First of all, I need to get this out of the way:
I am not a fan of football . . . Except when it matters.
When I was in high school, I attended every Perkiomen Valley Vikings football game—both home and away—because it mattered. It mattered because I knew the players; I’d known some of them since kindergarten. They sat next to me in class; I considered them friends and wanted to see them win. And it mattered because I had school spirit: I marched in the band front and wore my orange and brown uniform with pride. (By the way: orange is a terrible color on me . . . but for four years I wore it without complaint . . . okay—without much complaint.)
During the time I spent as a student at Temple University, I attended almost every home football game. Although none of those players were friends of mine, I passed them in the halls of my dorm and stood in the cafeteria line next to them (gaping in amazement at the amount of food those gigantic guys piled on their trays!). Heading down to Veterans Stadium, where the Owls played back then, was pretty exciting for a small-town girl like me. Watching games in that vast space made me feel like I was a part of something much larger than myself.
But since college, I’ve hardly given football a passing thought. A few years ago, however, it occurred to me that I should begin praying for Christian athletes to converge in Philly: for Philly to become known for being a city with sports teams populated by strong Christians. Because, whether they want to be or not, professional athletes are role models, and being a positive, Christ-like role model for hundreds of thousands of people in a city of rabid sports fans has the potential to impact lives and families and to change the very culture of a city and an entire region.
So I was praying for this to happen. But I wasn’t thinking it would happen anytime soon, so I wasn’t really paying attention. When I heard that the Eagles had some vocal Christian players (quite a few of them!), and then I learned that they were playing for a spot in the Super Bowl, I had to watch.
Suddenly, football mattered to me again.
So I watched the Eagles win the playoffs and felt the fever pitch grow as Super Bowl Sunday approached. When the big day arrived, I watched the game from the edge of my seat. I had heard naysayers asserting that the Patriots were a much better team, and that the Eagles didn’t stand a chance against them. Even the commentators during the game seemed to be biased against the Eagles. But I held onto hope anyway. I prayed that if God would get glory from an Eagles victory: that they would win. But if that wasn’t to be, I prayed that they’d play their best, that they’d put up an excellent fight, and that the score would be close.
I was a nervous wreck as I watched the Super Bowl. There was so much riding on it. During the two weeks leading up to the game, I saw a city transformed. I heard no divisive political arguments. I saw more smiles and more unity than I’d seen in this city in a very long time. I saw Philadelphians wearing their Eagles swag, looking hopeful and walking a little taller. It may be my imagination, but I even think I saw less litter!
I saw changes in my neighbors, too—one in particular. His life has been filled with disappointment. When he says hello to me on the street I can tell it takes great effort for him to appear happy. One of his few joys in life is cheering for “The Birds.” He is the kind of die-hard fan who steps outside his front door to blow an air horn whenever they score. After they won the playoffs, he seemed to be walking on air! He hung an Eagles flag outside his window and could be seen on our street with a huge smile on his face. I wanted this win for him and for thousands of other devoted fans for whom this might be the highlight of their year—or their decade.
Thankfully, as anyone on the East Coast with ears and a pulse knows, the Eagles won.
As thrilled as I was at the end of the game, I was even more thrilled when the interviews began—as Head Coach Doug Pederson and players Nick Foles and Zach Ertz took turns giving God the glory for their success. I imagined the millions of people who were hearing their words of faith. I imagined the reverberations of their words: the seeds that were being planted in minds and spirits. I imagined the power of those words to eventually change lives. And I imagined the creativity God had employed to make sure we’d all hear those words.
The first Bible verse I ever memorized was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
That verse inspired me to write a verse of my own. Obviously it’s not in the Bible—but I can’t help but believe it’s true: “For God so loved Philadelphia, that he sent a group of messengers (the kind he knew we’d listen to: muscular men, dressed in green, speaking the love language of sports fans) to tell us so.”
There’s no doubt that football matters to Philadelphia.
And it looks like football just might matter to God, too.