To handle the tension that comes before every football game, I’ve worked out a formula. Although quite simple, it is every bit as important to me as making sure my shoulder pads fit securely.
I find myself a quiet corner in either the locker room or the training quarters, and take just a few minutes for a silent prayer. The prayer itself, rather than being a request to perform well, is one of thankfulness that I have been given the physical ability to take part in something I sincerely love to do.
When I was in high school and later in college, I used to be somewhat embarrassed, and would always look for a place in which to offer my prayer as far away from my teammates as possible. Then I discovered that other players were also wandering off to some quiet spot for the same purpose.
One of the highlights of my football career was being invited to play in the 1954 All-Pro Game (similar to baseball’s annual All-Star game) in the Los Angeles Coliseum; I’ll never forget an incident that happened before the game.
Players and coaches had finished pre-game discussions, when Abe Gibron and Lou Groza, two stars of the Cleveland Browns, stood up and asked the entire team if they would mind waiting just a moment.
“It’s a custom with us to have a moment of prayer together before each game,” said Groza.
With that, each of those 250-pound goliaths dropped on one knee and bowed his head.
When one of the referees entered the locker room to tell us we were holding up the game, our whole ball club was kneeling for two minutes of prayer. I have often wondered what he thought then, and later, as we meshed together perfectly to beat the Western All-Stars by a wide margin that day.
You spectators, if you have field glasses, watch the pre-game huddles of professional, college, or high-school games and notice the many players whose eyes are closed and lips moving. I notice it before every game the New York Giants play.
More and more athletes realize today that not only is body conditioning necessary, but also the spiritual conditioning of their minds. In football, as in life, you get knocked down and suffer losses from which you must recover. This takes good physical equipment and the proper mental outlook.
When I first joined the New York Giants back in 1952, I felt I could never be anything but a defensive back, that I could not run, pass or kick well enough to make the team.
I told this to the Giant coach who took me at my word, figuring that if I had no confidence in my offensive skill, he certainly wouldn’t. So for several years I played a defensive halfback only.
Then during one of my pre-game prayers, it occurred to me that it was primarily a lack of faith that limited me to one role in football. So I asked God, not to make me a good runner or passer, but simply to help me to use all of the abilities which He had given me in a maximum way.
This prayer changed my attitude. The new attitude was followed by action. I began using workouts to practice running, kicking, passing. Soon the chance came for me to play offensive halfback in a game, and I was able to make the grade.
If I have learned anything about prayer it is this: when the game is close and I have a chance to score the winning touchdown in the last minute of play, an emergency call to God won’t get it for me. What will is determined by how well I have prepared myself physically and mentally over a period of months.
In other words, I don’t see how one can expect miracles from an emergency prayer if he hasn’t bothered to develop a closeness to God when things were going all right.
Just as a football player could never amount to anything without physically conditioning himself, so too am I convinced that our prayers will not be effective unless we spiritually condition ourselves through life.