SAN DIEGO (Christian Examiner) -- At 27 years of age NFL cornerback Anthony Madison thought he reached the top when his Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 claimed the Lombardi Trophy for a Super Bowl victory.
Celebrating that night with family, famous personalities and friends, Anthony wondered why he felt so "spiritually dry." The feeling of emptiness and unease took him completely by surprise.
"My goal in life was to win the Super Bowl, and once we made it there and the game was played and we won it, I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be," the now retired NFL football player remembered thinking.
"I slayed the lion, so what's next? Is this what my life is going to be?" he wondered. So far his efforts were focused on winning, money, booze, and living a life of luxury.
"It scared me, because that was my life," he told Christian Examiner.
Madison knew that was not all there was to life, however.
An interview about his spiritual life—given in the stands the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa—went through his mind after the win.
It caused him to recall the account of King Solomon—the richest man who ever lived, as described in Ecclesiastes—who had everything the human heart could desire.
"I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind," Madison recited Ecclesiastes 1:14.
He realized the Super Bowl experience and winning the elusive Lombardi Trophy—"It was like chasing after the wind," he said.
"We can try to fill the void in our heart, but all of those things won't satisfy man, but only the Lord can fill that one place, that emptiness, that one place in our heart," Madison said. "That's what I experienced."
Hard work was a given for the athlete who graduated a star football player from high school in 2001 and went on to play for the University of Alabama. He did not get into a varsity game there until his sophomore year, playing in 50 games after that (starting in 37). He was given awards from his coaches like "Committed to Excellence Award," "Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice Award" and honored as "Most Improved Corner".
He told a college reporter he learned his work ethic being the youngest of 12 children growing up in a small town in Alabama. Joining Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action in college, Anthony was presented the "Charlie Compton" award in 2005 for outstanding Christian leadership.
An undrafted rookie free agent, Madison first signed with the Steelers in 2006 and played briefly for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with the Steelers again before the Super Bowl win. In all, he was cut and re-signed by the Steelers four times and played for six different teams over the course of seven years.
Ten years ago Madison set his mind to play professional football, take it as far as he could go with it, find a good job and start a family. He is well on his way to achieving all of his dreams, with the priorities, in his words being: "God. My wife and kids. My family and friends, and life and education."
Madison said marriage and a move to Southern California have changed him in a way that he does not think only about himself anymore. He believes his marriage should be a "picture" of how the church is the bride of Christ.
"I have really learned to just let go of any selfishness that I have," Madison said seriously before he laughed, noting he's still a "rookie" at marriage and parenthood issues, and with a daughter on the way, joked he doesn't know what to expect.
"Over time you learn to reorganize and learn what's important in your life," he said. "Hopefully for the rest of my life my marriage will be a top priority for me."
One of the first priorities Madison had after marriage was completing a Bible ministry school with his wife. He said they wanted to build their marriage on biblical principles form the beginning and "come into the full enjoyment of who God is."
Madison said he has met a lot of people who call themselves "Christians" but who don't actually have an active fellowship with God, but look at Him as a "genie" who wants to bless them.
Individuals are made in the "likeness and image of God," he said, and can choose to reflect the important priorities that He gives in His Word concerning marriage, family and life itself.
While the image of playing in two Super Bowls—and winning one Lombardi trophy—will never fade, Anthony knows dealing with the transition from being an NFL athlete to "real life" can be a struggle. The statistics can be "ungodly" with former players declaring bankruptcy, headed to jail and more.
Some who did not graduate from college and do not have work skills are "pushed to the side after the bright lights stop shining and people stop patting their backs" and are sorely challenged to find normalcy.
Armed with an undergraduate degree in business marketing and a graduate degree in sports counseling, Madison is establishing a faith-based practice where he will pray with individuals, search through the Scripture, and assist them in finding "themselves in Christ."
This will help former players with career planning and to answer the question: "What do you want to do next?"
"You need to work hard, but let's not make that our main focus," Anthony said of success, the way the world counts it. "Let's not just live our life trying to be successful, but have significance and include God in all our plans and not leave Him out. As a therapist, I'm praying God will guide me and give me the words to speak—to share the Gospel so others can find peace."