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Sports Spectrum spent two hours with the Robertsons, America’s beloved redneck millionaires on A&E’s hit-program Duck Dynasty, in West Monroe, La., at the Duck Commander warehouse back in February, and we’re excited to give you an in-depth six-page feature about the Robertsons along with TONS of multimedia content. Sports Spectrum’s six-page feature on boxer Robert Guerrero chronicles one of the most incredible and inspirational stories in the sporting world, preparing you for his upcoming May 4 bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
We also have features on two-time World Series champion and San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, pro-snowboarders Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin featured on The Amazing Race, future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, along with Sports Spectrum’s standard columns and daily sports-related Training Table devotional to encourage and challenge you in the most important facets of life. It’s an issue unlike any other, so view it early by logging in here.
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The scene would have been familiar to basketball fans of the University of Louisville: Peyton Siva going end-to-end to dunk a game-winner over a 7-footer as time expired. It didn’t matter that the game was the last of a series of exhibitions on a Far East mission trip against a Russian team. It was time for someone to step up and take responsibility for the game’s outcome.
Accepting responsibility and responding to pressure is nothing new for the shy 6-footer whose face easily creases into a glowing, world-class smile. He grew up in one of the roughest areas of Seattle with criminal tentacles extending into his family and all but ensnaring Siva himself. “My brother, he was in jail. My Dad was in and out of jail. My sister had been in and out of jail,” says Siva.
The classic basketball as the “route-out” story had a different plot line for Siva. His talent as even a high school freshman attracted assorted hangers-on, back-slappers, etc.—the “entourage.”
“He had so many people pulling at him at such a young age,” recalls Danny Cage, youth pastor at Mount Calvary Christian Center in Seattle. That pressure brought Siva to Cage, the church, and ultimately, to God. “He wanted to be focused spiritually through that. It separated him from the pack. He would study scriptures, and fast, and would ask to be held accountable,” adds Cage.
A Cage acronym “I.A.J.,” “It’s All Jesus,” undergirded Siva through a high school career that included selection as a McDonald’s High School All-American.
Siva’s selection by Louisville, among numerous suitors, and the path to the Big East and big-time basketball is not the most important one carved by God in his life and in his family. Today, Siva’s father, brother and sister are all in church. Cage, who is on the phone to Louisville daily, says what Siva wouldn’t: They have come to know God through Peyton.
The two-week mission trip to the Far East after Siva’s freshman year was a chance for those around Siva to see him step up at critical times in games like the one against a Russian team. As well, it was an opportunity for others to see that there is something different and special about him. “His mannerisms, the way he carries himself, the way the guys respond to him—people follow him,” says Robby Speer of Sports Reach, whose ministry sponsored the trip. “He’s a leader. He accepts responsibility.”
Accepting responsibility at crunch time for Louisville, which is in, arguably, the toughest conference in college basketball is, again, something familiar to Cardinal fans. You can see it in the final minutes of close games; Siva wants the ball and the responsibility for the outcome. For him, however, it is part of a larger responsibility.
“God lifts us up so we can lift Him up,” Siva says. “He’s definitely using me in basketball to give Him glory and to use me to show other kids that God is with you and God has a plan for you no matter whether it’s basketball, football or being a doctor.”
Or learning to overcome the pressures of early fame and Seattle streets.
By Ken Snyder
Ken Snyder is a freelance writer who lives in Kentucky. View Sports Spectrum’s March Madness 2013 DigiMag, featuring Peyton Siva on the cover, here.
Yawn…yawn. Seemingly just another day at the office for point guard Steve Alford. The smooth 6-foot-2 senior led Indiana University to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship this season, averaging 22 points a game. But his fluid movements on the floor belie the effort and diligence away from the camera that went into his contributions toward the team’s national title.
Alford ended his career as the Hoosiers’ four-time Most Valuable Player. He finished as the number 2 all-time scorer in the Big 10 Conference–a mere deuce behind Michigan’s Mike McGee…
To read our story on Hoosiers star and recently-named UCLA head coach Steve Alford from our Volume 1, Number 3 issue, click here.
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Let’s go back to 1988. To the suburban community of Lake Bluff, Illinois, home of Lake Forest High School. Rob Pelinka is nearing the end of an outstanding prep basketball career. As a senior, the 6-foot, 6-inch guard is averaging 30 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Recruiters from around the country are knocking on his door, offering their championship promises on a daily basis. Coaches from Arizona, Stanford, Illinois, and Michigan are regulars at the Pelinka residence. That’s not to mention the letters of interest from perennial basketball powerhouses North Carolina and Duke…
Click here to read our 1993 feature on Rob Pelinka, who was the sixth man for the University of Michigan under the Fab Five and now represents NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.
