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Reggie White

A Football Player And A Minister

White grew up in the housing projects of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was raised by his mother; he barely knew his father, but his mother remarried and White's stepfather helped raise him. When he was 12, White told his mother that he wanted to be a football player and a minister. He attended a Baptist church and

Reggie White

began preaching at age 17. He combined his religious fervor with a drive to compete and a gift of athletic talent; he was an All-American player in his senior season at the University of Tennessee, and then spent two years playing with the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League (USFL). In 1985, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1992, White was ordained as a nondenominational minister.

White played with the Philadelphia Eagles for eight seasons. In every one of those seasons he recorded double-digit sack numbers, with a high of 21 in 1987. He became one of the most feared players in the NFL and a nightmare to quarterbacks, averaging 15.5 sacks per season. White and his wife, Sara, were also deeply involved in a ministry in the housing projects of north Philadelphia. White, Sara, and some of White's Eagles teammates often spent Friday nights in the projects, and on weekdays, White often went back to lead Bible studies, to volunteer at church councils, and to assist at fundraising events.

In 1993, White was eligible to be a free-agent. Many NFL teams joined in the bidding for the superstar defensive lineman. When Norman Braman, owner of the Eagles, refused to pay White the salary he wanted in order to prevent him from leaving as a free agent, thousands of fans rallied to try and convince Braman to pay. He wouldn't, and at a farewell luncheon, White cried as over 300 fans gave him a lengthy standing ovation. Finally, he said tearfully, "I didn't give up on the Eagles. It seems as though the Eagles gave up on me," according to Johnette Howard in Sports Illustrated.

After leaving the Eagles, White set out on a seven-city tour, lasting 37 days, looking for a position. He wanted to go to a contending team, but it had to be a team where he could continue his inner-city ministry. However, when the Green Bay Packers—then a mediocre team, and a team based in the smallest city in the league—offered him a four-year, $17-millon contract, White accepted. Braman, hearing of this, scoffed at White's decision, saying, according to Howard, that it "wasn't made by a ghetto or by God. It was going to be made for the reason most human beings make decisions today, money." The comment troubled White, who did not like his integrity to be questioned. He told Howard, "How dare he speak for what was in my heart? He doesn't know me."

Packers fans, however, were delighted to have White on the team. Almost 2,000 of them attended his first day of training camp. The year before, the Packers had had a 9-7 season, but White was hopeful about great days for the team in the future.

In 1993, the Packers were 9-7 again, but won a playoff game. The team's defense, which had ranked 23rd the year before, finished second in the league. Coach Mike Holmgren told Howard that White was the reason: "Reggie has changed everything—the way we play, the other team's offensive scheme."

In 1995, the Packers advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 38-27. On the plane home, Howard reported, White told Holmgren, "Coach, I've never been this far. I just want to thank you."

In the locker room, White, nicknamed "the Minister of Defense," was known for giving advice to younger players, as well as for his habit of calling player meetings; safety LeRoy Butler told Howard, "He calls more meetings than Congress." Butler also noted that during their shared rides to practice, White would only listen to gospel music. Another teammate, tight end Keith Jackson, commented on White's tendency to see every event as a divine message, saying, "The walk with God that Reggie has is almost, you know, scary." His choice to join the Packers came after a night of prayer, asking for guidance. "And the Lord spoke to me," he told Howard. One factor in his decision might have been the fact that Holmgren called and left a message on his machine, saying, "Reggie, this is God. Go to Green Bay," according to Paul Attner in the Sporting News.

When White sustained an elbow injury in 1994, a thigh bruise in 1995, and a hamstring injury in 1995, he believed God had healed him. He almost missed the 1995 playoffs because of the hamstring injury, but it healed in time for him to play. On the field, he often ruthlessly knocked over opponents during play, but once a play was over, he helped them up, saying "Jesus loves you."

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