By Chad Bonham
Nebraska 17, Penn State 14 (November 12, 2011)
Ask anyone who knows Ron Brown and two words will likely come up: “bold” and “intense.”
It’s how he coaches. It’s how he leads. It’s how he prays. It’s how he lives out his faith.
In particular, Brown has a strong passion for the Bible, which first developed as a sophomore in high school when he began attending a Bible study for teenagers led by a devout Catholic woman in his Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood.
Brown’s reputation for never backing down from an opportunity to share that passion was powerfully displayed on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium. It was the first game for Penn State following the firing of head coach Joe Paterno amid the fallout from the infamous Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Nebraska was the visiting team on that somber day.
But something unusual had been taking place behind the scenes earlier in the week. Brown was inspired to organize a pregame endzone prayer with players from both teams. Not confident he would get permission, Penn State head coach Tom Bradley at the same time had allowed his team to meet at midfield to pray and they wanted the Nebraska players to join them.
Brown was ultimately asked to lead the meeting. With about eight minutes left before kickoff, both teams came back onto the field and gathered at the 50-yard line. As 107,000 fans stood silently in the stands, Brown began what was supposed to be a 45-second prayer that instead lasted twice as long. No one seemed to mind. Even ESPN captured the moment and shared it with a national audience.
Towards the end of the prayer, Brown invoked a portion of an oft-quoted New Testament Bible passage:
“May we be reminded Lord, as it says in your word in John 1:14, that Jesus is full of grace and truth,” he shouted. “May the truth be known! May justice be known!”
Brown’s brief mention of that verse was meant to remind the players and anyone else watching about the biblical concepts of grace and truth, both of which were desperately needed amid such a dire circumstance. It would ultimately point onlookers to the full context of the words that Jesus himself spoke:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“The whole world got to hear the prayer that was geared towards the grace and the truth of Jesus Christ,” Brown said. “It was a humbling thing. It was a God thing. God had placed people in the right places.”
Afterwards, several Nebraska and Penn State players came back to midfield and asked Brown to pray again. ESPN, CNN, Fox Sports, and Fox News were among the national news outlets that continued to capture footage of the unfolding events.
“As soon as we broke prayer to walk off the field, the media came around to interview me,” Brown said. “Some of the guys were in tears. These guys that normally don’t have any interest in spiritual matters were moved.”
Nebraska won the game, 17-14, but the end result was by no means the most important thing that happened that day. It was Brown’s Bible-inspired prayer that would resonate in the hearts and minds of college football fans in University Park, Pennsylvania, and beyond for weeks to come.
This devotional is brought to you by Museum of the Bible, a 430,000 square foot museum being constructed 3 blocks south of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. and is set to open in November of 2017.
(Photos: Gordon Thiessen)