During a week shrouded in controversy over charges of child sexual assault and cover-up at Penn State University, at least one thing became clear for the college’s football program and its opponent Nebraska on Saturday before the game started – it was a time for prayer.
Shortly after the coin toss and just moments before kickoff, players and coaches from both teams, including former Penn State players at the game for Senior Day, and a throng of those credentialed with sideline passes, met in the middle of the field.
In a somewhat surreal setting, more than 100,000 fans in attendance became silent as those on the field dropped to one knee to listen to Nebraska running back coach Ron Brown lead the teams in prayer.
The action was part of a college community trying to heal in the wake of child sexual assault charges against Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinators for Penn State University's football team, and the subsequent firing of both head coach Joe Paterno and the university's president last week.
Brown, who is a co-founder of a ministry called Mission Nebraska, was approached by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during the week, reported PennLive.com. He then talked to a representative of Athletes in Action, also a Christian organization, for Penn State Friday night.
The assistant coach also talked to Nebraska's director of football operations, who had talked to Penn State's director. He was told that both head coaches thought it was a great idea. Brown also spoke to the interim defensive coach and friend Larry Johnson and the pre-game prayer was set.
"We knew we were going to go into a battle against each other because it was a big game for both teams," said Brown, as reported by PennLive.com. "But there was something bigger. We know there are jobs being lost and all kinds of things and who knows what is going to happen at Penn State particularly in the upcoming months here. But there was a humility and a sincerity and a vulnerability as all the players took their hats off and knelt before God."
The video of the prayer along with audio is posted on the Internet homepage of FreedMen Nebraska, which is a ministry of Mission Nebraska. The ministry’s vision includes the desire that: “Every believing Nebraska man experience Christ through reading the Word, listening to the Holy Spirit and making the God connection in every realm. That he and the young men in his life would enter a training regime that allows no compartmentalization apart from Christ.”
The vision statement also includes the proclamation that Christian men in Nebraska have “been given the authority and leadership role by God to tear down that which is wrong and build up that which is right, sovereignly impacting the culture in our state.”
Brown is reported to not have a particular message planned for the pre-game prayer, but wanted to “thank God for choosing everyone on the field to be able to join together in the midst of tragedy.”
"Why this week? Why Nebraska? Why this particular Penn State team?" Brown said he asked everyone in the huddle, according to PennLive.com. "It was just a reminder that God chose this time and it was beyond anyone else's control. But what we could control was our attitude and our spirit and what we could remind America was there were a lot of little boys around this country who are watching this game trying to make sense of life."
Adding to the surreal atmosphere, the crowd began clapping in rhythm before the prayer was over. Brown appeared unfazed by the growing roar and finished the prayer.