Randall W. Cunningham is a former American football quarterback in the National Football League and current football coach and pastor.
After playing college football at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he was selected in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he remained through the 1995 season.
He announced his retirement from football following the end of that season.
After he left football in 1996, Cunningham returned to Las Vegas, where he had attended college at UNLV, and started a custom marble and granite company. He spent more time with his wife, Felicity. But, most important to Cunningham, the time away from football allowed him to reconnect with his Christian faith.
Before signing with Minnesota a year later, he said he prayed to God, asking for one favor: “Don’t let me go back to the person I used to be. Don’t let me become the prideful person. Don’t let me be arrogant.”
“When he came to Minnesota, the No. 1 thing in his life was his faith,” said Cris Carter, who played with Cunningham for three seasons in Philadelphia and three seasons in Minnesota. Cunningham retired for good after the 2001 season and never reverted to his former self, returning to Las Vegas and raising a family.
These days, Cunningham still performs in front of large crowds on Sundays. Only now he does so in church. He became an ordained pastor for a nondenominational church he founded, Remnant Ministries.
While in the pulpit, he will sometimes look back on the old Randall Cunningham, offering himself as an example of how significant and lasting changes can happen when they’re least expected. “Whenever you’ve gone through wounds and things like that, there comes a day where God heals you,” Cunningham said. “And he healed me.”
Deion Luwynn Sanders, Sr. is an American former football and baseball player, who works as an analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 6, 2011.
In 1997, cornerback and former baseball outfielder Deion Sanders announced, shocking many fans, that he was a born-again Christian. Most fans knew him as the flashy, arrogant “Prime Time” and “Neon Deion,” but after some life-changing experiences, he says he gave his life to the Lord.
Deion describes his born-again experience this way.
The Bible describes it in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes as chasing after the wind, and that’s exactly what it was like. I tried to by myself something to make me happy and I was even emptier than before, because I could see that nothing could possibly satisfy the hunger that was deep down inside of me.
I tried throwing myself into my career, into sports, trying to see how far I could go, and when I achieved every goal I could think of, I was right back where I started. Empty, empty, empty and nothing I did could touch that deep loneliness inside of me. I was just running, I couldn’t stop.
My life was falling apart. I was pretty much at the bottom during all this. My baseball game started to fall off and before long some of the guys on the team could see something was wrong. But I don’t think anybody ever guessed that my life was in shambles.
I was struggling with just about everything in my life. My attorney (Eugene) could see what I was going through and he tried to help as much as he could, but I was so disappointed and disturbed about the way things were falling apart that I wouldn’t listen to his advice most of the time. He talked about his faith, how Jesus gave his life purpose, and things like that, but I wasn’t ready to receive any of that.
(Later) I started asking Eugene what it meant to be a believer in Jesus Christ and he was telling me about being saved, and about this time I got a call from a guy I used to play with on the 49ers, Marc Logan. He was playing for the Washington Redskins and he was planning on being in Cincinnati that night and would like to meet with me. So after the game, Marc can to the ballpark and we met.
We drove down to an IHOP and we must have sat there for three or four hours. I really respected Mark as a person and as a Christian.
After we ate dinner, we sat there in the same seats for hours, and he was telling me about how the Lord was working in his life. At one point he asked me, “Deion, are you saved?” And I said, “No, man, I can’t say that I am. But my attorney has been asking me the same question.” Of course, Eugene knew I wasn’t saved, but I had been reading up on it, and after talking with Marc I went home and went to bed, and this stuff was really on my mind.
I was lying there in bed about four o’clock in the morning when I was awakened by these awesome lights in my room. I say it was like a 747 had landed beside my bed, and there was this incredible rush of wind that felt like a helicopter had come in with it.
I remember opening my eyes just the slightest bit and saying, “God, if that’s You, take me! Take me, Lord,” and I was trembling all over. Before long it was silent and the lights disappeared, and later that night I got up and opened my Bible to a passage that said, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). The words hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew they were meant for me and at that precise moment I was delivered.
I put my trust in Jesus and I asked Him into my life. And as soon as I realized what I had done I was so excited I had to tell somebody, so I got on the phone and called my attorney and said,”Eugene, I did it! I got saved!”
After that, little things started to change. I was just feeding myself, day by day, constantly growing in the faith. Then there would be a storm there, and I would stumble, but I knew I had to keep on going.
