Philadelphia’s ‘Birds of Pray’

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Are you ready for some football?

If you are a fan, you can cheer tonight at the start of the 2018 NFL season. It’s the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Atlanta Falcons, a rematch of last year’s NFC championship game.

EICHER: The Eagles, of course, went on to a surprising Super Bowl title—the first in franchise history. And it came even after key players were lost to injury.

But it was the outspoken Christian faith of so many Philly players and coaches that was perhaps most surprising. Head coach Doug Pederson and quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles particularly stand out.

REICHARD: Well, after that surprise came another one: The Associated Press sports writer who covers the team is also a committed Christian. He’s a high-energy guy and his name is Rob Maaddi.

MAADDI: Philly’s best sports talk, period. This is 97.5 the Fanatic, broadcasting from the Xfinity Studios, only from Comcast!

Never give up! Never give up! I just got one last thing I urge all of you to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have, to spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems, whatever you have, the ability to be able to work hard and for your dreams, to become a reality.’ And then a few weeks later, Jimmy Valvano passed away at age 47. Rob Maaddi on 97.5 the Fanatic.

REICHARD: This past offseason Rob Maaddi wrote a book called—appropriately enough—Birds of Pray. That’s P-R-A-Y pray. It released just in time for the 2018 season opener, and WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick caught up with Maaddi to talk about it.

J.C. DERRICK, MANAGING EDITOR: Well, I know most of the country probably watched the Eagles go to the Super Bowl, they heard players giving credit to God, but just didn’t probably know if there was much more to it. But you document how this kind of spiritual revival of sorts, started back in 2016.

ROB MAADDI: Yeah, that’s when I knew this was a special group. The Eagles were a 7-9 team in 2016 but Trey Burton and—who ends up throwing the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl in the greatest trick play in sports—he along with Pastor Ted Winsley, the team chaplain, baptized five players in the cold tub at their team’s practice facility. And that is just something I’ve never heard of before. And I could tell that the seeds were being planted, the camaraderie was building, the bond was developing, and it all centered on their love for Christ, and even though that season they weren’t successful on the field, it was preparing them for the 2017 year and what was to come.

What’s so cool and so neat about this team is that you have a group of young guys, these are young believers, these are guys in their early 20s, mid 20s who are not only early in their journey, but also willing to boldly share that on the platform that they’ve been blessed with. Zach Ertz said, the week of the Super Bowl, before the game, he said, “Our number one priority is to make disciples.” And then he goes out there and catches the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. It really puts in perspective what they’re all about.

DERRICK: And that, what you just said, brings to mind something that you wrote about in the book, which is that you acknowledge that many athletes sort of use God as almost like a good luck charm and they thank “the man upstairs” when the team is doing well and they claim Philippians 4:13 as a sign that they’re meant to score touchdowns and win Super Bowls, but what you said, what you observed with the Eagles is different. So can you explain that?

MAADDI: Yeah. What happened last year, and it’s incredible to note this, is that they start to lose one player after another and these are some of the guys who are core members of that inner circle, that Christian community on the team. Chris Maragos, who’s a special team’s captain, he sustains a season-ending injury. Jordan Hicks, another strong believer, he goes down with a season-ending injury.

And then Carson Wentz is on his way to becoming perhaps the MVP of the NFL, having a phenomenal season, and then there he is in week 14, he tears his ACL and LCL. Now he’s done for the season and the very next day Carson puts out a video on social media telling everybody that although he’s greatly disappointed by what happened, he understands that everything happens for a reason, his faith is fully in the Lord, and he lets everyone know in that moment of devastation he’s still holding onto his faith. And you look back now and you ask him about it and he said he learned to surrender to the Lord everything. That it’s not his will, it’s the Lord’s will. And he feels it’s been a blessing rather than a curse.

DERRICK: Well, and I think we can say another thing that came out of that is sort of the example that they showed of two brothers, the starting quarterback Carson Wentz and the back-up Nick Foles, who really put their relationship, their friendship and being brothers in Christ above what could have potentially been a rivalry on the field.

MAADDI: Yeah, and you see a guy like Nick Foles, who had tremendous success early in his career, 2013 season he’s the MVP of the Pro Bowl, he has 29 touchdowns and two interceptions—historically one of the greatest seasons ever. And then he ends up being traded away from the Eagles, he doesn’t have any success in St. Louis, he gets cut, he contemplates retirement, he starts taking courses in ministry, he ends up going to Kansas City as a backup, comes to Philly where he began his career as a backup and then he’s thrust into this starting role in what could be the most important time period of his life for the Philadelphia Eagles. And he rises to the occasion. And the whole time Carson Wentz is there with him, supporting his brother in Christ.

And Nick Foles wins the Super Bowl and he gets to praise Christ on that stage, on that platform as he’s holding the Vince Lombardi trophy, and then he’s willing to come back to Philadelphia as a backup quarterback to Carson Wentz because they’re united as brothers in Christ.

DERRICK: Well, the Eagles play their first game tonight and I know some of the prominent Christians like Trey Burton, who you mentioned, have gone on to other teams, so can you give us an idea of what the spiritual climate of the team is going into this new season?

MAADDI: I think it’s as strong as ever. Guys see that this core group of players have built something special here, and what’s really cool about this team is that even though guys will come and go, that strong culture is centered here and when you have the two quarterbacks—Nick Foles and Carson Wentz—who are strong believers, when it starts with the leaders of your team, and even coach Doug Pederson, a very strong believer in Christ, it filters down to everyone throughout the team and throughout the organization.

DERRICK: Alright, Rob Maaddi, thank you so much.

MAADDI: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane, Fle) In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throws during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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