He is a former NFL wide receiver. He played college football for Notre Dame, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1987, becoming the first wide receiver to win the award. He played for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders for 16 years from 1988–2003, and later played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004. He was selected to the Pro Bowl 9 times, made the AP Second-Team All-Pro, and was selected to the PFW All-Conference 6 times. He won the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award in 2012. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. He is the only player ever to retire in the NFL’s top five leaders for both receiving and return yards. In both 2012 and 2013, he was selected as a finalist for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is currently a college football analyst for ESPN.
In an interview with Game Plan for Life, he spoke about his Christian faith. Even though He grew up in the church as a child and was taught the ways of the Lord primarily by his mother, he slacked off from following God in college and in his early days in the NFL. He said, “Even though I had all of that good teaching, it doesn’t mean that I was living the way I was suppose to live. At the University of Notre Dame and my early years at the Raiders, I was ashamed of how I was living. I remember one day, I think I was 23 or 24 years old, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t stand the person that I was looking at. I knew that I wasn’t doing what God wanted me to do….I was around 27 or 28 when I finally said it was time for me to live right. I had been given all of the teachings. I knew what I needed to do. It was just a matter of making those tough decisions.”
He went on to tell of how God is working in His life. He said, “There are plenty of challenges around and plenty of reasons to keep us on our knees praying and fasting. There are challenges in my family. There are challenges with my kids. It is like my pastor said, if the devil is not attacking your family, then your family must be doing something wrong. He must already have your family where he wants you, if he doesn’t need to attack you anymore. The better you try to do, the more the enemy is going to discourage you.”
Looking at his impact on others and the big picture of life, he said, “When I was about 32 years old and on a Hall of Fame run, I thought my career was being extended because I was going to be in the Hall of Fame. What hit me was that I realized I wasn’t here to make the Hall of Fame. I was there, because I needed to show those young men that you can play the game at a high level and have faith. Initially, I was let down because it wasn’t about the Hall of Fame. Instead, I began to think about the impact that I was going to have on other men. I am not trying to say I lived a perfect life. Sometimes you can walk into a room without saying anything and offend people. That is not what I am trying to say. The men in the locker room the last 10 years that I was there never heard me curse, never saw me drinking or doing anything crazy. When the men talk about me now, they are either going to have to lie about me and make up something, or they are going to have to tell people the truth that I tried my best to live right. When Junior Seau died, I told people that he had lost his purpose. His purpose was not to be a football player. His purpose was not to raise money for all of his charities. His purpose was to serve God and show people how to live for God. That is your purpose even in the midst of all the stuff that you may be going through. I think that it is so important for people to understand that no matter what platform we are given our single purpose on this earth is to serve God. Whether you influence one person or a million people, that is what you have to do. You have to show people that this is what you are supposed to be doing with your life. You are supposed to be serving God.”
He is a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. Before signing with the Ravens, he played with the Indianapolis Colts from 2003−2011 with whom he won Super Bowl 41. He also played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. During his college career at the University of Iowa, he earned All-American honors, and was recognized as the top college tight end in the nation. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2009. And his team was twice named AFC Champions in 2006 and in 2009.
He says of his faith that his mother’s death before his high school graduation pushed him toward God. He said, “Graduating from high school is supposed to be one of the greatest moments of your life. You’re looking forward to college; feeling like you’re on top of the world, all set to run off and explore everything life has in store for you. Four days before my graduation, that’s exactly how I felt. But then something happened that changed things in a hurry: My mother passed away. Suddenly, my entire future looked a lot different. I had every reason to sink down into the dumps at that point, to be bitter at the world and everyone in it. But my mother’s death actually pushed me in the opposite direction instead. It helped to strengthen my belief that God is in control of things, and that even though bad things happen, they happen for a reason. In my mom’s case, even though I thought she was the best person in the world, I really feel that her time here was done. She got me through high school, and now it’s my turn to go out and use what she taught me to make the world a better place. You may be going through a similar loss right now. If so, I feel for you. But I encourage you not to get stuck there. Bring it to God, and ask Him to help you make sense of things. Speaking from experience, I realize such events can feel like the end. But if you give them over to God, He can show you how to make them a new beginning.”
He is a former NFL wide receiver. He played college football at Notre Dame, where he became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy Award. Drafted as the 6th pick in the 1988 NFL Draft, he played for sixteen years with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders where he established himself as one of the NFL’s most prolific wide receivers. He also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times and to the All-Conference six times. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He ranks number two in NFL history with nearly 15,000 yards receiving and third in catches with more than 1,000. His 240 games in a Raider’s uniform are the most in franchise history.
He became a Christian as a teenager and sang in the church choir. But after graduating from college, his life took a drastic turn. At 22 years old, he was in the NFL, had a pocketful of money, and was struggling to walk the straight and narrow. After seven years in the NFL, he wanted a change. He said, “I just got tired of living the way I was living. I mean, I’ve never been a drinker or drugs. I never did that kind of crazy stuff, but the things I was doing were bad enough that I couldn’t even look at myself. I even got to a point it was so bad that when I got up in the morning, I wouldn’t even turn the lights on in the bathroom because I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror.”
It was at this point that he chose to commit his life to the Lord. As a teammate and now as a retired football player, he takes the opportunities God has given him to be a role model to others seriously. He often admonishes children and young people to, “Go to church. You know, because in my opinion there is nothing more important you can do with your life. Education is great, but I tell them I know a lot of educated fools out there. There’s a lot of educated fools out there, but it’s the Word of God, and the Spirit of God that can keep you from being crazy and doing the things that we shouldn’t be doing.”
He went on to say, “Only when you’re living subjected to God are you capable of leading a good, clean life — not a perfect life because nobody’s gonna be perfect, but you can lead a clean life. If there are people out there that know me and know me to be a good person, I’m here to tell you that without God, I wouldn’t be that person. Without God in my life, I wouldn’t be that person because the ideas and thoughts that run through my head are just like everybody else out there. But it’s because of God that I’m able to go, ‘hey, we don’t do that, that’s not who we are,’ and I’m able to move on. But its only because of God that I’m able to do that — not because I love my beautiful wife so much. I love my kids and God knows I do I love my kids and my wife tremendously, but as a man you know sometimes that just doesn’t matter. I tell my wife all the time love doesn’t have anything to do with what happens in our world in the NFL and sports world. I mean guys get caught up in it all and things happen, but its God that can keep you.”