(Photo: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning doesn't publicly discuss his faith as frequently as some other Christian athletes, but he has said that he wants his actions to speak louder than his words.
Manning led his team to a Super Bowl berth by throwing for 400 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, which the Broncos won by a score of 26-16. The four-time league MVP has been stellar throughout the season, setting NFL regular season records in both passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
But while many people focus primarily on Manning's performance on the field, the part of his life that he has said is most important – his Christian faith – is rarely discussed.
In Manning, the book published in 2001 that he co-wrote with his father, the quarterback shares how he came to faith in Christ in a New Orleans church as a 13-year-old boy, according to an excerpt of the book posted to the Young Conservatives website. His priorities in life, he wrote, have been faith, family, friends and football – in that order.
"Some players get more vocal about it – the Reggie Whites, for example – and some point to Heaven after scoring a touchdown and praise God after games," wrote Manning. "I have no problem with that. But I don't do it, and don't think it makes me any less a Christian. I just want my actions to speak louder, and I don't want to be more of a target for criticism than I already am."
Off the field, one of the ways Manning is working to help others is through the PeyBack Foundation. Manning and his wife, Ashley, started the Indianapolis-based organization as a way to support programs that benefit disadvantaged youth, though the foundation has also funded and operated several programs of its own. Since it was founded in 1999, the PeyBack Foundation has donated more than $6.5 million to youth organizations in Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado, according to the organization's website.
In his book, Manning says he is blessed to be able to ask God for guidance. He also says he is forgiven, but not perfect.
"I pray every night, sometimes long prayers about a lot of things and a lot of people, but I don't talk about it or brag about it because that's between God and me, and I'm no better than anybody else in God's sight," he wrote.
When it comes to football, the quarterback says he does not "pray for victory," but rather for the safety of the players on both sides of the ball. He also shared wisdom given to him by his father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning.
"Dad says it can take twenty years to make a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it," he wrote. "I want my reputation to be able to make it through whatever five-minute crises I run into. And I'm a lot more comfortable knowing where my help is."
Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback who will be facing off with Manning in the Super Bowl, is also a Christian. Wilson and several of his teammates recently sat down with Mark Driscoll, the preaching and vision pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, to discuss their faith in an interview that was posted to the Resurgence website.
"Jesus is love," Wilson said in the interview. "At the end of the day, we are all looking for someone to comfort us, somebody to be there for us at all times. When we are at the worst times of our lives, when we are battling with something, or struggles, whatever it may be, when we are at our highest point as well, when things are going really well, we want somebody to comfort us and be there for us and to say, 'Well done.' That's Jesus. Jesus has always been there. He'll never leave you, never forsake you."
Super Bowl XLVIII will be Manning's third appearance in the big game and Wilson's first. The event will take place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, Feb. 2.