Original Featured on Focus on the Family, September 19, 2019
When I read about the media’s reaction to Drew Brees’ support of Focus on the Family’s “Bring Your Bible to School Day” on October 3, I couldn’t help but remember what a difference the Bible made in my life during my public school years and how the study of God’s Word changed me forever.
Growing up in Alabama, football could be a religion as well. Raised under the shadow of Crimson Tide Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, I began playing tackle football at the ripe age of 6.
In only my second year of playing, I was named to the All‐City team for my age group. It was the first of many accolades I would receive—playing on a number of city championship teams. Although I played basketball, baseball, and tennis growing up, I found my identity and self‐worth most in the game of football.
All that changed, however, as I was humiliated in a big game my freshman year vs. our cross‐town rival Grissom High School—fumbling the ball twice at the goal line after two fifty‐yard runs.
After the bus got back to school, I ended up walking out to the practice field, sitting in the bleachers, and crying my eyes out—praying to God and asking him “Why?! Why?! Why?!”
To make matters worse, when I finally came back to the locker room, it was locked and everyone had gone home. I ended up walking home in full pads! Through that devastating loss, I no longer looked to football for my purpose in life. As a matter of fact, that spring I would put my trust in someone much greater—Jesus Christ—who promises “never to leave us or forsake us.”
My faith grew during my high school years, as my study of the Bible at church, Young Life, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes brought me into a deeper relationship with God, helping me navigate the challenges of the teen years. While I still made mistakes (and did a lot of dumb things in high school!), I am deeply thankful for the ministry leaders who came along side me and the Savior who laid down His life for me so that I could live anew (Romans 6:4). And football, although important to me, was no longer the center of my life.
Fast forward to my senior year. A lot had changed in me since I last faced Grissom High School my freshman year. Playing them in the third game of the season, instead of a couple of hundred people, it was now before a crowd of close to 8,000 people on a fall Friday night. (This game is comparable to the Alabama‐Auburn rivalry, and we had not beaten Grissom in three years.)
As the starting varsity quarterback, I had dreamed about this game for years. Grissom was one of the top ranked 6A football teams in Alabama (the largest classification at the time) and they returned a tailback who rushed for 2,000 yards the previous year.
By God’s grace, I scored an early touchdown, and we went into halftime with a 9‐3 lead—to the disbelief of many in the stands. We could not stop their running back in the second half, however, as he ripped repeatedly through our defense. His last touchdown tied the score at 17‐17, with 1:58 seconds left in the game.
Two weeks before, we had lost two heart‐breaking games in similar situations. Nevertheless, this time we were able to march the ball 45 yards through a series of passes and runs to their 15‐yard‐line with 10 seconds left to play. To set up good position for our kicker to attempt a game‐winning field goal, our head coach called a running play.
But there was just one problem.
When the play came to the huddle, I knew we had no time outs left. If I ran the play, time would expire‐‐and given their running back’s second half performance—we would probably lose in overtime.
Coming to the line of scrimmage with 10 seconds left on the game clock, I only had seconds to decide what to do. Taking the snap, I faked a hand‐off to our running back, and with a Grissom player coming right toward me, I fired a pass to one of my receivers on the far side of the field. While so many things could have gone wrong with that improvised play, the receiver (a close friend of mine) thankfully caught the pass and stepped out of bounds at the 10‐yard‐line with 5 seconds remaining.
With the crowd going crazy, I came running off the field—apologizing profusely to our head coach and offensive coordinator for changing the play. (I had changed a play the year before without permission—and even though we scored a touchdown, the offensive coordinator had threatened to kick me off the team if I ever did that again!) This time, however, my coach bear‐hugged me for saving the team from his error.
Our field goal kicker came onto the field and made the game winning kick to upset Grissom as time expired—making the final score 20‐17.
When the reporters approached me after the game, I was now able to give God the glory—not myself. Several years later, when the game was named one of the top ten over a twenty‐year period of Huntsville area football, the newspaper shared my words “How the good LORD gave us that game.” (I know, not the greatest theology, but my young faith was trying to glorify Him!)
My senior quote in our school yearbook was more theologically grounded, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” Colossians 3:23. Having attended a public school, I would greatly encourage high school students to use their gifts and talents for His glory each day. As my pastor recently challenged our church, “we have a compelling story to tell about Jesus, who can transform lives like yours and mine”—being salt and light to a generation of image‐bearers of God.
For as Jesus inspired his disciples, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
3 thoughts on “The Bible and Football”
It has been too long since I heard from you.
Retired—in His Service
Hey Woody! I hope you are enjoying your retirement! You were such a blessing to me at Westminster and a great encourager of my work. I am very thankful that we can reconnect. Those War Eagles had a rough go last week!
Read your piece titled “College Football as a Religious Experience” in the WSJ, Enjoyed the work!
I was motivated to contact you since you asked a question in the piece : could Bryant initiated change in the SEC earlier by using his fame and success as leverage to integrate his teams? Answer : The SEC by-laws prohibited the participation of black athletes and the NCAA did not estimate the need to make the conference abide by Brown vs Board of Topeka.
Coach Bryant knew that an open call was just around the corner. He knew that the integration of teams that occurred in the other football conferences was going to occur in the the SEC. The orchestrated and infamous Southern California game tipped the scales in favor of the open call and it quickened the change.
Football is as close to as a pure meritocracy as the public can experience in sports. The sport is also the greatest race relation equalizer in the field of co-ciricular education. Bryant knew this; the desire to win over took the prejudice that prevailed. Prejudice,timing and corruption were layered factors in the slow pace of integration with the remaining SEC teams, I suggest.
Oh yeah, Kentucky was the integration innovator in the SEC. Why? Because they had to be a innovator with the mediocre team performance and the population drain that hit the area first with the great migration. Whites left the violent south too, you know? Remember too; those Indiana and Illinois factories were absorbing the agriculture community that was quickly being replaced by mechanization.
Jay Webb 1985 Ole Miss linebacker and native of Columbus MS.
Yes, by the 1980’s SEC football was largely populated by African Americans. As an update, we are largely obedient to our Savior, good citizens, leaders in communities and striving to be solid parents.