Seventy-two-year-old Susan Collesidis was never a football fan until she heard Carson Wentz talk about his faith.
Then she was hooked on the Philadelphia Eagles.
When Wentz found out his newest fan was fighting an advanced stage of cancer Adidas Evgenii Dadonov Jersey , he sent her an encouraging message with inspirational Bible verses.
”How much joy I get from watching him and his team play supernatural football every week,” she said after reading it.
Two weeks later, Susan Collesidis lost her battle with cancer the night before Thanksgiving.
”The message meant so much to Susan because she admired Carson as a person and believer more than a football player,” her son-in-law Doug Horton said. ”He’s the reason she started caring about sports and she couldn’t wait to watch the Eagles every week.”
Wentz isn’t playing in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots because he tore his ACL in Week 14. But backup quarterback Nick Foles is also a ”brother in Christ” and one of the leaders in a locker room filled with guys who have formed a strong bond because of their faith.
”It truly is a brotherhood,” Pro Bowl tight end Zach 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 …”
Christian players openly expressing their faith is nothing new in the NFL: Reggie White, Kurt Warner, Tim Tebow, Ray Lewis and Russell Wilson among many others. But these Eagles are a unique, close-knit group.
”There is a stronger connection here,” said defensive end Steven Means, who played for three other teams. ”It’s another level because we push each other in certain areas that we are flawed at and open ourselves up to each other. We text each other throughout the day making sure that everybody is on the right path and doing the right thing.”
Torrey Smith played with Lewis on the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2012. They had a solid core of Christian players who used their faith for inspiration during their journey. Smith also spent two years in San Francisco before the wide receiver came to Philadelphia this season. He said it’s different here.
”I’ve been lucky to be part of three organizations that do have a very strong Christian presence,” Smith said. ”The difference here is a lot of younger guys lead.”
It starts with Wentz, the face of the franchise.
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 Adidas Drew Doughty Jersey , everyone was so supportive and I knew it was something special.”
Having strong faith doesn’t make players immune to adversity, but it helps them deal with it. The Eagles (15-3) have overcome numerous injuries to important players on their way to winning the NFC championship.
Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, running back/return specialist Darren Sproles, special-teams captain Chris Maragos and kicker Caleb Sturgis sustained season-ending injuries along with Wentz and Jordan Hicks, the playmaking linebacker and quarterback on defense.
Instead of anger and resentment, they’ve leaned on their faith to maintain a positive attitude.
”Character is always revealed in times of testing,” said Horner, who pastors several players. ”For these men, Christ is not a crutch to lean upon, he is the foundation which their life is built upon. For them, faith is not an intellectual acknowledgement of truth, but a day-by-day expression of their love for God. This is where it all starts.&
A look at what’s happening around the majors Friday:
Colorado shortstop Trevor Story gets to play a big league game near home for the first time when the Rockies open an interleague series Friday night at the Texas Rangers, in a stadium only a few miles from his hometown of Irving, Texas. The Rockies last played at Texas in 2016, which was Story’s standout rookie season. But Story, the 45th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Irving High, suffered a season-ending left thumb injury about two weeks before that series. Another Texas native starts the opener for the Rockies in right-hander Chad Bettis (4-1), who is from Lubbock and went to Texas Tech. He got a no decision in the Rockies’ 12-9 win during that August 2016 series when he allowed five runs in five innings.
Two of the National League’s top pitchers this season will face off when the Chicago Cubs open a weekend series at the St. Louis Cardinals. Jon Lester (7-2) takes the mound for the Cubs, who are coming off two straight losses at Milwaukee, and the left-hander is fourth in the NL in ERA (2.22). Michael Wacha, meanwhile, is 8-1 and seventh in the league with a 2.47 ERA – providing a much-needed boost for a Cardinals team that’s 4-5 in its last nine games against Miami, Cincinnati and San Diego.
BACK IN TOWN
Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) takes the ball for the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium, his fourth outing since becoming the 12th pitcher to start a major league game following multiple Tommy John surgeries. Eovaldi pitched for the Yankees from 2015-16, going 14-3 for them in 2015, but has never faced New York. ”I wish I would have been able to finish on a healthy note. Other than that, I really enjoyed my time there,” Eovaldi said.
Jonathan Loaisiga comes up from Double-A Trenton to make his big league debut for the Yankees, starting in place of injured Masahiro Tanaka. The 23-year-old Loaisiga, from Nicaragua, returned to the mound last year from Tommy John surgery. ”Super excited. This is a great opportunity the Yankees are giving me,” Loaisiga said through a translator. ”It’s been a tough road for me to get here and now it’s about enjoying this moment.”
Gio Gonzalez (6-2, 2.65 ERA) had his worst start of the season in his last outing, allowing four runs in 3 1/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants last week. The Washington Nationals left-hander will return to the mound when he makes an interleague start against the Toronto Blue Jays.