As I reported in Heaven Without Her, it happened in the wake of my newfound love affair with pro football, and my hometown Green Bay Packers:
“In truth, it was this obsession as much as my mom’s faith that would eventually point me to Christianity.
“That’s because, in 1993, the Packers lured Reggie White away from the Philadelphia Eagles – the Reverend Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, the all-pro defensive end and the heart and soul of the Packers through the ’98 season. He was an awesome player – the kind of player who could take over a game almost single-handedly, the kind of player whose very presence on our roster attracted other great players, like the Dolphins’ Keith Jackson, the Seahawks’ Eugene Robinson, the Oilers’ Sean Jones and the Bills’ Don Beebe.
“At first, I just found it curious that Reggie capped every game – win or lose – by leading players from both teams in down-on-your-knees prayer at mid-field. After a season or two, I found this practice very cool; it was so politically incorrect, after all. I watched and admired those who prayed with Reggie. And I found it neat that, instead of making nasty comments about their mothers or sisters or wives, Reggie would growl ‘Jesus is coming’ at opposing offensive linemen.
“But my big Reggie moment -- the moment I’ll never, ever forget -- didn’t happen until Sunday, January 12, 1997. Dave and I were at Lambeau Field for the NFC championship game between the Packers and the Carolina Panthers. It was cold and windy – a typical Wisconsin winter day – but few of us fans cared. With a win, the Packers would go to their first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years.
“I don’t know when it happened – whether it was during halftime or during a commercial time-out late in the game – but at some point, the Packers’ front office fired up the Jumbotron for something other than a replay. There, materializing in front of my eyes, was a much-larger-than-life Reggie White. I think he was wearing street clothes, and I think he was standing before a stormy background of some kind – others have said that I’m wrong about that, that it was some kind of summer scene. Maybe so, but I remember dark swirling clouds and lightning.
“Anyway, there was Reggie, singing a haunting tune:
“’Amazing grace! How sweet the sound …’
“I gave him my full attention.
“’That saved a wretch like me!’
“Although those who challenge my visual memory of the occasion also claim that the 60,000+ other people in the stadium sang right along with him, I don’t remember it that way. In fact, all those people just seemed to vanish. It was just Reggie and me, all alone.
“’I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.’
“Reggie and me and the Holy Spirit, to be more accurate. Although I didn’t know it at the time.
“Surely I had heard that song before, somewhere along the line. It is, after all, one of the most popular hymns in the English language – a hymn written, as it turns out, by slave trader John Newton in 1779 – and surely we’d sung it at my parents’ Congregational church. But it seemed new to me that day. And it took my breath away, for a few moments at least.
“Then it was over. The game resumed, we cheered, and the Packers rolled to an easy 30-13 victory over the Panthers to advance to the Super Bowl. Which we also won, 35-21, thanks in no small part to a heroic performance by Reggie White, who had a record-setting three sacks in the second half.
“After helping to return the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay and the Title to Titletown, Reggie addressed Packer fans everywhere. ‘I wanted to make sure to honor God,’ he said. ‘A lot of people don’t like that. But I wanted to make sure people knew God had His hand on this team.’
“If that was true, then God enjoyed a lot of victories that season, it would seem; the Packers won all but three games. But as far as I’m concerned, He posted His most impressive win back at Lambeau during the NFC championship game, when He used Reggie White to make this hard-as-a-rock 44-year-old heart sit up and take notice of Him at last.”
(Heaven Without Her, pp 69-71)
Originally posted 7/3/14