can focus attention on the obvious needs of inner-city children.

In this way, Green seems to be following in the footsteps of Redskins’ coach Joe Gibbs. In the early 1980s, Gibbs led members of his Sunday school class to work at a Washington halfway house for teenage boys. This eventually led to a first-class boys’ home called Youth for Tomorrow, with a budget of more than $1 million a year and accommodations for 29 boys.

“It would have been very easy for him [Gibbs] to keep a lower profile,” explains Gibbs’ former Sunday school teacher, John Fitzgerald. “He used his fame or celebrity status to God’s glory. He said, ‘Okay, people are attracted to me because of my fame, but I’ll use it to build this boys’ home.’”

Gibbs and Green also followed similar paths before launching their youth works. Both admit that they were distracted by football fame before understanding God’s design for them to use their status as a vehicle to help others. Green uses the term “self deception” to describe his spiritual condition when he came to Washington as the Redskins’ first round draft choice in 1983. He had a new car, a new condo, and money in the bank, and no one could tell him anything. “I was untouchable,” is how he described the young Darrell Green.

Green admits he was looking for his identity in the adulation of football fans. “It’s a struggle,” he says now, “because people are not made to be glorified like that.”

Green credits his spiritual recovery to a persistent pastor, now his best friend, Brett Fuller. Green explains that Fuller made no personal demands on him. Through a Bible study, Green felt the Holy Spirit begin to convict him of the vanity of depending upon fleeting football fame for his identity. This was the second major turning point in Green’s life.

The first came when he attended a college Bible study at Texas A&I. “When I heard the gospel, I was shocked,” Green recalls. He always considered himself a “good kid.” While winning all-state honors in track and all-city in football at Jones High School in Houston, he was too busy to get in trouble.

“But when Jesus revealed himself to me, I said, “I’m as wicked as anybody else.” In my standards, I’m okay, but in the standards of Christ, I nailed Him to the cross,” Green says. “I had lived life in my own righteousness, and the Bible says we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.”

Green led a Bible study soon after his conversion – perhaps too soon, he admits. People wrongly assumed that his leadership on the athletic field would translate to leadership in the spiritual realm. It didn’t. The leadership role contributed to the spiritual delusion that characterized his life as a rookie Redskin, he says.

Green makes a clear distinction between being a disciple of Jesus and a convert of Jesus. A disciple is dangerous because he is disciplined in spiritual matters, but a new convert is vulnerable and needs time to learn how to follow Jesus. Green says that he trusted Jesus as his Savior at Texas A&I, but he didn’t allow Him to become master over his life until the Word of God began to perform a “spiritual autopsy” on him under the ministry of his friend Brett Fuller.

Studying the Bible and applying its principles has opened Green’s eyes to a realm in which kids are perishing for lack of spiritual vision. Green wants to reclaim lost territory of the inner city by helping young people obtain the skills necessary to compete in the job market, while at the same time imparting the eternal values of the gospel.

Green sees the lack of leadership in the home as his biggest challenge, but he hopes to attend hundreds of graduations, weddings, and baby showers of the children who receive help through his foundation. “I want to bring back that old society of responsible moral families and children. My hope and dreams are for righteousness to prevail. In righteousness there is joy, peace, victory, and blessing,” Green comments.

Those affected by Green’s vision are not limited to children. One of the highlights of the year for Redskins’ players, coaches, and friends is the Christmas party organized by Green’s foundation, where the Redskins give personalized gifts to needy children. Each gift-giver receives a photo of a child with clothes sizes, and then buys three gifts, which are given at the party.

Green says he gets a bigger kick out of hearing the players tell about their experiences with the needy children than seeing the kids open their gifts. The first year Green threw the party, he received a locker-room standing ovation from his teammates. Some of the players continued their relationships with the children by writing and calling them. At this year’s Christmas party, First Lady Barbara Bush is scheduled to read Christmas stories.