Reginald Howard “Reggie” White was an American college and professional football player who was mostly a defensive end but also played some defensive tackle in the National Football League for 15 seasons during the 1980s and 90s.
He played college football for the University of Tennessee, and was recognized as an All-American. After playing two professional seasons for the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League, he was selected in the first round of the 1984 Supplemental Draft, and then played for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers, becoming one of the most decorated players in NFL history.
At age 13, he accepted Jesus as his savior, later telling his mom, Thelma, that he wanted to be a pro football player and a preacher.
He later had to be bullied by his white football coach, Robert Pulliam, from being “a nice, big, Sunday school boy who didn’t want to hurt anyone” into a hard-playing football player. At age 17, at St. Johns Baptist Church, he was ordained a minister of The Gospel. Two years later he met Sara Copeland, a fired-up and beautiful new believer and they married after 2 years.
Known as a fearless defensive end in his playing days, White was also known as a profound advocate of his Christian beliefs and his allegiance to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Former Los Angeles Raiders wide receiver Dokie Williams said that White “was an awesome individual. He loved the Lord!” Williams added that the former all-pro expressed “a real love for [people] and anyone whom he ran into. Reggie’s heart was as big as he was.”
White, who became known for his work with inner-city youths, was a friend and supporter of former San Diego Charger cornerback Gil Bryd, who has an organization that also targets at-risk inner-city kids for help and encouragement from professional athletes like White.
In his playing days, Reggie was regularly spotted on the field after a game praying with players from both teams and encouraging them in the Christian faith. White also became known as a courageous man of faith, unafraid to take on “politically incorrect” subject matter. For example, White was persecuted by the secular media in the late 1990s for his biblical stands on homosexuality and the family.
Reggie had sarcoidosis and was stricken at his home in Hunterville, North Carolina on 26 December 2004 and died shortly in the hospital at the age of 43.
Emmitt James Smith, III is an American former college and professional football player who was a running back in the National Football League for fifteen seasons during the 1990s and 2000s.
Smith played college football for the University of Florida, where he was a unanimous All-American. A first-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, he played professionally for the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
Emmitt became a Christian at an early age, but it wasn’t the top priority in his life. His dream was to play for the Dallas Cowboys and to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. But throughout high school, he was told he didn’t have the size or the speed to make it in college, much less, the NFL, but that didn’t discourage him.
“Well, I mean it, it bothered me to hear them discredit my ability,” says Emmitt. “I used it as fuel. I used it as motivation. I used it as something to keep me going and striving to continue to be successful. Because they didn’t hold my destiny in their hands.”
In 1987, despite the obstacles, Emmitt earned a scholarship to the University of Florida. Before he left his grandmother gave him a Bible verse that would help him face the challenges that lay ahead.
“Proverbs 3 and 6,” remembers Emmitt. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path. Anytime I found myself in a situation, I would lean on that verse.”
The 1997 season, proved tough for Emmitt and the rest of “America’s Team.” The injury-plagued Cowboys mustered only a 6-10 record. And a banged up Emmitt was looking for answers. But he remembered the Bible verse his grandmother gave him.
“At some point you start saying to yourself, ‘what am I doing,’” says Emmitt. “I started asking myself, that means my spirit was like churning, like this can’t be it. This is not the end to all things. This is good for a moment, but it’s not that. And so I started just like thirsty. I was going through a little bit of turbulence in my career. And so, it’s funny how turbulence itself will make you hold onto something for security. And so the only thing I knew is trust in the Lord and lean not unto your own heart, in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path.”
That’s when Emmitt met bishop T.D. Jakes.
“I ran into Bishop Jakes. And it all changed, right then and there,” says Emmitt. “I went to The Potter’s House. He actually moved to Dallas around in ’95, I believe. And I went to a Man Power conference. ‘Power, Money, and Sex, PMS’ was the title of the sermon. And I was sitting in there and he was talking about it, being connected, being connected to the right source.”
Emmitt rededicated his life to Jesus Christ. With his faith as the number one priority, Emmitt had one goal he hadn’t achieved. In his 13th season as a cowboy, Emmitt became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. He spent his final two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals retiring the following season in 2004.
