Prayer, Practice and Perseverance

This article is an excerpt taken from the mini-series Education in Virtue and is part of the education materials published by Lumen Ecclesiae Press and used by over 500 schools around the world.

Chris Horn – Former Professional Athlete

My name is Chris Horn, and I was born in the great state of Idaho. I played professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints, and the Carolina Panthers. My wife Amy and I met while in high school when Pope John Paul II came to visit Denver. We exchanged addresses and wrote letters for years before I ended up in Arizona, her home state, to play football. We married and now have four children. We are blessed to have our children attending the St. Thomas School in Phoenix, Arizona – one of the many schools around the US where the Dominican Sisters of Mary teach.

I love talking about sports and faith or sports and virtue. I think they parallel incredibly well. One thing I talk about is prayer, practice, and perseverance. Having played professional football, these three principles are huge for me. One of the challenges I think our culture faces today is the demand of instant gratification. The practice of virtue can help diminish that incessant demand for gratification because it shows us that we have to practice things like temperance and perseverance. When we go to Christ and say, “Lord Jesus, this is what is on my heart. Please bless this in my life,” God does not just immediately answer those prayers. Sometimes He does, but most of the time, in my experience, He does not.

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When I first signed up with the Kansas City Chiefs, I was one of 13 wide receivers that were signed in the off-season. I was far from making the final roster. In the NFL, you have to go through all of the off-season mini-camps, training camps, and the pre-season games before they select the final roster that continues on into the season. When I first came into the league, I was an undrafted, unsigned free agent. Nobody knew me from anywhere. They handed me a playbook and said, “Learn one position, just one position.” Keep in mind, playbooks in the NFL are large: they are huge, three-ring binders with tons of language and all kinds of different intricate adjustments. I took that playbook out everyday, as soon as the four-hour off-season mandatory workouts were over, and I would spend up to ten hours in the film room learning this playbook thoroughly. No one knew I was doing this. I would do this for hours upon hours, day after day, month after month during the entire off-season. My whole goal was to know not only my position but every position.

Looking back, my main thought at the time was “God has opened the door.” I have asked for this incredible opportunity, and the door has been opened. I did not want to leave anything unturned, and I had to be sure I achieved that. Fast forward into training camp, another wide receiver in a different position pulled a hamstring and couldn’t play. They replaced him with the next player, but that player did not know the plays. The coaches frantically searched for a replacement, asking for anyone that knew the position. Even though it was not my position to know, I jumped in. To the coaches surprise, I knew the position and that play. I remember the first time I got in the huddle. I leaned in, and I was standing next to Tony Gonzales, Trent Green, Willy Roaf. I was in a circle of hall of famers. The quarterback leaned in and said, “All right, dance two twins right motion, base right, 525 F pose, on 1. Ready?” I was immediately lost. The terminology is fast. You have to know what you are doing, think fast, and play fast when an opportunity shows up.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit ties everything together in our lives. When I was learning the playbook, I would stay late at night. It would be just the janitor and I that stayed late, so we got to know each other a little bit. He would remind me to turn the lights off or shut the doors; whatever it was, it was just normal conversation. However, unbeknownst to me, he spoke to our offensive coordinator about me and said, “Hey, you’ve got a young player that has been in there every night for months on end.” Here, through God’s grace, the janitor brought it up to the offensive coordinator and told him the amount of time and effort I was putting in. Then, when I knew all of the positions and stepped in for a position that I was not responsible for knowing, they saw the efforts of my perseverance. God will always take care of us, and he will always meet us where we are.

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