Football's Pious Pioneer
The unexpected December 26 death of retired NFL superstar Reggie White incited an outpouring of fond remembrances for the "Minister of Defense," a man known as much for his outspoken faith as for his ferocious pursuit of quarterbacks. White dominated professional football in the 1990s and attracted intense scrutiny when in 1993 he cited God's leading before signing a lavish free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.
For more than a decade, White exemplified the growing and obvious influence of Christianity on professional sports and football in particular. He relentlessly rebutted the tired critique of Christian athletes as too soft for competition, and his zeal for the faith helped shape public perception of like-minded competitors as intensely devoted and unceasingly brash. Yet while White's aggressive brand of faith-filled football may appear to be a contemporary phenomenon, it was in fact intrinsic to the game's formative years.
If not for his soft voice and quiet demeanor, Amos Alonzo Stagg would have finished his divinity degree and joined the pastorate. Instead, Stagg fulfilled his calling during the first half of the 20th century at the University of Chicago, where as head coach he invented the tackling dummy, numbered jerseys, huddles, athletic letters, and men in motion. When the forward pass became legal in college football, he had 64 such plays ready to spring upon unsuspecting adversaries.
Stagg was more than just a technical innovator, though. He placed athletics within the eternal narrative of Christ and his church. Stagg was born in 1862 in West Orange, New Jersey, during the initial stages of the Civil War. His devotion to hard work produced success both in the classroom and on the ...