Sam Bradford: Behind the Scenes
By James Meredith
Jan. 27, 2013
What defines greatness in the NFL? Talent? Instinct? The ability to pull off a dazzling play at a key moment? Whatever your answer, it probably boils down to what that player does when the spotlight shines brightest on the field. At that instant, he occupies the center of the sports universe.
It’s not hard to imagine, then, that NFL success often gives way to a healthy ego. So when a player makes submission to Christ the driving force in his life, it’s easy to notice.
Sam Bradford is that sort of player. While his role with the St. Louis Rams places him in one of the most elite clubs on the planet — NFL starting quarterback — he keeps things in perspective.
“I realize that I’m not doing this by myself,” he says. “I know the Lord is out there with me. He’s given me all the talent that I have, and without Him I wouldn’t set foot on a football field.”
Bradford’s submission to Christ, which began with his conversion during a seventh-grade Sunday school class, has had plenty of opportunities to shine. His football prowess made him one of the most sought-after high school players in the nation.
Yet when he arrived at the University of Oklahoma in 2006, his faith was tested.
Recalling his freshman season, Bradford admits, “I really struggled with the Lord. I was sitting on the bench. Every sport I’d played, I never sat on the bench. I didn’t understand. I kind of turned my back on the Lord, asking, ‘Why are You doing this?’”
Then Bradford got involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where he was challenged about his relationship with Christ. The result: a renewed commitment to giving Christ first place, both on and off the field.
“I saw that God knew what He was doing,” Bradford says. “He had a plan for my whole life. For me not to trust Him, it was just ridiculous.”
This marked a turning point in Bradford’s faith, as well as his career. He opened the 2007 season as starter at OU, then promptly broke the school record for consecutive completions in his second game. In 2008, he set the team record for passing yardage, en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
There was little surprise, then, when Bradford left OU after the 2009 season and became the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Bradford started strong in St. Louis, taking over a team that had won six games the previous three years combined. In leading the Rams to a 7-9 record, he became only the third rookie QB in NFL history to start 16 games and pass for 3,000 yards.
Too often, however, this kind of early success can present new challenges to a believer grappling with the temptations of sudden celebrity. Sadly, the annals of the NFL are filled with players who rose quickly to the top, only to flame out in a series of bad choices.
In 2011, Bradford struggled to duplicate the success of his stellar rookie season. And while 2012 brought a return to form and hope for the future, Bradford’s priorities remain firmly rooted in a higher calling. Whatever the future holds, in packed stadiums or on paths God is yet to unfold, Bradford is surrendering his plans to the will of an all-knowing Father.
It’s the kind of faith every believer is called to exercise: faith to surrender, to place God above self. To look toward His often-unseen purpose for our lives, rather than pursue our own agendas.
It all comes back to relationship, he says. “When I go home, there is Someone I can have a conversation with. I don’t really see why a person wouldn’t want to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not only is He the greatest human being who ever walked the earth, but He is everything anyone should want to strive for.”
Whether we live in the limelight or labor behind the scenes, that’s a perspective we all can follow.
JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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