One of the players most affected by Green’s dedication is free safety Brad Edwards. “Darrell has had a real direct impact on me,” Edwards says. “This year I really got tremendously involved with individual kids. Now that I realize the time and effort it takes to work with kids, I’ve gained so much respect for him [Green].”

Edwards became a Christian at the age of 10 in a South Carolina church, but held back on a full commitment to serve Christ. In August of 1991, after years of vacillating, Edwards said, he realized the futility of seeking happiness in the heady perks of pro football. Edwards said Green and other Christians on the team exude a spiritual aroma that is difficult to resist.

“They were driven, yet content,” Edwards explains. “They just seemed to have incredible purpose. I began to get a flavor for that, and God really spoke to me.”

Edwards also has grown on the field. Last season started with a question mark and ended with an exclamation point. He became a starter only when Todd Bowles left in the Plan B draft, but finished runner-up for the Super Bowl MVP award, pulling in two Buffalo interceptions.

“Brad did an excellent job for us,” says defensive backs coach Emmit Thomas. “He is a leader.”

Another Redskin who supports Green’s work with kids is defensive tackle Tim Johnson. The foundation and its activities have become an off-the-field rallying point for the Redskins, Johnson said. “Most of the guys that have been around for a while have been involved at one point or another,” he notes.

Johnson says the benefits of winning a football game are fleeting, but “when you can touch the lives of other people, especially in the name of the Lord, that lasts a lot longer than winning any game.”

Last year, the 283-pound Johnson led all defensive linemen for the Redskins with a career-high 82 tackles. Redskins’ defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson says of Johnson, “He’s all you could ask for in a defensive tackle.”

Asked if it’s easy to trust the Lord when you’re a Super Bowl champion, Johnson said, “You need to be more aware of grace when you are winning because of the temptation to pride. Bible study gives you the focus for what we’re really living for.”

Johnson is thinking of a pulpit ministry after his playing days, but says he’s in no rush. “The Lord is doing a lot in my life that needs corrected. When it’s time, it’ll be time. I want to know my heart is pure.”

With one Super Bowl victory under their belts, Johnson and Edwards are relative neophytes compared to the veteran Green, who has played in three Super Bowls and five Pro Bowls. But neophyte or veteran, they know that God’s grace is there to help them reach out to the children in that all-important race for their hearts.

Man of Action

Like Darrell Green, Joe Gibbs has a faith that leads him to help others.

Joe Gibbs is as much an action-oriented Christian as he is an action-oriented coach. When Washington sportscaster Glenn Brenner, already hospitalized with a brain tumor, took a turn for the worst last winter Gibbs went to his bedside with the game ball from the Skins’ playoff victory over the Falcons.

John Fitzgerald of Gibbs’ church recalls another incident that typified his sense of priority. Gibbs had taken some boys from his boys’ home to training camp. After practice, while the coach was being interviewed in a forest of reporters and TV cameras, one boy asked Gibbs if he could talk to him.

“Joe just put his arm around this boy and turned around and walked away with him,” Fitzgerald says. “He just kind of said, ‘Hey, this is more important.’”

Gibbs’ friend Joe Meade sums up his philosophy, “He’s a true man of God whose actions speak louder than his words. He focuses as his No. 1 priority his relationship with God.”

Washington Post article
January 9, 1993

For Bills Quarterback, Faith Is Surest Victory

by Carey Kinsolving

The Buffalo Bills’ Frank Reich, pro football’s man of the moment, says the impending Second Coming of Jesus Christ prepped him for his backup role in leading the Bills to a record come-from-32-points-behind victory over the Houston Oilers last Sunday.

The Second Coming? And the NFL playoffs?

“The Lord tells us we don’t know the hour or the day [of the Second Coming], and that’s much like my job,” said Reich, as dedicated a Bible student as he is backup quarterback.

“Being a Christian athlete has made me a better quarterback because I understand the concept of what it is to be prepared for something that I don’t know when it’s coming.”

In a recent telephone interview, Reich carefully avoided claiming that he wins because he is a Christian. He said that he doesn’t understand why God allows the Bills to win some games and lose others.

