TAMPA — The gridiron and the gospel may seem like an incongruous combination. But tonight a cast of NFL luminaries, including retired Colts coach Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, coach of the Bears, intend to showcase their commitment to football and faith.
The coaches will join more than 30 NFL players, other coaches and media personalities at the 10th annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. Part concert, prayer and testimony service, the event celebrates spirituality on a weekend when raucous events generally take center stage.
"It's not something that people would even identify with Super Bowl festivities," said Dungy, who speaks often about his faith and will be honored at the event. "It's important, and a lot of the players really appreciate getting back to their spiritual (roots)."
Dungy, who attends Central Tampa Baptist Church, said the gospel celebration resonates with NFL players and staff because many of them grew up in homes where their parents taught the value of personal faith.
Grammy-winning gospel singers Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary and Hezekiah Walker are among those headlining tonight's concert at the USF Sun Dome. The program's organizers also tapped current and former NFL players to participate.
Some players, such as the Giants' David Tyree, will give testimonies. Others, such as the Ravens' Ray Lewis, will sing in the NFL players' gospel choir, which debuted last year.
"The thing I like most about this event is you get to see players in a very transparent light," event founder Melanie Few said. "People get to see them with their helmets off talking about real life experiences, things that they've been through and how they got through those difficult times with their faith."
She described Dungy as a longtime "friend" of the gospel celebration, which began as a brunch in 1999.
Dungy has become part of the gospel celebration's lore. He attended the concert in Miami in 2007 with several members of the Colts. Two days later, the Colts bested the Bears to become Super Bowl champions.
Last year, members of the Giants attended the gospel concert and also won the big game.
"What we're telling the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers is 'You miss it at your own risk,' " Few said. "The last two teams that won came to the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration and got prayed for."
Sherri Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.