Quarterback Sam Bradford signed this summer with the St. Louis Rams for a huge sum of money ($78 million), but there have been several times in his career when he was not sure if he would even get a chance to play.
In high school Sam played in several sports: basketball, football, and golf. He did very well in all of them, but chose to play football for college.
Sam had chosen to play at the University of Oklahoma, but he was not even the top freshman prospect for the quarterback position. Another young man had been recruited more heavily than Sam and was considered a sure fit for the quarterback position.
Sam did not play at all his freshman year (Fall 2006). This was tough for Sam, and he struggled with self-doubt.
After a while he began to realize that, even if he did not succeed at football, he needed to keep growing in his relationship with Christ. He began to spend more time in personal prayer and in reading the Bible, looking for strength and inspiration. He also worked hard on his studies (accounting and business).
Additionally, he began to seek out friendship and support from other committed Christians on campus. He knew it was stupid to face disappointment and failure alone, especially since there were so many fellow Christians on campus who were willing to help him. He became more active in an organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization he had already joined in high school.
As he prayed, a deeper conviction began to mature in Sam’s heart: God was in charge. He might never become a star, but God still had a plan for his life. He should just do his best and leave the rest to God.
Sam did get a chance to play in his second year in college (Fall 2007), and was surprised at the results. In technical terms he was a ‘redshirt freshman’ that year, because it was really the first year he actually played in a game. In his very first game he immediately began breaking school records for passing yards and passing touchdowns.
During a game with Texas Tech in November 2007 Sam suffered a concussion that made him leave the game. His team lost the game 27-34. Bradford came back the next game and led his team to victory.
By the end of the Fall 2007 season Bradford had set an NCAA record for the most touchdown passes by a freshman. His team won the Big 12 Championship. The Sooners were ranked #3 in the nation at the end of the regular season.
Still, he was disappointed when his team lost 28-42 to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. Their national rank dropped to #8 after the loss.
His third academic year in college (Fall 2008) he broke all the school records for passing yards, and became only the second sophomore in college history to win the Heisman trophy. (For sport eligibility, he was a “redshirt sophomore” because, as we said earlier, he did not play his freshman year.)
At the end of the 2008 regular season his team was ranked #2 or #1 in the nation, depending on which poll did the ranking. They had a chance to guarantee the #1 spot by playing in the BCS championship game against Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. The Sooners lost to Florida 14-24 in a very exciting game. Bradford had 256 yards passing, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Having a strong relationship with Christ does not guarantee success in sports, but it does give us peace in the midst of the struggle: the biggest victory is assured, the victory of Christ over sin and death. We are not alone. In the midst of the craziness of life and the intensity of competition Christ walks with us and offers us his friendship.
Sam’s walk with Christ began when he was in middle school. “I didn’t start going to church when I was really young. My family started going when I was in the fifth or sixth grade.”
“Originally I was just going with my parents, to what I called ‘big church’ at the time with the grownups (the main Sunday morning service). But then my friends started inviting me to go to the ‘middle school ministry’ (Sunday school class), and when I got confident enough, I started going to that. I had a blast with that, and I came to know the Lord as my Savior when I was in seventh grade.”
What does Sam mean when he says “I came to know the Lord as my Savior…”?
He means that he made a personal, conscious commitment to accept Christ’s gift of salvation and to put Christ number one in his life at that moment. He “accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior.”
This idea of “accepting Jesus as Lord and savior” comes from a couple of passages in the New Testament, especially the following: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Protestant Christians take this passage very seriously, and they are right. It is very important.
As Catholics we should frequently make a personal commitment to Christ a sour Lord and savior. We received Christ’s gift of salvation when we were baptized as infants, but we have to renew that commitment and make it more personal as we grow and face new challenges. In fact, we should renew our commitment to Christ as our personal Lord and Savior every time we receive Communion. In the time of quiet prayer after Communion we should really talk with our Lord as our best friend and our savior.
And we know that when we make a sincere Confession (sacrament of reconciliation) we are also renewing our personal commitment to Jesus. In Confession, Christ saves us from the sins we have committed since our last Confession and enters into our hearts more deeply.
We all need strong moments of personal conversion and commitment. And there can be certain moments in our lives that can be true “born again” experiences. Prayer and the sacraments help us live those moments.
Speaking of continuing our relationship with Christ, Sam talks about keeping up his faith as he went through his teen years.
“I went through Confirmation (classes that teach you the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith) with a bunch of my friends, and stayed involved in church as I went through high school.”
As we mentioned above, even though he struggled both with faith and football at the beginning of college, Sam continued to live his faith and grow stronger.
“Probably the biggest things I’ve learned are just the power of patience and perseverance, and knowing that everything God does, He does for a reason. He knows what He’s doing. It’s not our job to question what He’s doing with our lives. He has a purpose for it, and we just have to trust Him and know that His plan is the right way.”
That trust that God is in control was tested again his junior year (Fall 2009). His shoulder was severely injured in a game, and the doctors were not sure he would ever be able to play again.
“A lot of athletes, when things are going good, feel like God’s doing the right thing. But then, all of a sudden, when things go bad, they feel like God’s punishing them. But, really, they just need to know that God has a master plan for all of us, and to just be patient and realize that everything is going to work out.”
Sam doesn’t mean that God is going to always make us succeed in sports or other things, but that God can do tremendous good in our lives whether we have earthly success or not. God is going to work through us if we let him, whether we are the superstar or the guy who sweeps the stadium.
Sam was lucky (or blessed, if you prefer). His shoulder healed completely after his operation. He also worked hard on the physical therapy, and impressed the pro scouts at the spring trials this year. He was chosen in the first round of the draft and given a fantastic contract.
So how is he performing in the pros? His team, the St. Louis Rams, does not have the best receivers in the league, and the offensive line is weak sometimes.
So far, Sam has done amazingly well. He was not expected to be a starter until late in the season, but an injury to the starting quarterback during preseason gave Sam a chance to show his stuff. After two preseason games in which he did not play that well, Sam had a third game that left everyone in the NFL happily surprised and impressed. His poise in the pocket, his accuracy, and his ability to make good decisions under pressure impressed even his biggest doubters.
Now that the regular season has begun, the Rams and Bradford have had moments of glory and moments of defeat, but things are going better for the team than they did last year. Even though they do not have as many talented players as other teams they are doing much better than people expected.
Many sports writers are already singing praises for Sam Bradford as a pro. They say he is already showing an ability to perform under pressure and make the right decisions that only the best veterans show.
The season is far from over, and Sam’s situation could change in an instant.
Another injury could put him out for the year, or he could begin to lose his touch under the heavy pass rushes the opponents will surely try more often, now that he has shown how dangerous he is.
And there are plenty of challenges waiting for Sam’s faith walk as a professional athlete. How will he handle all the money and fame now that he is on his own and doesn’t have his college buddies and coaches watching him closely? Will he become conceited and superficial? So far, the signs are that he is staying humble and working hard to live up to his Christian values.
Keep your eyes on this guy. He could be really going places, and doing a lot of good as he goes there.