TAMPA, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Steelers don't believe in putting many rookies in key roles on their team.
Seeking their sixth Super Bowl title in seven appearances, the AFC champions thrive on veteran players and leadership to take the Black and Gold to the football promised land.
But this year, the Steelers turned to a newcomer for matters of the soul: chaplain Kevin Jordan.
An Athletes in Action staffer, Jordan spent 10 years as the football chaplain for UCLA after a stellar career with the Bruins in which he set school marks in total receptions and receiving yards.
Following a brief NFL career which ended with the Denver Broncos in 1998, Jordan went to work for Athletes in Action (AIA), the sports ministry division of Campus Crusade for Christ.
"Football was just something I did because God gave me the ability to play," Jordan said.
While his own playing days are over, the 36-year-old chaplain still has plenty of experience in knowing what NFL players go through on a daily basis.
"I think credibility is the right word for a chaplain who's played the game," said Corwin Anthony, chaplain for the Miami Dolphins who also oversees all pro ministry work for AIA.
The opportunity to work with the Steelers after last year's season required a step of faith for Jordan and his wife Jenny, a former UCLA volleyball player who grew up in Southern California. Although it entailed a move to the snowy Northeast, they felt God's perfect timing.
"I made the move in the summer after we had prayed about it and were counseled by AIA," Jordan said. "We felt it was the right thing to do."
It didn't take Jordan long to learn he had an ally in head coach Mike Tomlin, who was in his second year with the Steelers and is a protégé of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy.
"Mike has a vision for the things he thinks are important and the things of the Lord," Jordan said.
Tomlin made sure the new chaplain was introduced to the Steelers team early last summer. And one of the things Tomlin had planned caught Jordan off-guard early in training camp.
With the team in a heated game-like scrimmage, Tomlin installed Jordan as the referee for a key goal-line stand, leaving it to the chaplain to declare whether a Pittsburgh player had scored.
"I was only there a few weeks and just trying to remember the player's names back then, but Mike was always trying to graft me into the team," Jordan said.
"The chaplain called what the chaplain saw, and who is going to argue with that?" Tomlin told the Pittsburgh media at training camp.
Jordan has spent as much one-on-one time as possible in building trust and a relationship with the Pittsburgh players. He also has started a couples study on Monday nights and a coaches Bible study on Saturday mornings. The regular Sunday morning chapel services, attended by about 25 players and coaches, have been a mix of Jordan speaking or bringing in special guest speakers.
"You're always learning, developing trust and a relationship with players," Anthony said. "The players are always changing. It's like the mission field is coming to you. We're proud of the job Kevin has done with the Steelers."
While it was a cold culture shock from sunny Southern California to often-frigid Pittsburgh, it's a bit of a return home for Jordan. He grew up in Maryland, where everyone in his family was an avid Washington Redskins fan, except Jordan who grew to love the Dallas Cowboys because of his football idol Tony Dorsett.
But this Steelers rookie, culminating his return to the East Coast with Sunday's Super Bowl test against the Arizona Cardinals, has proven to be a quick learner in helping one of football's most storied franchises score in the things of eternal importance.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sticklin is a Dallas-based sports correspondent for Baptist Press.)