The Pats, Wesley Britt, and Making a Champion

(OR…”Do You Realize How Much I Hate the Jets!?!)

By now, you all know me, and you know that my survival through New Hampshire’s long cold winters depend solely on one thing:  Football.  

 With the annual return of Football coinciding with that subtle dip in temperature that  marks the start of Fall and eventual onset of winter, we are all reminded that there is something better than snow blowers and ice storms to look forward too.  

 Over this past summer, it was  starting to look like  the return of those Sunday afternoon, gridiron battles, dulling the sting of winter, were becoming less and less of a certainty.  During that time, I didn’t want to consider the possibility of a Patriot free winter.    It was too scary and too heartbreaking to consider.  

Joyfully by the end of July, that fear subsided when football owners and players were lead back to the negotiating table by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

 (Note:  There are currently 19 “contributors” in the NFL Hall of Fame, and this grouping contains people like Ralph Wilson Jr., Curly Lambeau, and Dan Rooney.   I argue that Bob Kraft deserves immediate consideration for this special inclusion.   Not only does he represent the fan owner that every organization wishes they had (i.e.: Washington Redskins), but through his commitment to the sport, and in the middle of intense personal tragedy (the death of his beloved wife Myra), Bob grabbed both owners and players by the hand and led them back to the negotiating table.   He showed all those involved in the debate what true love of football means, and what , in the end, that love should look like.    Bob has been a personal hero of mine and that impression was only strengthened over the last six months.)

 With Football back on, and all is good in Scott’s world.  Almost immediately talk shifted from lock outs to defensive packages, and free agency.  We got our first teasers of what the season would look like.  This past week we saw the second of four Pats preseason games; this one a match between the Pats and the defense minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers’.  We heard the blowhard Rex Ryan start his annual “make myself look like a clown” parade (That one was for my brother in law).   We started to see Vegas odds makers predicting who would walk away with championship rings.  FOOTBALL IS ON!

Although football carries me throughout the dark and cold portions year, there is also something special about sitting down for those first few games of the season.    In September, the year is wide open, and your team is full of potential.   At the start of week one, everyone is equal and everyone on paper is a Super Bowl contender.    Although I love many sports, you don’t have the parity in them that you see in football.   When April comes along, you know that October will bring the Sox and Yankees fighting for first and second in the division, while teams like the Mets are just days away from elimination.  (Another for my brother in law)

With September and Football, everything is a blank slate.    Sitting down in front of the TV on Sundays from August through February reminds me that there are still some places where strategy and team work still matter.   It reminds me that there is still a place where the strength of character still matters. 

In thirty second intervals, for three hours at a time, I am reminded that football is a lot like life.   You may be on track moving forward, and without warning, you are knocked off your feet.   True character is seen when the little guy gets back up and continues to fight.   I see people like the high profile Tedy Bruschi surviving a stroke to play in football again, to the countless quieter stories of players overcoming career ending injuries to play one more game, and I am encouraged and made stronger by their example. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Football has is issues.   Some of those issues are major.    I think of party boats with the Vikings, loose cannons on the field and off, and attention starved players who will do anything for a buck.  Football has certainly taken its hits and has its fair share of losers.  Too often all you hear of are those whose character is anything but worthy of model.    In this regard it would be appropriate to think of  Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tank Jones.    

For the Patriots we are lucky.   We have always had players of unquestioned character like Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi and Drew Bledsoe.  When we slip into the realms of the questionable, we do so to provide second chances and prove the world wrong (see Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, and perhaps Albert Haynesworth and OchoCinco)  I think that is one of many reasons why I continue to watch the sport despite the idiots like Michael Vick…  I want these good guys to finish first.  I want them to come on top.

This year as the Pats hit the field, one of the most upstanding characters on the team will not be joining them.   He no longer plays football.   He is an MBA student at the University of Alabama.  He was one of those unknown practice squad players., who never got his due.    His name is Wesley Britt and sadly he is no longer a Patriot.

To understand why I hold this man in such high regard, you need to understand the place he put football.    Understanding that, you understand why I am beginning worship this morning with his story.

Britt attended Cullman High School in Alabama, and was a gridiron success.   That success landed him a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama in 2000.   Although he didn’t play in his freshman year, he started close to 50 games over the next three seasons.    With four games left of his senior year he broke his leg and sat out.    While recovering he was named an All American (third team) by the Associated Press.

He was drafted in the fifth round in 2005, by Sand Diego, but released before the season’s start.   He was signed to the Patriots practice team.   Started in 2006, was active for four games in 2007, and spent the rest of his time in football on various practice squads across the league.    In retrospect, his carreer was average at best. 

What made him great was something outside of his football play on the field.

Wesley Britt strongly believed in God and believed the most important thing he could do was be an example of what and who a man could be.

One example of this, came in his senior year.  It was then that he was named, along with just about 20 other players, to the Playboy All American Team.    Not only was he to be honored for this achievement he was also awarded the opportunity to meet the character that is Hugh Heffner and to be spoiled for a week in his Mansion.  I imagine that many football players would have jumped at this opportunity.  Not only because of the gluttonous reward and conclusion to the college career, but many would have jumped at it for the sheer benefit the publicity would provide heading to the upcoming draft.

Britt didn’t.  Although excited by the honor, after some time he turned it down.    He told the press that it just didn’t feel right.   “My faith is truly the greatest thing I have,” he said, “and I set my own Goals for him first.”    He continued, saying; “I talked to God about it, and it didn’t seem right, in light of those I talk to in churches and worship beside, as well as in light of the man I want to be.”

He took a great deal of ridicule from his friends and his teammates, but I cannot help but be encouraged by men like Britt.   It is clear, that success is going to be a frequent part of his life.     This coming September, as athletes the likes of Big Ben, and Michael Vick take the field,  there is one reality that needs to be acknowledged;   the National Football League is a bit poorer without the likes of Wesley Britt Playing.   Maybe the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Michael Vick, and the entire NY Jets roster should heed his example.  

(Okay, okay, okay… the Jets comment was directed again at my brother in law…  I hate those Jets.)

There is an example in Wesley Britt that we all must heed, and it’s a simple one.   There is  security, success, and treasure in knowing who you are, and who you live for.   Wesley Britt has that.    It is my prayer that those who come to Asbury Church each week either have it too, or are in the process of gaining just that. 

For in the end, it is the promise of our faith that with that realization and understanding comes a reward that surpasses anything this world can offer.    With it, comes a peace that makes everything different.

On a final note:   I am about to order my custom made Wesley Britt Pats Jersey.   I hope to throw it on, walk through a Supermarket and have the occasional person look at me cockeyed, and say “Britt?  Who’s that?”    In return, I will tell them this story.   Wesley Britt will prove to be a moment of evangelism and outreach.   I would love to one day hear what he thought of that.


References/Special thanks:

Pastor Steve Shepherd, Jonesboro Christian Church, September 1, 2003
San Diego Union Tribune, “Declining Playboy was an act of Principle” May 8, 2005
Wesley Britt,
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