Chris Sanders was a two-sport star at Ohio State University (OSU). He set records in track and field, including the long jump.
On the football team he was a three-year starter and had 71 career receptions for 1,120 total yards. In 1994 he was named the Ohio State Athlete of the Year across all sports.
The Houston Oilers selected Sanders in the third round of the 1995 National Football League (NFL) draft. For the next seven years he played for that organization, completing 177 career receptions for 3,285 total yards. In 1999, the franchise became the Tennessee Titans, and Sanders competed in Super Bowl XXXIV against the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams. Currently he is a football coach at Montgomery Bell Academy outside Nashville, Tenn., where his team won the 2014 state title.
Sanders played football at the very highest level, but I know him as a great friend and fellow believer, and I have served with him in evangelistic events. He has a great and generous heart toward youth. With the Super Bowl approaching and his alma mater, OSU, winning the National Championship, we discussed both football and faith.
Q: How do you feel about the new four-game playoff system in college football, and would enlarging it to an eight-game system increase the impact?
A: Picking eight teams would eliminate the what-if factor and would include all teams that are eligible to play. I actually love what’s going on, and I love the excitement. I enjoyed watching the ESPN programs as the committee put out the top four teams each week. I think four teams is tougher because there are usually six or seven teams good enough to compete for the national championship. This year was a trial run, and I think the committee was 99 percent right. With eight teams there’s no doubt, there are no ifs, ands or buts.
Q: I picked the Seattle Seahawks to repeat this year as Super Bowl champions. What are your thoughts about Seattle?
A: Seattle has so much tenacity. If you’re around the ball, you’re going to get hit. If you stand around, you’re going to get hit. If you’re the mascot, you’re going to get hit. But it’s hard to win back-to-back. Every team puts a target on your back. Everyone this year was after Seattle because these teams in the playoffs want what Seattle has: a Super Bowl championship!
Q: It’s tough as a player to repeat a Super Bowl victory. It’s been 15 years since it was done, but how difficult is it as a coach? What is it about Seattle’s Pete Carroll?
A: He brings so much excitement to the game. There are a lot of coaches out there who don’t show emotion, who have a stern look on their face all the time. In my opinion, that’s not coaching. Coaching is about inspiring guys to give their best and have fun, and if the coach is having fun then the players are going to follow. You have to go in there with excitement and demand that the job gets done. This is what Pete Carroll does in Seattle, and I love it.
Q: How about my other pre-season pick, the New England Patriots?
A: The Patriots are the weirdest thing. Their coach, Bill Belichick, picks players that fit right into their system. They have different receivers every year. You have position changes on the offensive line, the same thing on defense. They just find ways to win. After the way they started, who thought they’d be 13-4. They do it every year!
Q: You played in Super Bowl XXXIV, so what does the game mean to an NFL player?
A: It’s something you dream about; this is how I envisioned myself even in the third grade. But when you go through trials and tribulations, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. In 1999 we had a chance to go to the Super Bowl and you just look at yourself and say, “I can’t believe it. What an opportunity!” Then you come back to reality and you go play the game.
Q: You played in one of the great Super Bowls of all time. In 1999 your Titans faced the St. Louis Rams and their quarterback, Kurt Warner. It came down to the last play of the game. Talk about the last frantic 10 minutes of that football game.
A: That last 10 minutes was a signature of how our season went. We were on the Ram’s seven yard line with a chance to win Super Bowl XXXIV. We had guys who never gave up, guys who went through trials and tribulations for three or four years. Even though we were down in the last 10 minutes of that Super Bowl, we never gave up. After the game players were so tired and so exhausted, because we left everything on the field. Even though we came up a yard short on that last play, we all still consider it a victory in our life.
Q: How important of a role did your faith play in your NFL career?
A: In my first few years, I was just going through the motions of trying to be a Christian. I had everything at my feet, but every time I went home I felt empty.
In 1995 coach Les Steckel led me to the Lord and I gave my life to Christ. The grace of God filled that emptiness. I look back on my life, and yes, I played in the Super Bowl, but following Christ gave me purpose. It gave me a willingness to live life because of my relationship with Jesus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Be sure to follow “Sold Out” as we bring you exclusive faith, family and football coverage of Super Bowl XLIX Jan. 27-Feb. 1 in Phoenix, Ariz., between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. We will take you up close and personal with the coaches and players of faith, and provide ongoing video and pictures from the Super Bowl. Roman Gabriel’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. He is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: [email protected].)