God, our Father, we know that every good gift comes down from you. Teach us to always place the greatest importance on what matters most to you. Amen.
The Super bowl XLIII match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburg Steelers showcased two players who have distinguished themselves as men who see the bigger game, beyond the hype. Though they were rivals on the field, off the field Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals, share common ground in their Christian faith. In this lesson we will take a brief look at their faith and their values.
For Troy Polamalu, who plays safety for the Pittsburg Steelers, the 2009 Super Bowl was his second time playing in the “big game”. In 2006, Polamalu helped the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. He knows what it’s like to perform under pressure. He has achieved the kind of success that most amateur and even many pro football players will only dream about.
Polamalu normally deflects praise and attention, always reminding others that giving glory to God is more important. In a 2006 article for Catholic Online, Troy states that “success in football doesn’t matter. Success in anything doesn’t matter. As Mother Teresa said, God calls us not to be successful but to be faithful. My prayer is that I would glorify God no matter what, and not have success be the definition of it.”
Troy has dealt with adversity. He was the youngest of five children. Suila, his mother, had to raise all of them alone; on welfare, and in a rough section of Los Angeles. His older brother and sisters were already in a lot of real trouble in high school. “I was just a little hood-rat, walking around parks by myself, hanging out with homeless guys…”
When he was eight years old, Troy’s family visited their uncle and his family in Oregon. It seemed beautiful and serene there compared to the streets of L.A. Even though he was young, Troy saw a chance at a better life. At the end of the visit, he begged his mom to let him stay there. Realizing that this was a better environment for her child, she gave permission.
He loved living with his Uncle Salu, Aunt Shelley, and their three sons. From them he learned about his Polynesian culture; especially, their traditional reverence for family, faith, and personal responsibility. Troy attended Catholic school, and he discovered the power of prayer and dialogue with God at a young age. He developed a deep, personal relationship with God as his true Father. “The beautiful thing about the way I was raised is that I didn’t really have parents, and in that way I had to rely on God.”
Troy defines faith in one word: surrender. “It’s knowing in your heart that God will take care of you… We all have to struggle to overcome our adversities…When Jesus was on the cross, he didn’t say, ‘Father in heaven, He said ‘Daddy.’ This is an intimate relationship. This isn’t praying to the unknown.”
Theodora, Troy’s wife, belongs to the Greek Orthodox Christian church. While they were dating he asked her a lot of questions about her beliefs. As he fell in love with her, he fell in love with her faith. When they got married, Troy passionately embraced her practice of faith. They attend weekly Mass (they prefer to call it Divine Liturgy). He is described by others as a “soft-spoken, Christian family man.”
Troy prays daily, and he says that should be true of every Christian. He also prays during his games, both on the sidelines and after each play. Those who have watched him on TV may remember seeing him make the sign of the cross, a trademark he is happy to bear. To some of us it may seem he makes it backwards, but Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians still follow an old tradition of blessing their right shoulder first.
Troy does not spend his free time hanging out with his teammates, studying replay tapes, or watching games; he spends his time with his wife and their new son, Paisios. “Football is, for me, it’s something I do. It’s like [being] a reporter. It’s what you do, not who you are. Football does not define me. How I am with my faith and how I treat my wife is what truly defines [me] as a man. That is my goal in life: to live that way and believe in it.”
Many players and writers comment about how humble and unselfish Troy is. When he is not able to make a big play, he does whatever he can to help his teammates make one. In this particular Super Bowl game, Troy didn’t play the most outstanding game. He spent most of the game quietly helping to cover the Cardinals’ star receiver, Larry FItzgerald. This kept him out of the limelight and action; but he did his part humbly, and for the first three quarters of the game Fitzgerald had only one catch.
The Steelers won 27-23 in what turned out to be one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent memory, and they set a new record as the only NFL team to win six Super Bowls.
During his post game interview, Troy had his son Paisios on his knee. “It’s a blessing,” he said about winning the game. “I don’t know how much he (his infant son) will remember, but he’ll have two rings in his vault, and, God willing, maybe more. He’s speechless right now as you can see.”
Troy has said he loves playing for the Steelers, because they are a hard working, family owned and family friendly team.
“I hope [winning the most Super Bowls] can be an example to people. It’s a legacy that’s not built on pride. It’s a legacy that’s built on humility and unselfishness.”
Just a few days before the Super Bowl, the teams met with the press for what is called media day. During his interview time, Troy took this opportunity to publicly acknowledge one of his opponents who also uses Super Bowl stardom to share his faith in Jesus:
Read the next article from this issue, about Kurt Warner.