Here is a trivia question for (the few) GetReligion readers who follow sports, and professional football in particular.
Name the only head coach in the National Football League who is a (a) former pro quarterback, (b) an ordained minister and (c) the former head of a seminary?
Yes, I am not making up that last detail. The answer? That would be (the Rev.) Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, there is another reason that I brought up Reich and his unique resume (see this Baptist Press piece by Tim Ellsworth, one of my former students in Washington, D.C.), including his service as president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.
The big NFL story, these days, is the unusually high number of big name quarterbacks who are either on the move or asking (or hinting) that they would like to move to other teams. The first big domino to fall in this story was Carson Wentz moving from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Colts.
Wentz should be in the prime of his career, but had an epic slump in 2020, a collapse that was clearly mental and emotional, as well as physical. As many pundits and journalists noted, Wentz hadn’t really been at the top of his game since he lost the quarterback coach — that would be Reich — who helped him become a potential superstar.
… banking on their present — and future — with Wentz to solve what has unfortunately been a revolving door at quarterback in Indianapolis over the past few years. …
The person responsible for ensuring Wentz is the answer for the Colts?
The coach is putting his reputation on the line by believing he can get Wentz, who was his quarterback when he was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, back to the level when he was considered an MVP contender before a season-ending knee injury in 2017. …
This move has to work for the Colts. … And it’s not just physically that Reich has to get Wentz back; he has the mental obstacle to fix, too.
Over at one of my favorite sports websites — The Athletic — this story included some rather faith-based language like this:
Central to the Colts’ drive to land Wentz was Reich. The way the team’s decision-makers saw it, their head coach delivered last year on this front, and they believe he can deliver again. The faith in him, from Ballard up to Irsay, runs deep. …
So the Colts rolled the dice.
And if their grand experiment works — if Reich can indeed revive Wentz’s stalled career — it will solve the conundrum this team has faced since the night of Aug. 24, 2019, when Andrew Luck stunned a franchise and a city and walked away from the game at age 29.
Well, it’s pretty easy to note that there is a yawning God-shaped hole in most of the mainstream press stories about the duo of Reich and Wentz.
You can see a glimpse in this USA Today analysis:
… [Wentz is} reunited with Colts coach Frank Reich, who was Wentz’s offensive coordinator during his first two years in Philly, including the 2017 season when he seemed on track to win league MVP honors until a torn ACL in Week 14 prematurely ended his ability to contribute for the eventual Super Bowl champions. Wentz and Reich are also bonded by their Christian faith — and it should help Wentz knowing Reich still has faith in him coming off a campaign when he regularly made poor decisions on the field and looked to be suffering from a confidence crisis.
Over at NBCSports, there was this on-the-record comment from a former NFL star, an in-season remark long before this trade:
FOX analyst Daryl Johnston worked Sunday’s game between the Eagles and Saints, and he made an interesting observation during the broadcast regarding Wentz.
“I think he really misses Frank Reich, more than a lot of people want to admit,” Johnston said. “I think that there was a bond and a connection there based on their strong Christian faith, that took them beyond coach-teammate relationship.”
Of course, this was the kind of story that readers could find in niche-media land, such as the Sports Spectrum (“Where Sports & Faith Connect”) website.
WARNING: Strong religious language ahead!
Wentz has been open and vocal about how God guides his life ever since he entered the NFL. He and his wife, Maddie, joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast a year ago, he participated in a discussion through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to provide inspiration during the pandemic, and he shared his story with churches nationwide during Super Bowl weekend through Football Sunday.
“Because of how much He loves me, He was willing to allow His Son to go through the agony of dying on that cross,” Wentz said in Football Sunday. “And I think that is when the peace just rushes over me and I think, ‘All right God, there is so much more at play than the X’s and O’s of football, and the highs and lows of wins and losses, and that gives me peace.’”
Reich, meanwhile, says his “No. 1 goal is to magnify the name of Jesus Christ first and foremost above all things.” After his 14-year NFL playing career was over, he went to seminary and thought ministry might be the path God had for him. But in 2006, Tony Dungy, then the head coach of the Colts, offered Reich an internship. He became the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2009 and rose in the coaching ranks from there.
Pause for a moment: Dungy is, of course, one of the most outspoken Christians in pro sports. Apparently, there is an earlier religion angle in this Colts drama.
So what is my point?
It’s a rather basic one, actually. It’s clear that the close ties and history of trust between Reich and Wentz is a crucial part of this national-level story — which recently dominated NFL chatter for a day or two.
It’s one thing to note that this coach and this quarterback had a successful working relationship in the past.
But there is more to this story than that — at the level of basic facts. In this case, journalists were trying to explain why Reich was willing to take, well, a leap of faith and risk making the damaged Wentz the on-field leader of his team.
Why avoid the religious content of this story, since it is clearly (a) a major part of Reich’s history, (b) a factor that Wentz discusses openly and (c) part of the ties that bind the two men?
FIRST IMAGE: Philadelphia Eagles PR photo, used at Fast Philly Sports.