“All I know is that I have to go out and prepare and play as hard as I possibly can,” he said.

Reich did pray for victory over the Oilers, but not for the reasons that most fans might suspect. Reich has been reading in Samuel I and II about King David, who prayed for victory so he could proclaim the name of the Lord to the nations.

“I prayed, ‘Lord, I want us to win, and I want us to have the opportunity just to glorify your name,’” Reich said.

For eight years Reich, 31, has played a backup role to a quarterback whom he calls one of the game’s greatest, Jim Kelly. But last Sunday, he got his chance to prove his own talents, filling in for the injured teammate. It was an experience he had lived before.

Reich also played backup to Boomer Esiason for three years at the University of Maryland.

After Esiason graduated, Reich got his chance to take the primary quarterback slot. But in his fourth game as a senior, Reich separated his right shoulder. When Reich was well enough to get back into the game, the coach told the player he did not want to switch quarterbacks again in mid-season even though Reich had been leading the nation in passing efficiency at the time of his injury.

Reich was devastated – so much so that one day he walked out of church in the middle of the sermon. “I was mad at God, and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me,” Reich said.

The answer to Reich’s dilemma and payers came the following Saturday on Nov. 10, 1984, at the Orange Bowl against the University of Miami. Maryland was losing 31-0 at halftime when Reich took over as quarterback and led his team to the greatest comeback win in the history of college football.

“All of a sudden my eyes were opened,” Reich said. “God didn’t want football to be my entire life. And then He showed me, ‘What’s more important is that you get to know Me in a more intimate way.’”

After starting only seven college games, Reich was chosen by the Buffalo Bills as the second quarterback in the draft. Soon after, Reich found himself in a Bible study surrounded by 20 of his Buffalo teammates.

Wide receiver Don Beebe, who caught Reich’s first touchdown pass in last Sunday’s 41-38 victory, considers himself fortunate to have Reich as his best friend and roommate on the road. “Frank has a real strong belief in God,” Beebe said. “He knows why he’s here. He’s not here for the money or fame.

“He knows when he gets the chance, and he comes in, he’s going to give all the glory to God – win or lose, good or bad.”

Beebe also praised Reich as one of the best students of the game. Although the play that produced Beebe’s touchdown catch and brought the score to 35-17 wasn’t designed with Beebe as the primary receiver, Reich spotted a weakness in the Oiler defense and told Beebe before the play that the pass was going to him.

Before the game, Bills chaplain Fred Raines had exhorted the players to focus on God’s special purpose for their talents regardless of the outcome of the game.

Raines said he told a story specifically with Reich in mind. A conductor was asked, “Which musical instrument is the most difficult to play?”

“Second violin,” the conductor replied. He might have said backup quarterback.

Pine Bluff Commercial article
January 25, 1992

Gibbs Stimulates Sunday School Class

Super Bowl-Bound Washington Redskins Coach an Action-Oriented Christian

by Carey Kinsolving

The Rev. John Fitzgerald still remembers the energy that Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs brought to the Sunday School class on his first time there more than 10 years ago.

“He stimulated the class,” Fitzgerald said. “Whenever Joe came, he came with his Bible, and he came prepared to participate.

“Joe is oriented toward action. He not only wants to talk about it, but he wants to do.”

The Super Bowl-bound Gibbs is as much an action-oriented Christian as he is an action-oriented coach. When Washington sportscaster Glenn Brenner’s brain tumor took a turn for the worse, Gibbs went to his hospital bedside with the game ball from the playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

With two Super Bowl wins and the prospect of another this Sunday, a coach’s ego could easily inflate to the size of the Goodyear blimp.

But according to Gibbs’ friends at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va., his ego has remained inbounds. Church members call him a man of God whose deeds back up his words.

Gibbs, along with Assistant Coach Rennie Simmons, came to Fitzgerald’s Sunday School class shortly after Gibbs was appointed head coach of the Redskins. Gibbs attended the class for eight years until it disbanded in 1989. He still attends the church.