Michael “Mike” Singletary is an American football coach and former professional football player. After playing college football for Baylor University, Singletary was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 2nd round of the 1981 NFL Draft and was known as “The Heart of the Defense” for the Chicago Bears’ Monsters of the Midway in the mid-1980s.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. Singletary later pursued a career as a coach, first as a linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, then as the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
In 2008, the 49ers promoted Singletary to the head coaching position after previous head coach Mike Nolan was fired during the season and he remained in that position until he was fired with one game remaining in the 2010 season.
Although Mike was raised in a Christian home, the decadent lifestyle of sports super-stardom had overshadowed his faith.
In an interview with the 700 Club, Mike said that he had come to a crossroads. “I just remember, one day, breaking down. I remember saying, ‘Lord, I’m supposed to be Your son, and You don’t talk to me, use me. You don’t do anything. I don’t understand this.’ In my spirit, I heard two things. One was ‘I want to use you, but there are some things that you gotta clean up first.’ The second thing that I had to do [was] forgive my father.”
Mike’s father divorced his mother and walked out on the family when Mike was 12 years old.
“What people don’t understand about forgiveness is that you’re the one that’s in prison. You’re the one that’s going to be hurting. When I did that, the Lord began to change my life,” Mike says.
“Day to day, he began to take away some of the bad habits that I had. He began to take away the language that I was speaking. He began to take away some of the places that my eyes used to look. He began to take away some of the music that I listened to one by one.
Had it not been for Jesus Christ in my life, I’m sure I’d be divorced. I’m sure that I’d know my kids from a distance.”
Raymond Anthony Lewis, Jr. is a former American football linebacker who played his entire 17-year career for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League.
He played college football for the University of Miami, and earned All-American honors. Drafted by the Ravens in 1996, Lewis was the last player remaining from the inaugural team at the start of the 2012–13 season.
Although Lewis’ Christian faith may be news to some, he has always been religious. Relatives who recently spoke with Yahoo! Sports reporter Eric Adelson said Lewis’ grandmother, considered the “backbone” of his family, had always encouraged the 37-year-old Super Bowl XXXV MVP as a young boy to read the Bible and attend church.
“Lewis is known now for his preaching, but he was a junior deacon as a child. He could recite verse at age 4,” Adelson learned from Lewis’ family.
While Lewis has been a member of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Md and a friend of Dr. Jamal Bryant the pastor of the church, for about seven years, the linebacker has partnered with the church in community outreach efforts, and has been very active in charitable work throughout his career. His Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, founded several years ago, helps to provide disadvantaged youth with personal and economic assistance.
In 2013’s Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, Lewis received a Lifetime of Inspiration Award “for his faith-filled determination to overcome trials and tribulations on and off the field, while recognizing him for his remarkable football career.”
Kurtis Eugene “Kurt” Warner is a former American football quarterback, a current part-time TV football analyst, and a philanthropist. He played for three National Football League teams, the St. Louis Rams, the New York Giants, and the Arizona Cardinals.
He was originally signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 1994 after playing college football at Northern Iowa. Warner went on to be considered the best undrafted NFL player of all time, following a 12-year career regarded as one of the greatest stories in NFL history.
On Kurt’s website “First Things First” Kurt writes.
“I was raised in the church, so faith and God were part of my life, but for me it was just kind of there… there on Sundays and when I was going through a tough time. I always had God as a background, but I never truly accepted Jesus until I was about 25 years old.
My arena league teammates, a pastor friend and my future wife were constantly asking questions about my beliefs, and I began to question where I was and whether I had really put my complete faith in God.
Their questions led me to the Truth – that faith is about a relationship, and it’s about Jesus. Up to that point, I had never really considered that. I struggled for so long and so many things went against me. I was swimming upstream.
When I finally gave my life over to God, it was then the joy and happiness came into my life. Now I realize my role here on Earth is not to throw touchdown passes and win football games, although that is the position and the platform I have been given.
I realize my goal is to win as many people to Jesus as possible. I have an open-door policy, where I’m able to talk about what is most important to me, and obviously God is #1.”
Frank Michael Reich, Jr. is an American football coach and former player in the National Football League. He is the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reich played college football for the University of Maryland. He was chosen by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 1985 NFL draft, and also played for the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Detroit Lions of the NFL.
Reich and Buffalo Bills starter Jim Kelly formed one of the longest-tenured backup-and-starter tandems, playing together for nine seasons from 1986 to 1994.
For a time, he had the distinction of having led his team to the biggest comeback victory ever in both the college and NFL ranks.
Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1985, Frank started in the playoff game against the Houston Oilers in a bid for the Super Bowl. As the Oilers charged to a 35-3 lead, Frank Reich looked to stop their stampede one play at a time. As a result, Buffalo eventually won in overtime 41 to 38—an NFL comeback record that still stands today.
During the second quarter of Super Bowl XXVII, the Bill’s starter Jim Kelly had to leave the game due to injury and Frank entered the game. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Bills lost 52 to 17, one of the most lopsided Super Bowls of all time.
Frank went from the highest mountaintop to the deepest valley in three weeks. But in that painful journey, he still discovered victory over disappointment and devastation. He found that each person’s hope and strength is in Christ, and through Him we prevail in the most difficult of times.
In recent years, Frank has served as president of the Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Church, both located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In an interview with CBN Frank shared this piece of wisdom.
“God is the creator of the heavens and earth. God has created each one of us, and He has a plan for us to have an intimate relationship with Him. When we submit our lives to that plan, thats when I believe He really sets us free for the first time. For those that sit and wonder what Gods plan for their life is, I think its clear that His plan is for salvation in Christ and in Christ alone.”
Shaun Edward Alexander is a former American football running back who played for the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins of the National Football League.
He played college football for the University of Alabama, and was drafted by the Seahawks 19th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.
In May 2011, he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Alexander set numerous NFL and Seattle Seahawks’ franchise records, and was named the NFL MVP in 2005. He was also named to the NFL’s 2000 All-Decade team.
A born-again Christian, Alexander and his wife are very outspoken about their faith and are regular attendees at Christian Faith Center, a charismatic megachurch in Federal Way.
Firm supporters of abstinence and sexual purity, Shaun and Valerie both were virgins when they married. Alexander has discussed the issue publicly on many occasions, including in his book Touchdown Alexander.
In an interview with CBN Shaun shares his conversion experience.
“My first prayer was really simple,” Shaun recalls. “I was like, ‘God, I don’t know much but I do know how to be obedient.’ That was my first prayer [at] 10 years old.
“That’s just how I live my life — chasing after Christ, finding new ways to get closer to Him. I want to do what children of God do, and that’s go all out for Christ.”
That means staying in the hotel and away from parties and clubs that his teammates go to.
“When you start breaking down things in the Bible and your chasing after the Bible, you’re saying, ‘Hey I’m gonna be obedient no matter what I feel like I want to do. That’s picking up your cross daily.’”
Matthew Michael Hasselbeck is an American football quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
After a season on the practice squad and two seasons backing up Brett Favre, he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2001. Hasselbeck led Seattle to six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl. He has been selected to three Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 2005.
Matt shared the role that God has had in his life with about 1,200 attendees of the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes fundraising banquet at the Nashville Convention Center in 2012.
Hasselbeck shared his testimony through a question-and-answer session with WSMV-TV sports director Rudy Kalis.
“God’s plans were better than my plans,” Hasselbeck said.
He elaborated on that by saying that he envisioned a different path to the NFL, perhaps one that included an invite to the scouting combine, being drafted earlier than the sixth round or spending his entire rookie season on the practice squad.
Hasselbeck said he’s been able to see God’s work when he reflects from his time as a backup in Green Bay, to when he became the starter in Seattle and when he joined Tennessee in 2011 after 10 seasons with the Seahawks.
Timothy Richard Tebow is an American football quarterback who is a free agent. In addition to his playing skills, he received considerable press attention for his public displays of Christianity, both on and off the field.
He played college football for the University of Florida, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and appearing on BCS National Championship-winning teams during the 2006 and 2008 seasons. Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
He has also played for the New York Jets and had a brief stint with the New England Patriots.
When Tim Tebow was playing for the Florida Gators, instead of putting on the gridiron black underneath his eyes, he put on Scripture.
One time he put John 3:16 under his eyes and this verse was at the top of the search engine for the next 24 hours. The search engines were busier that next day than they had ever been previously over any other single Bible verse.
Not only does Tim Tebow profess his faith, he displays it for the world to see.
In an Easter service 15 miles north of Austin Tx. Tim Tebow shared his testimony of salvation with over 20,000 people.
“I still remember when I was a little boy lying in my bed,” he said. “I had been to church and I had been to devotionals and all sorts of things,” he recalled.
