MIAMI — The annual Super Bowl Breakfast, held each year since 1989 in the Super Bowl city on the Saturday before the big game, witnessed a couple firsts in the 2020 edition.
Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning was honored with the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award, which goes to “the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.” Manning, who officially retired from the NFL last week, was recognized for his work with the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Miss.; the Tackle Kids Cancer Initiative at Hackensack UMC; and the numerous other charities he supports (March of Dimes, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, American Red Cross, among others).
It marked the first time two brothers have won the award, as Eli’s older brother, Peyton, took the honor in 2015. Peyton, their older brother Cooper, and their parents, Archie and Olivia, were also in attendance Saturday.
It also marked the first time Bart Starr wasn’t in attendance. The Hall of Fame quarterback, who was named MVP in Super Bowls I and II, passed away in May. His wife, Cherry, and son, Bart Jr., shared with the audience stories about the life of Bart Sr.
Among the many special guests Saturday was Kansas City Chiefs owner/CEO Clark Hunt, whose team is playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. But the Super Bowl Breakfast is an event he makes sure to attend often, and he said it’s much more enjoyable when your team is in the game. The event is important to him because “it’s the one event on Super Bowl weekend where Christ is exalted, and we also get to honor some of the great men who make the NFL such a tremendous league, young men like Eli Manning.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Munoz led the 1,500 in attendance in prayer before the meal, and was also part of a Q&A session with other previous winners of the Bart Starr Award. CBS broadcaster James Brown led a discussion with Munoz, Peyton Manning, 2019 winner Calais Campbell and the very first honoree, Steve Largent
Eli Manning was then introduced by Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, who coached Peyton during his time with the Indianapolis Colts. Eli expressed gratitude and respect in accepting the award.
“Thank you so much for this great honor,” Manning told the crowd. “The loss of Bart Starr last year gives extra significance to today, to his memory and to what it really means to be an athlete in action. I love that Peyton and I have become the first brothers to be awarded this incredible honor. That means, Mom and Dad, you did something right.”
“The people who have come before me, starting with Bart Starr himself, are champions in every way,” Manning continued. “They show the world what a person’s talents can become when coupled with exemplary character in their home, on the field and in their community. … Each of us bears the burden of proving that we’re more than a celebrated football player, of proving what we’ve learned and deeply understanding what teamwork really means. We have to apply those lessons and pay it forward, beyond the field, in our homes, and in our communities. When we’ve mastered that as well as we have mastered our favorite play, then we have earned the right to walk in the shadow of Bart Starr. Thank you for this incredible honor and the ability to walk away from the game knowing that football, and my last 16 years as a New York Giant, helped make me who I am.”
The morning concluded with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins talking about decisions. He recalled a recruiting trip to Michigan State, which he would eventually attend, where quarterbacks coach Dave Warner asked him a question he’ll never forget: “What do you think is the most important trait for a quarterback to possess?”
Strong arm, accuracy, good leader, smart, athletic, and quick feet were some of Cousins’ guesses.
“To be a great decision maker,” Warner responded.
It was an honor speaking at the Athletes In Action breakfast this morning and meeting the great Cherry Starr & her son, Bart Starr Jr. Congrats to Eli on receiving the Bart Starr Award…well deserved. pic.twitter.com/NKq7lvL44S
— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) February 1, 2020
Cousins then recalled a game in 2009 in which his Michigan State team played at Notre Dame. Down by three points late in the fourth quarter, Cousins led the team into field-goal range. He looked over at Coach Warner, who pointed to his temples, implying for Cousins to be smart with the next play. But then he was blitzed, threw the ball over the middle, it was intercepted, and he lost the game.
As he picked himself up off the turf with chunk of grass stuck in his helmet, “the deafening sound of 80,000 people cheering my failure” drove home the fact that he’d just lost his team the game. “I remember walking back to that sideline thinking, ‘Oh no, I just made a really bad decision. And now I’m going to suffer the consequences.'”
Coming back to the present, Cousins then pulled out his Bible, “the playbook of life,” he said to the crowd’s applause.
“The Bible makes it very clear that the best decision you will ever make, far beyond where to throw a football, is the decision of who will be the master of your life,” Cousins said. “Will you allow Jesus Christ to become Lord of your life, and have control of your life? And will you serve Him?”
Cousins then walked the audience through the Gospel message, citing Scripture along the way: Romans 3:23 — we’re all sinners; Romans 6:23 — the wages of sin is death (“The current death rate is 100 percent,” Cousins said); Hebrews 9:27 — man is destined to die once and face judgement.
Then Cousins presented the “Good News.” Romans 6:23 continued — the gift of God is eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord (“Eternal life is made available to us but it’s not provided based on our own merit.”); John 14:6 — Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, no one gets to the Father but through Him; Acts 4:12 — salvation is found in no one but Jesus; Romans 10:9 — if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; Romans 10:13 — everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
“Going back to the interception at Notre Dame in 2009, and many other interceptions,” Cousins continued, “a second thought would often go through my head: ‘Thank you God that my life is not built on football. Because if my life was built on football, it just crumbled.’ I had very little to stand on in those moments if that’s where I made my foundation.
“Yet I had made a decision, a good decision, many years ago as a young man to build my life on this book, the truth of God’s Word, and to allow Him to direct the course of my life, wherever it may go, good or bad. And to trust and obey Him, to make Jesus my master. And as a result, I believe I’ve lived, played football and led my family with an unexplainable peace in the midst of whatever life throws at me.
“So I’m here this morning to ask you: Who have you chosen to be your master? And based on that answer, have you made a good decision?”
Cousins then prayed for anyone who wanted to make the decision to follow Christ.
“It’s the greatest decision you’ll ever make,” he concluded.
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