Fitzgerald credits Gibbs with inspiring the class to get involved in teaching and helping at a Washington halfway house for teenage boys. This eventually led to the establishment of a first-class boys’ home called “Youth For Tomorrow” with a budget of more than $1 million a year.

Fitzgerald recalled an incident that typified Gibbs’ sense of priority. Gibbs had taken some of the boys to the Redskins’ training camp. After practice, while Gibbs was being interviewed in a forest of television cameras and reporters, one of the boys managed to ask Gibbs if he could talk to him for a minute.

“Joe just put his arm around this boy and turned around and walked away with the boy,” Fitzgerald said. “He just kind of said, ‘Hey, this is more important.’”

Fitzgerald considers Gibbs a very private person. He sensed Gibbs’ struggle in deciding whether to associate his name with the building of the boys’ home. “It would have been very easy for him to keep a lower profile,” Fitzgerald said.

“He used his fame or celebrity status to God’s glory. He said, ‘OK, people are attracted to me because of my fame, but I’ll use it to build this boys’ home.’”

The Youth For Tomorrow home opened in September of 1986. The home’s director, Lloyd Chadwick, said over 160 boys have been through the home, which averages about 29 teenage boys.

Meade helped organize the initial $100-a-plate banquet that raised money for the home in Bristow, Va. Then vice president Bush attended along with former quarterbacks Jack Kemp and Roger Staubach. Brenner functioned as master of ceremonies.

Meade calls Gibbs “a true man of God whose actions speak a lot louder than his words. He has things in perspective even with all the success he’s had, and the material things he’s been blessed with. He still focuses as his No. 1 priority, his relationship with God.”

Gibbs confirmed Meade’s assessment in his recent autobiography, Fourth And One, when he wrote that he views his job as a “platform” to tell people about “what’s most important in life.” And it’s not football.

Coach Gibbs becomes evangelist Gibbs when he writes: “I have found the answer. It lies in having a personal relationship with Christ. God sent Him to live a perfect life and die for our sins.

“He came back to life and through him we have the path to God. All you have to do is believe in Him and receive Him into your life. The decision is yours.”

Washington Post article
November 23, 1991

Weekly Bible Sessions Bring Redskins Together Off the Field

by Carey Kinsolving

Oh, Lorrrrd! We mag-ni-fy your name,” chorused the husky men, their voices roaring with enthusiasm. As they sang, one of them used his pair of huge hands to clap out the beat to the hymn.

After the singing came the prayer, the praise and then the Bible study. Throughout the recent Wednesday evening, the 15 Washington Redskins gathered at the Northern Virginia home of wide receiver Ricky Sanders enjoyed the special fellowship that they have come to share in their weekly sessions off the field.

Time was not spent here reveling in the Redskins’ current winning season, which now stands at 11-0. Instead, the players, along with six of their wives, learned more about the word of God.

As the study began, the children were ushered downstairs to play under the eye of a nanny. At one point, 2-year-old Jonathan Settle came upstairs crying. His dad, running back John Settle, put his Bible aside and scooped up the tot to comfort him. The crying stopped instantly.

Defensive tackle Tim Johnson opened the study with prayer, which began: “We are children served by your grace, saved by the mercy of God. I thank you, Lord, for this, that it is no work of our own. All because of your wooing and drawing us unto yourself that we might come to the realization that without you we are dead in trespasses and sins.”

The 35-minute study dealt with three chapters from the Book of Revelation, which describes God’s judgment upon the Earth immediately before the second coming of Jesus Christ.

A mixture of praise for answered prayers and petitions for current concerns followed. Knees got a lot of praise and prayer on this night.

“I’d like to praise the Lord for my knee,” said running back Earnest Byner. “I believe in the strength of His healing.” Byner said he could hardly walk the Sunday night after the Atlanta Falcons game, but by the next Tuesday, the knee had improved dramatically, so much so that he could play against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive end Charles Mann chimed in, saying he wondered while looking at game films how he could walk at all after a hit he took. Mann has had six operations on his right knee.