“It was the first time that I realized in my life that if I got in a car the next morning and I drove and got in a crash and died, I really believed I was going to die and go to hell.”
This sobering reality pierced his young heart and mind. “I couldn’t sleep that night,” he admitted.
After tossing and turning in the darkness, he got up at dawn and bolted to his parents’ room. “I grabbed my mom and said, ‘I want to ask Jesus into my heart!’
Mother and son walked to the living room, then Tim got down on his knees and asked Jesus to be his Savior and Lord. “I know from that moment on I went from darkness to light and my eternity was sealed because I had a relationship with Jesus Christ,” he declared before the crowd.
“He came in and forgave my sins and I was so thankful for that. My life was eternally changed and I am eternally grateful.”
Edward Tandy McGlasson is a former American football offensive lineman in the National Football League and pastors the Stadium Vineyard Church in Anaheim, California.
Born and raised in Potomac, Maryland, he played for the Youngstown State Penguins, Los Angeles Rams, the New York Jets and the New York Giants before entering full-time ministry.
Ed shares his testimony of coming to faith in Christ this way.
“One day at practice, there was a “freak” fumble on the ground. “A freshman dove through my left knee to get the fumble,” Ed recalls. As Ed collapsed he heard his knee ligaments rip. “It was an unbelievable sound in my head.”
Doctors told him all three major ligaments were torn and he would probably not play football again. He needed major reconstructive surgery the next morning. Ed went back to his dorm room with an ice pack. “To say I was devastated would be an understatement,” he says. “Everything I worked for was gone. I didn’t know what to do.”
Then came a knock on his door. A young man named Bill Romanowski (no relation to the football player) entered the room, surveyed Ed’s sorry condition and said, “Hi Ed, I’m the campus pastor here.”
While Ed’s grandmother was a Christian Scientist, Ed had no interest or previous involvement in religion. They exchanged a few pleasantries, then Romanowksi said, “Ed, you have a lot of things going for you, but you lack one thing.”
“What’s that?” Ed wanted to know.
“What’s he going to do for me here?” Ed asked.
Without hesitating, Romanowski quoted John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The words were vaguely familiar to Ed due to the influence of the “Rainbow Man” who appeared at sporting events with the verse prominently displayed.
This time, the words carried a power with them that penetrated his heart and awakened his soul as never before. “Right in that moment my heart was opened to God. I knew that Jesus Christ was God’s Son and He died for me.”
“Would you like to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?” Romanowski asked. Ed nodded his head and he was born from above by the power of the Word and the Spirit.
Before Romanowski left the dorm room he offered to pray for Ed’s knee. “He put his hand on my ice bag and said a very simple prayer. “Heal Ed’s knee in Jesus’ name.”
“I didn’t feel anything because my knee was frozen,” Ed recalls.
Early the next morning, he reported to the hospital for surgery. The doctors informed him they would like to do one more test, an arthrogram, which would shoot dye into the knee as a contrast to survey the damaged areas.
The doctor returned after an hour shaking his head. “I don’t understand this, but somehow the ligaments that were torn yesterday are reattached. I guess your knee is healed.”
Ed’s eyes got wide, filled with incredulity. “I couldn’t believe my ears, I was so excited,” he says. Still in his soft cast, he jumped off the gurney and began to scream.
As he walked back to his dorm room, he began to talk to God for the first time. At this stage, he didn’t own a Bible and had never been around Christians. “What do you want with my life,” Ed asked God.
The still small voice of the Lord spoke to his heart. “Ed, I want you to fulfill your dream and play professional football.””
Ed has spoken at numerous conferences across the country and around the world, including sharing his testimony Billy Graham events. Ed’s first book “The Difference a Father Makes” has over 200,000 copies in print. Ed and his wife Jill, live in Orange, California with their five children.
Ed is also a personal friend of mine and the inspiration for writing this article.
I hope you have enjoyed the Christian testimonies of these NFL legends. I know that there are many more Christians in the NFL than are listed here. In fact, if I listed all of them it might take a few days to read all the testimonies.
Please feel free to share some of your favorite NFL players that have Christian testimonies. I am sure we all would like to hear of their faith in Christ as well.
Pastor Duke Taber is the Senior Pastor at The Vineyard Church in San Carlos Ca. He is an alumnus from Life Pacific College and Multnomah Biblical Seminary. He is a husband, father, and grandfather.
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