Members of the Eagles find common ground through spiritual devotion

You don't have to look far to find Eagles players who point to faith as playing a primary role in their lives. James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' recovery pool was transformed into a place of ritual one Thursday in late October at the team's practice facility.

Five players -- linebackers Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and wide receivers Paul Turner and David Watford -- were baptized by the team pastor and tight end Trey Burton as approximately 15 Eagles players prayed around them.

"We were doing it in the cold tubs, so it was kind of like, 'Ohh,'" Grugier-Hill said with a laugh. "But the power of everything that was happening there, when you got in, you weren't even thinking about how cold it was."

Finding men of faith in the NFL is not hard to do. It is a profession of intense stress and high risk. For the majority of the players, it is a life spent on the bubble and on the move. For some, religion serves as a source of comfort and stability.

With the Eagles, you don't have to look far to find players who point to faith as playing a primary role in their lives. Backup quarterback Chase Daniel hosts a couples' Bible study each week that draws about 20 to 25 people. There is Thursday Bible study at the facility, scripture text chains, and late-night prayer sessions at the team hotel the night before each game.

"This is by far the most spiritual team I've been on," Daniel said.

"Even guys who weren't here last year, or guys that were on other teams, say this locker room is unbelievable with how many believers we have compared to where they've been," Burton said.

Burton said he believes his faith played a part in helping him heal from injuries. Burton says it has happened a couple times for him. As he first told the Allentown Morning Call, the most recent occurrence came at the start of this season. The Friday prior to the opener against Cleveland, he injured his calf during a walk-through. After an MRI, the medical staff told Burton that he was going to miss multiple weeks.

"I had a couple guys here lay hands on me and pray on me and then I went home and had my wife and my kids and one of our pastor friends come and lay their hands on me, and immediately I woke up the next morning and I was totally fine," he said.

Burton was held out of the Cleveland game but played the following Monday in Chicago and had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Earlier in his career, Burton had a similar experience with a shoulder injury, he said.

It is an example of the testimony shared in the group, which began with about six players. The players make a point of trying to encourage others to join them in their faith journey.

There have been occasions, special-teams ace Chris Maragos said, when one player has approached another about religion and has been met with a firm stop sign. And that, they say, has been respected. In a profession where chemistry is so key, they are careful to make sure that no one feels either excluded or pressured.

"We can't just take Bibles and slap them across people's heads and think they're going to want to join and learn more about Christianity," receiver Jordan Matthews said.

Carson Wentz's addition to the group seems to have taken things to another level. Many have embraced the rookie quarterback's life motto, "Audience of One." The "AO1" acronym that is tattooed on his right wrist was seen all over the field during My Cause, My Cleats week. The players explained the meaning behind it in a video released during Week 13.

"It's just a better atmosphere. On Sundays, we might lose, things might not always go our way, but to be with those guys and to have a positive environment in this locker room -- not just the Christian brothers, but everybody -- it just brings out a better atmosphere," Wentz said.

"I enjoy coming to work. I always have, but [it's] just a whole other level now. ... I don't just always have to talk football all day. I can go talk about my faith or personal struggles or whatever it is, and to know there's other brothers here that ... have been there or gone through the same stuff."

Part of the appeal seems to be that what has been created is not just for the devout. Kendricks, for one, says he has never even read the Bible. It was a simple statement made under his breath that led him further down this path. The announcement of upcoming baptisms was made during a prayer group, to which Kendricks muttered: "Damn, I've never been baptized before."

A couple of players heard him and encouraged him to do it. Kendricks was hesitant. But when it was explained as simply an acknowledgment of faith, he took the plunge.

The presence of faith is not unique to the Eagles, though the way in which it has manifested might be.

"You look at the outside world and where some of us have come from and where our family and friends are or what we're able to do with the sport that we love, with helping people, being in a position to hold platforms that help others or enlighten others, or just make someone's day. There is some weight to it. And it's a blessing,” Kendricks said.

"And you ask yourself, why? There are a million guys on the street right now that can do the same thing I can do, but I'm here right now because I'm supernatural in my thinking and supernatural in the way I feel. And when you're passionate about something and you can feel it in your heart and your soul, that energy radiates outwards ... and that's the power of God right there. That's something that is to be looked at."