Seahawks players' faith: More than a wing and a prayer

by Will Hall |

(REUTERS/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) looks to the heavens after his second quarter interception against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015.

PHOENIX (Christian Examiner) – Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson drew support and criticism following his several comments about God after winning the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 18, 2015. But he and some Christian teammates take such public give and take in stride.

When sportswriter Peter King penned his write-up for "Monday Morning Quarterback," he included a glimpse into Wilson's thoughts about the four interceptions the quarterback threw in a stunning come-from-behind 28-22 victory against the Green Bay Packers in overtime.

"That's God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special," Wilson offered. "I've been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It's what led me to this day."

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Wilson, of course, was trying to convey God has a plan—stay faithful no matter the circumstances—and share how past failures had prepared him to persevere in the face of the four turnovers he had made, and that was what made the difference for him in the game.

But, some critics took the opportunity to claim Wilson was blaming God.

The Chicago Sun Times said Wilson was "pinning the blame of his failures on God." Sports news outlet Deadspin joked he was "throwing God under the bus." The New England Sports Network seemed to gently mock Wilson, saying, ""there must have been something going on to cause those [uncharacteristic] four interceptions," adding that the Seahawks "occasionally seemed to have some help from upstairs."

Wilson and other Believers with him in the Seahawk huddle seem to take such trivializing without offense.

In fact, in 2013, several of the faithful with the team took the unusual step to create a video, "The Making of a Champion," as an outlet to share their beliefs.

Dr. Karl Payne, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Washington, serves as chaplain for the Seahawks. In an interview with CBN, he said a core of players "have been willing to stick their necks out from the get go."

"They want to be at the Bible study whether people approve or disapprove, like it or don't like it—sticking their name out, their reputation out, saying, 'We're going to let people know this is a platform God has given us. We're going to use it for His glory."

That attitude is what led to the making of the video.

According to CBN, long-snapper Clint Gresham heard about a Brazilian soccer player at the World Cup who passed around a DVD with his Christian testimony. Gresham spoke to Payne about doing something similar "to use the platform God's given us to share our faith" and "The Making of a Champion" resulted.

Gresham and Wilson are joined in the video by fellow players Russell Okung, who plays tackle, and Chris Maragos, a free safety, as well as Rocky Seto, defensive passing game coordinator, and Sherman Smith, the running backs coach.

-- Smith said he was in college and having a very successful career at Miami University in Ohio.

"We went 31-1-1 and I was the starting quarterback. People were telling me I was going to be drafted by the NFL and all that stuff," he said. "I just remember walking around campus and just saying 'there's got to be more to it than this,' feeling somewhat of an emptiness.

"I loved the winning, but still there was something missing in my life, and I was asking questions about who I am and 'Why am I here?' and just trying to get some solid answers about what I'm supposed to do—something more permanent than the temporary joys of winning a football game

He said he saw a guy who was a Christian suffer a serious knee injury—a career ending injury—and he went in to comfort him, but the player "comforted me" instead. He told Smith, "I'm excited. I'm excited to see what God has planned for my life. I'm a Christian and nothing happens in my life that's not filtered through God's hands first."

Smith realized he did not have that confidence and said had something like that had happened to him, he would have fallen apart: "I said 'Tell me more about Jesus Christ. I want have that same confidence,' because I knew I was lacking it."

-- Wilson shared that he grew up in church, but he was more involved in sports, and not very interested in spiritual things, until, at age 14, God spoke to him.

"I had a dream that my dad passed away and that Jesus came into the room and he was basically knocking on my door, saying, 'Hey, you need to find out more about me,'" Wilson said. "So that Sunday morning I ended up going to church and that's when I got saved."

Wilson's dad passed away about six years later.

-- Seto had wanted to play for the USC Trojans since he was a little kid.

"When that happened my junior year, I walked on. It was an awesome experience. But something was missing," he realized. "As great as it was to play for USC, something was still missing."

"During that time, God brought people to talk to me about Jesus. Teammates started talking to me about Jesus and from that moment on God showed me my idol—this false god I was worshipping—what I was living for was good, but not good enough."

-- Okung's father died at an early age and so he grew up being the man of the household and becoming increasingly independent. But at one point God spoke to him and told him "You don't have to do this by yourself. You're not alone."

"I think at that moment I realized that God had always been there for me," he said. "Always, since I had been a very small child. Even though I thought I was being independent in doing things on my own. I couldn't have done any of those things without Him. And at that time I knew only God could be my present hope, that if I truly believed in Him, everything would take care of itself.

-- Gresham said that felt God loved him, but that His love was conditional.

"I believed that God loved me as long as I was good, as long as I performed for him. Oftentimes we think, 'I need to do this or I need to do that and then we will get the affirmation from God, we will get the love of God," he said. "It has nothing to do with that.

"God loves people, and when we understand that God loves people, it empowers [us] to go and live this life full of joy, full of peace, full of confidence in who you are—knowing that no matter what happens, God's with me, God's got my back.

-- Maragos summed up the point of each man's testimony by offering encouragement about God's plan for everyone.

"Everybody in this life has been gifted in a unique capacity," he said, "whatever that looks like—whether you're a teacher and you're great at developing and investing in young people; whether you're a firefighter and you just have this unique ability and just this courageousness to jump in a burning building.

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Gresham said in bringing the video to a close. "The reality is that no other god did what Jesus did. He came and He paid a price that we could never pay. Jesus came to rescue people because he couldn't bear the thought of eternity without us."

"If you're thinking to yourself, 'I want to respond to the love of Jesus,' say this prayer with me. Say 'Jesus, I invite you into my life. I want to make you Lord of my life. I acknowledge that I've sinned and messed up, and I want to accept what you did on the cross on my behalf so that I can have fellowship with you.'"

As the Seahawks prepare to play the New England Patriots in Phoenix, Arizona, for a chance to earn the title of world champion, only Maragos is missing—he now plays with the Philadelphia Eagles. But all six men know the making of a champion leads to more than winning on the football field.