The connection between football and ministry is a strong one. At least, it is for former New Orleans Saints safety Chris Reis, who famously recovered the onside kick to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, one of the pivotal plays in the Saints' 31-17 victory over Indianapolis.
Reis, whose final NFL season was 2010, currently serves as a youth and associate pastor at Our Savior's Church in Lafayette.
"It helps, especially when you're a New Orleans Saint, a Super Bowl champion," he said. "It helps that people just want to say, 'Hey,' to you, and I get to share with them a greater purpose than just football. It helps in a lot of respects.
"It helps with the platform, No. 1. But I would say the second thing is, one of the things that I know very well that translates from football to ministry, is teams. I know what great chemistry looks like. I know what a team is supposed to look like. I know how to include people and engage people for a higher purpose, to think not just of yourself on a team, but think of the greater good.
"And so there's tons of aspects that transition there, from a team and a leadership aspect into even the business world, or the ministry world. Because what I'm doing is very similar. I have a goal that I'm trying to accomplish – in football you're trying to win games, in ministry you're trying to win people to God. And that's the hope of it. And that's the cool thing, is there are so many parallels.
"So I'm trying to build a team to help go out and equip them to go and win the game and to help other people. There's this great, beautiful chemistry between being a leader on the field and being a leader in ministry or in business or whatever you're doing. There are so many aspects of leadership that transition from the football field and from the NFL onto that. And it gave me some skills for dealing with people that I wouldn't have had anywhere else, and so I'm super grateful for my time that I had in the NFL."
Reis, who was born in Canton, Ohio, played high school football in Roswell, Ga., and collegiately at Georgia Tech. After his NFL career – he was signed by Atlanta as an undrafted rookie in 2006, waived after training camp and signed by the Saints in 2007, then allocated to NFL Europe in the spring before working onto the roster in September '07 – he said he struggled to find his niche. He was a valuable special team player for New Orleans who finished with 48 career special team tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"I think the transition out of football, into what we call real life, it was difficult," Reis said. "When you play sports for your entire life – since I was 8 years old, for over 20 years, I was playing sports and that was my living, it's what I did, it was my dream – the transition into what we call real life can be a little difficult at times.
"You're trying to figure out what you're good at, and what you're passionate for. Because I was passionate for just cracking heads and going out and playing football, but trying to figure that out was a little rough.
"So it took me a couple of years to try to figure out where I needed to be and what I needed to do. I knew I didn't want just a job; I wanted a calling. And I knew one thing and one thing alone, that I wanted to help people. I just didn't know what that looked like or how that was going to be accomplished."
He and his wife moved back to Georgia, he wrote a book with his father, then went across the country filling speaking engagements for two years.
"You're kind of called into ministry," Reis said. "You don't really choose ministry. I didn't know it until I came to Lafayette (for a speaking engagement) and our senior pastor, he took me out to lunch. And he looked at me, and he said, 'There's more in you than what you think.'
"I think we need that sometimes – we all need someone to look at us and see that there's more inside of us than what we're just doing. He said, 'There's a pastor inside of you, and I want to help you with that.' And when he said that, something just clicked."
Reis and his wife packed up, left Georgia and moved to Lafayette.
"When I lived in New Orleans with the Saints, I no idea where Lafayette was, I had no idea where Youngsville (La.) was. It was not a place I said I wanted to go raise my family. It just wasn't in the cards.
"But when he said those words, I knew that that was what I was supposed to do, that was my calling. And I knew it right then and there. And I think it was one of those things, I just had to say, 'Yes,' and trust that the rest of it, God was going to take care of it. And I'm so glad that I said, 'Yes,' and took that leap. When I did, it was the best decision for me and for my family moving forward."