NFL Opponents on the Field, Teammates in Building a Spiritual Legacy

  • by Jennifer Abegg

On the field they are opponents; in life they are friends.

Ryan Longwell, placekicker for the Green Bay Packers, and Josh Bidwell, punter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, met in college. At different schools, both got involved in Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru. In 1999 the Packers sent Ryan to scout Josh for the team. Soon both played for Green Bay.

Steve Newman, a staff member with AIA, spiritually mentors Ryan. Then Ryan initiated a similar mentoring relationship with Josh to talk about their spiritual lives. "Ryan built into Josh's life naturally," says Steve.

In 2004 Josh signed to play for the Buccaneers, which meant a move to Florida. "I miss him every day without question," Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper. "It's one thing to have a friend and a good teammate, but I would say he is my best friend, other than my wife."

As Josh moved ahead, even earning a spot in the NFL's 2006 Pro Bowl, Ryan's mentor gave the kicker a new goal. "I challenge Ryan to pick out someone each year to build his life into," says Steve, who mentors Ryan over the phone weekly.

Ryan now meets with Packers teammate Aaron Rodgers, a rookie second-string quarterback, to discuss their relationship with Jesus. Says Steve, "The chain is still going on."