Remembering the Minister of Defense

The called him The Minister of Defense. Whether he was preaching or playing football, Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White always worked hardest on Sundays.

In the spring of 1996, I spent several days with Reggie, working with him on his football-and-faith memoir, IN THE TRENCHES. It was a fascinating few days, and I got to know Reggie, his wife Sara, and his kids Jeremy and Jecolia. He told me about the injury he had suffered just three months earlier—a torn hamstring which should have ended his season. And he told me about the miraculous healing he experienced, which enabled him to play again after missing only one game.

The Packers team physician, Dr. McKenzie, had scheduled Reggie for surgery to reattach the torn hamstring. But shortly before Christmas 1995, Reggie was playing with his kids in the living room by the Christmas tree when he suddenly felt the strength come back to his leg. He flexed the leg, walked on it, then ran on it. The more he exercised it, the better it felt. Then he went to Coach Mike Holmgren’s house and told him he was ready to play. And he was.

Dr. McKenzie couldn’t explain it, nor could Coach Holmgren. According to the MRI of his leg, Reggie shouldn’t have been able to walk, much less play football. But on the football field, he was as powerful as ever.

The following season, Reggie and the Packers went all the way to Super Bowl XXXI (January 26, 1997). Reggie set a Super Bowl record of three sacks in a single game, and won a championship ring. And he never had the operation to reattach the hamstring.

Fast-forward eight years.

The morning after Christmas Day 2004, my family and I were in a hotel room in Ojai, California, where we were visiting relatives for the holidays. I stood in front of the muted TV, getting dressed, when I saw Reggie’s picture on the screen. I said to my wife, “Hey, they’ve got a story about Reggie—” Then I was shaken to see the caption under Reggie’s photo: “Reggie White, 1961-2004.”

I sat down, grabbed the remote, and un-muted the TV. The announcer said that Reggie had died in his sleep, having suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. He was 43.

Back in 1996, I had watched Reggie work out on the Stairmaster in the private gym behind his home. I remembered feeling the concrete floor tremble beneath my feet. At six-foot-five and 290 pounds, Reggie White was the most powerful human being I had ever met in my life. He seemed indestructible.

Now he was gone. I couldn’t believe it.

I thought about Sara, Jeremy, and Jecolia. And I thought about Reggie’s Christmas miracle—how he had experienced a healing while he was at home, playing with his children. Why should a man like Reggie receive a miracle at one point in his life—then die so young the morning after Christmas 2004? I couldn’t understand it. I still can’t.

But I remember what Reggie told me when we talked together about his miracle of healing: “God didn’t do this for Reggie White. I didn’t ask God to heal me—I couldn’t believe he would do that. But other people prayed for me to be healed, and God answered so that people’s lives would be impacted.”

And many lives—including mine—were certainly impacted by Reggie White.

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