Do You Believe Now? Coach Prime and Christian Vindication
I had two hobbies this summer, writing Catholic365 articles and watching Coach Prime and the Colorado Buffaloes prepare for this upcoming football season. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about or don’t follow football, keep reading. I’m going to explain why it matters to those who understand what it means to believe that God has already written the script; we just need to show up and show out.
As Coach Prime would say: For the doubting Thomas, resurrection comes before vindication. It was only after the touch that Thomas came in clutch. For the skeptic, it takes an up-set before they admit re-gret. They thought he was an old fool, it turns out he’s just old school. He was written off as a cocky and flamboyant gimmick, but now that he has proof, cynics can no longer act aloof.
The confidence and the certitude about his team, which he has never waivered on, has materialized in an awesome back and forth victory over 20 point favorite TCU. After his first game as Head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, Coach Prime, Deon Sanders turned his projection and hype into facts and stats and he kept the receipts. He remembered the naysayers and those who took shots at his old school approach to coaching and his indestructible faith. In his post game interview with the local Colorado and national press, he let them have it! After the 45-42 upset win, the basic message to the press and by extension to all doubters was, “I told you so!”. No doubt that message also went out to those who complained that he began his meetings with prayer.
It wasn’t about gloating. He actually wants to convert them into becoming optimists and hopeful, joyful people of faith like him. At a time when as a country we have fallen so low, this story is a pertinent reminder of the power of positive thinking rooted in a deep faith in Jesus.
This is a true story about a man that has been down, then up, then down and then up again. He attained stardom in the NFL and wasn’t afraid to let his neon light shine. Deon Sanders, aka Neon-Deon or Prime-Time and now Coach Prime, was arguably the best athlete to have ever played two professional sports at the same time joining the ranks of Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan.
As a receiver and cornerback, he was one of only a few modern players to go both ways, playing offense and defense. He became a key contributer to winning two superbowls. That would have been enough to secure his legacy and put him in the history books. The thing is, when it comes to Deon Sanders, he always finds a way to win. He’s a winner, so naturally, he could not just sit back and reminisce about his past. He’s too busy focusing on his family and his future which have merged into this stint as head coach for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Both of his sons are key players on his team as a QB and a safety. He has coached them and their friends since they started in the game of football, some as young as four years old. He then went on to coach them in high school and now in college. He’s probably a better family man and father than he is a coach. I don’t think he separates those since he’s around his sons all day on and off the field. He has also ‘adopted’ many other college kids as his ‘sons’. His coaches and players, all of them who have bought into his system, are like family to him. At a time when so many fathers bail out on their parental responsibilities, he sets the best example on what it means to be truly present.
Inspirational speeches given to his team have gone viral and are posted online. They are fatherly words of wisdom born out of genuine suffering and sensational success. He speaks as a visionary who has been to the mountaintop, one who has experienced the highest highs and the lowest of lows. Encapsulated in sound-bites, sayings and rhymes, they call them ‘Prime-isms’.
His recent suffering has come in the form of blood clots that he inherited genetically. His genes were not all good after all. He had to have two toes amputated and part of his calf removed. His personal goal was to lead his team, jogging out of the tunnel on opening day. He did that by turning his summer of suffering into triumph. His team saw him jogging out ahead and believed in him as a winner before the game even began.
“Sanders is a Christian. In 1997, Sanders was going through a dark time in his life when his first marriage was ending. "I was going through the trials and tribulations of life. I was pretty much running on fumes. I was empty, no peace, no joy. Losing hope with the progression of everything." He also said that money, sex, and other things did not solve his problems.Sanders attempted suicide by driving his car off a cliff. However, he survived the 30 to 40 foot drop. Sanders said, "I finally just got on my knees and gave it all to the Lord." He has said, "Sports is sports, it's a game. My faith is everything”. 1
When he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Prime-Time gave us a clue to who he was as a man. His first words were, “Lord, I thank you. Jesus I Love you. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn't be here today, so Lord, I thank you”. He knows what he believes and he knows why he believes. His belief in the cross and Christian vindication was cemented by his football experience.
For Sanders, as for many former football players at every level, he credits the sport of football for being life’s greatest teacher. “This game, this game, this game, this game, this game taught me how to be a man. This game taught me if I could get knocked down, I've got to get my butt back up again. This game taught me there are things in life you can't do prematurely. They call it offsides. In life, it's just life…It taught me how to live and play with pain, this game. This game taught me so much about people. It taught me so much about timing. It taught me so much about focus, dedication, submitting one's self, and sacrifices..”. His talent and natural gifts were other-focused and offered as a gift first to his mom. “I said I'm going to be rich one day. ‘Mama, I'm going to make a lot of money, and you will never have to work another day of your life.’ My mama said ‘that's fine, but until then you get that lawnmower and go out there and cut that grass’. ”
As someone who gets down on our culture and leaders, I tend to come across as a nay-sayer or a grouchy, gloomy doubter. The take away for me is that we as Christians ought to be positive, optimistic, and full of faith. The early church knew what coach knows, a message of vindication and hope is really contagious. His favorite Prime-ism is, "I'm too blessed to be stressed". God has already written the script; we just need to show up and show out. Coach Prime shows out by taking his talent and his gifts, thanking God for them and offering them for the sake of others.
Does he do it with confidence? You bet. Does he have a swagger about his faith in God? Ya, and that’s ok. Jesus said, “Let your light shine”. For Coach Prime it shines in a neon and ultra fashy way. But it shines for Him.