“So I’ve been looking at lots of knees lately,” Mann said to the others’ laughter. Mann told his teammates they need to be thankful for little things, like being able to walk.

Ryner also requested prayer for several ministries to the homeless in which some team members are involved. One of those, the Foundation for Moral Restoration, was established by cornerback Darrell Green.

For free safety Brad Edwards and other Redskins, who cannot attend church on Sundays, the weekly Bible study is a spiritual lifeline.

Edwards said he became a Christian at the age of 10 in a South Carolina Baptist church, but held back on a full commitment to serving Christ. In August, after years of vacillating, Edwards said, he realized the futility of seeking happiness in the heady perks of pro football.

He said the Bible study “has become a great time of fellowship and a tremendous learning experience for me in the Scriptures. I feel at peace with myself because I know where I’m going, what’s in store for me, and the promises God has made.”

Edwards is not the only Redskin looking beyond football glory. When asked to respond to the idea that it’s easy to trust God with a winning record, Johnson said:

“You need to be more aware of grace when you are winning because of the temptation of pride. Bible study gives you focus for what we’re really living for.”

Donrey News Service article
September 27, 1991

Florida State coach finds stadium to be a huge pulpit

by Carey Kinsolving

Coach Bobby Bowden of the No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles faced the huge challenge of No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, with a possible national title on the line. So how did he spend the weekend before?

Witnessing for Jesus.

The Seminoles were idle so Bowden flew to West Virginia to speak to a group of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I don’t have any more business flying up there than the man in the moon,” Bowden said, acknowledging something even higher was motivating him. “I’ve got to catch a plane, land in between those mountains up there, which scares me to death, drive for two hours, make my talk and fly back here in time to be on TV Saturday night.”

On Sunday, Bowden preached – he prefers to say, “I just talk” – at a Methodist church. And he talked to a journalist about his priorities in life.

“Football stadiums are the biggest pulpits there are,” he said. “Christ has done so much for me, the least I can do is witness for him.”

Bowden fell in love with both God and football early in life. When he was 4, his dad took him up on their roof to watch high school football practice across the street. When Bowden was 10, he said, he “trusted Jesus as Savior.”

Now he belongs to the First Baptist Church in Tallahassee but rarely attends because of speaking engagements at other churches.

“Sometimes I speak three times on a Sunday. I don’t go ask people ‘Can I speak to your church?’ but I don’t turn down invitations. I feel like God has given me everything, and I’ve got to give him something back.”

Bowden, no Sunday Christian, said he tries to instill that same “giving back” attitude into his players. He said he prays with his players and brings in special speakers to help mold their spiritual lives.

“I look at this as an important part of their education,” he said.

Heisman Trophy prospect quarterback Casey Welden, fullback Edgar Bennet and Matt Friar are three of several committed Christians on Bowden’s team.

Although the Associated Press poll ranks the Seminoles No. 1, Bowden relegates football to No. 4 in his life. God, country and family come before football. “If winning is your top priority, you’re in for a tough career. Nobody is going to win them all.

“Football is a way God has given me to feed my family, pay my debts and witness for Jesus Christ. I’m going to do my best to win along the way.”

Bowden hasn’t always won. After four consecutive winning seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers posted a 4-7 record. Bowden took his children to campus only to see himself hung in effigy. “See Daddy up there in the tree,” he told them.

During such bleak days, a West Virginia friend offered encouragement with a statement that now serves as a motto for Bowden. “The best steel goes through the hottest fire.”

“God was putting me through ‘the hottest fire’ to make me what he wanted me to be,” Bowden said. “I never lost faith in him and continually prayed and searched the scriptures for strength not to fail. God delivered me.”

In spite of seeing both good times and bad, three of Bowden’s sons are college football coaches. So every Saturday during the fall, Ann Bowden, Bobby Bowden’s wife of 42 years, agonizes over four football games.

She won’t go to sleep until she finds out how everyone has done, Bobby Bowden said. This season Ann Bowden has had sweet dreams. The Bowden clan is 12-1 for the season.