The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles became known this year as one of the most spiritual teams in the league, with group baptisms, team Bible studies and group accountability.
In March, tight end Zach Ertz committed his life to Christ.
“I was baptized in March, got married the next day. Our marriage has been built on that foundation from the Word and Jesus and it’s changed my life. And just to have these guys hold me accountable on a daily basis has been phenomenal,” Ertz told CBN News.
A few months later, wide receiver Marcus Johnson was baptized in a North Carolina swimming pool ahead of a game against the Carolina Panthers.
Five teammates — linebackers Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and wide receivers Paul Turner and David Watford — were baptized in the Philadelphia Eagles’ recovery pool late last year, according to reports.
Quarterback Carson Wentz didn’t play in this Super Bowl against the New England Patriots because of a torn ACL in Week 14, but his backup quarterback Nick Foles loves to share his faith and wants to be a youth pastor after his football career is over.
“My faith in the Lord means everything. I’m a believer in Jesus Christ and that’s first and foremost,” he says. “That’s everything. I wouldn’t be able to do this game without Him, because I don’t have the strength to go out and do this. This is supernatural.”
Foles nearly quit the game because of limited playing time on a number of teams. But he says the Lord told him he had something else in store for him – in football.
So Foles stayed ready, and the tables turned when starter Wentz was injured.
Foles says that in the future he plans to hang up his cleats and focus more on sharing his faith.
“I want to be a pastor in a high school,” he said. “It’s on my heart. I took a leap of faith last year and signed up to take classes at seminary. I wanted to continue to learn and challenge my faith. It’s a challenge because you are writing papers that are biblically correct. You want to impact people’s hearts.
“When I speak to (students), that’s such a time of young men and young women’s lives that there’s a lot of things that are thrown at them. So much temptation in this world, so much going on with social media and the internet that you want to talk to them and address it and share all the weaknesses I have because I’ve fallen many times,” Foles said. “It’s something I want to do. I can’t play football forever. I’ve been blessed with an amazing platform and it’s just a door God has opened, but I still have a lot of school left and a long journey.”
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is the de facto “pastor” on the team.
“I think it helps you be a better teammate,” he says. “Our primary calling in life as a Christian is to bring out the best in other people. That’s the primary message of Christianity. We’ve been created to glorify God. How do we do that? He gives us gifts and abilities, and we’re supposed to bring those out in other people.”
Before the big game, Wentz recorded a promotional video for a national faith-based outreach effort called Football Sunday. It was shown in dozens of churches.
“If you are a pastor anywhere in the world who’s looking to impact the people in your community, please consider inviting me and other NFL players into your church this Super Bowl weekend,” he said in the video. “I promise it will be something God uses to transform the people you are called to serve. And I believe for all eternity.”
The team — whose coach, Doug Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, started his post-playing days with a Baptist high school team — has made believers out of fans.
Eagles players even held baptisms in the team’s cold tub and at a hotel pool. About 30,000 people have viewed a Bible study that features the Eagles and other NFL players. Reich spent time in the ministry after his NFL career was over, serving as a pastor and seminary professor before becoming a coach.
The team’s quarterbacks are spiritual leaders off the field. Wentz, who was an MVP candidate before his season was cut short by a knee injury, is known for his Audience of One (AO1) foundation and off-season preaching gigs.
Foles, whose Twitter bio describes him as a “Believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother,” almost quit football after losing his job as the Eagles’ quarterback in 2016 and then being released by the St. Louis Rams.
“I wanted to retire from the NFL, and I really struggled,” he said in a devotional for YouVersion, the popular Bible study app. “I couldn’t pick up a football for about eight months. I had no love for the game, and it was tough.”
A Bible verse reminded him that God was still working in his life, even in failure, he said. That verse, II Corinthians 12:9, includes the phrase, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“It truly is a brotherhood,” Ertz said. “Those guys are holding me accountable. Off the field, I’m holding them accountable. We truly care about each other, we truly care about the growth that each individual has in the Word, as believers, as well as friends and family. There are a lot of guys who are truly trying to boost me up and keep me focused on the main thing, which is obviously the Word.”
Wentz went on a mission trip to Haiti last May with former teammate Jordan Matthews and a group led by Kyle Horner, lead pastor of the Connect Church. He delivered a sermon a month later at a church back home in North Dakota and launched his Audience of One Foundation in July. Wentz and several teammates even created a devotional video series for the Bible app.
Four days before the season opener, Wentz and teammates Trey Burton and Stefen Wisniewski spoke at a faith event in front of a crowd of 2,000 people who sat in the rain for a couple hours to hear their favorite players share their testimony.
But before he had an MVP-caliber season and led the Eagles from worst to first, Wentz received plenty of criticism from some media and fans because he openly talked about his faith on social media.
He wasn’t deterred.
“Jesus was persecuted everywhere he went,” Wentz said. “So if Jesus, who is our ultimate example, endured that, then I can endure a couple tweets. I can endure a little riff-raff here and there.”
A large group of players meet for Bible study on Thursdays and hold a study for couples on Mondays. They get together for prayer and devotionals the night before games. They’ve even gathered for baptisms in some unusual places.
In October 2016, Burton and pastor Ted Winsley baptized six players in a cold tub at the team’s practice facility.
“It was crazy,” said Winsley, the team’s longtime chaplain. “The guys were just hungry, wanting their lives changed.”
Before a Thursday night game at Carolina last October, second-year pro Marcus Johnson was baptized in a hotel pool.
“Since I’ve come to Philly, I’ve grown in my faith so much,” Johnson said. “As a rookie last year coming in, you always hear about the locker room and how dysfunctional it can be and people playing for money and this and that, but when I got here, everyone was so supportive and I knew it was something special.”