TAMPA, Fla. — Don't waste time with jokes about how God must have performed some sort of miracle to get the Arizona Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl, team chaplain Chad Johnson advises.
Johnson probably has heard all the jokes, but most importantly, he sees God working among the players and coaches of the NFC champions who will face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
"We feel a sense of destiny, because there have been many happenings that we see God's hand in this," Johnson said before the Cardinals' improbable NFC title game victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like having a former top quarterback with his career supposedly over replaced by a young and flashier signal-caller, only to be revived in the desert with another chance to give his Christian witness.
Like a new group of coaches, some with strong faith backgrounds, meshing with some solid faith veterans to turn the team toward success after a half-century of football futility.
"I just think we have some great witnesses on this team and, being there in the Super Bowl for the first time, they have a chance to give God honor and praise for His greatness and faithfulness," Johnson said.
When Johnson was invited by former Cardinals coach Denny Green to be the team's chaplain five years ago, he saw it as a perfect complement to his ministry. He had arrived in Arizona more than a decade earlier from his home state of Colorado to serve as youth minister of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, a Missionary Baptist church in downtown Phoenix. Today, the youth ministry serves more than 4,000 kids, meeting their need for Jesus Christ in today's contemporary urban environment.
Johnson also has worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in the state since 2002 — the same ministry that encouraged him to accept Christ into his life in 1994 when he attended an FCA summer camp in Flagstaff, Ariz.
"I'm working with these guys (Arizona Cardinals), sharing and meeting needs, but it's a ministry to their life and a ministry to the individuals. It's not that much different than my work with the youth ministry," Johnson said.
He has worked to build relationships with the players as well as the new set of coaches who came in two years ago, encouraging them in their faith and in their pro careers where, in Arizona, on-field success always seemed to be elusive.
"I always heard Denny Green say this team was on the brink of something," Johnson said. "Last year, our team ministry theme was 'Believe.' This year it's 'Feel the Lord's hand.'"
While starting quarterback Kurt Warner gets a lot of the credit for his consistent witness for Jesus Christ, Davis said others on the team are playing a part.
Each Wednesday afternoon after practice, Johnson leads a one-hour Bible study for the players. A couple of dozen have shown up each week — and the numbers have been growing as the team has advanced in the playoffs.
There is a Friday morning mentoring and one-on-one time with Davis and the team members, along with the weekly Sunday morning chapel before that day's game.
Because Davis lives in the Phoenix area where many NFL players spend the off-season, he has also been involved in ministering to other players including Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Beyond the excitement of facing off against the Steelers on Sunday, Johnson said God's message will continue to ring out.
"God keeps validating His people," he said, "and keeps lifting up His word."
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sticklin is a Dallas-based sports correspondent for Baptist Press.)