Heaven knows it’s not listed among the official records set by the Tampa Bay Storm during a 2003 run to the Arena Football League title. Nonetheless, the Lord must have been most pleased with the club mark for best chapel attendance.
“We started out with three guys. At the end of the year, we had over half the team attending,” former standout wide receiver and linebacker Lawrence Samuels said of the ministry he was building with chaplain Zenon Andrusyshyn. “That was great.”
Samuels, now the offensive coordinator, remembers Andrusyshyn quietly expressing his hope for a member of their Bible study and prayer group to rally the Storm to a record fifth ArenaBowl crown. Within hours, Samuels himself was handed the Most Valuable Player and Ironman of the Game awards for his role in a 43-29 triumph against the Arizona Rattlers.
Five months beforehand, another decorated Christian linebacker was the toast of the town. Derrick Brooks, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish off the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII with a late interception return of 44 yards for a touchdown.
Early in the 2011 AFL season, Brooks declined an offer to return as an ESPN football analyst to accept a fresh challenge from the Storm—to restore the luster to a once-proud franchise from the front office. Brooks, the new team president, entered this season with high hopes in the wake of back-to-back losing records and three consecutive years of declining attendance.
“I believe we have the ingredients to win a championship. It’s been a long time,” says Brooks, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, noting a decade has elapsed since the last trophy celebration. But like his mentor, former Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Brooks is patient and maintains high standards.
“We do want to win, but there’s a certain way we want to win,” he says. “There’s a certain way we want to do business. Integrity is important. Character, accountability, all those things meshed in.”
The team chaplain long ago learned that lesson the hard way. Andrusyshyn, a standout punter for UCLA and teams in three professional leagues, was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1970. He was released after the final preseason game because the late Tom Landry, a devout follower of Christ, was turned off by the antics of his ninth-round prospect.
“I was not a Christian, and I did not live like a Christian,” Andrusyshyn says. “I lived like a totally out-of-control young athlete. They called me and said, ‘We just can’t take a chance on someone like you.’ That really shook me up.”
Two decades later, Landry made more than a dozen free appearances at Fellowship of Christian Athletes events leading up to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. His generosity was a personal favor to the FCA area director—Andrusyshyn.
In contrast, the Storm recently lost a player because of his strong faith. Before last season, Tampa Bay signed defensive lineman Richard Jones. The Texas Tech product departed with four games left on the schedule to devote more time to his passion for Christian rapping, although he resurfaced this year in the shadows of his alma mater with the West Texas Outlaws of the Professional American Football League.
“He said God had a calling for him to leave the team and continue his ministry. We all understood that,” says Samuels, who also understands the Lord has a mission for him and certain others still on the job in Tampa. “I’m a firm believer that He has a plan for this coaching staff, and He has a plan for the leadership of this organization. We’re here for a reason.”
Among them is Jeff Gooch, the vice president of football operations and former Buccaneers teammate of Brooks. Gooch wants Storm players to acquire wisdom that will endure.
“We want to be the guys that years later, 10 years from now, that they’re quoting something that we said to their kids about doing something right and staying the course and those types of things that we maybe got from Tony. Derrick is pushing the envelope there. He’s not afraid to do that, and it’s a good thing.”
Good things came early and often for the Storm, the oldest and most successful organization in the league. The franchise was established in 1987 as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, the only one of four charter members still in business.
The Storm relocated to Tampa in 1991 and made an immediate splash, capturing the first of four AFL championships in a span of six years. Sixteen years have elapsed—including one scrapped by a league shutdown for reorganization in 2009—with only one more ring ceremony.
Gooch is convinced Brooks is taking the right approach to the revitalization effort.
“One of the rules that we go by—and this was something that was taught to us by Tony—he would always tell us when we were there that the best 53 athletes won’t make the team. He said, ‘No, the best 53 guys for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.’ We believe that same thing, and that has to do with what he was trying to say about character and how you go about doing things day to day. That’s the guys that he wanted. He knew that those guys would be successful.”
Dungy had most of the pieces in place when he was fired after the 2001 season. A trade with Oakland brought in replacement coach Jon Gruden, who promptly knocked off his former team in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers have yet to win another postseason game.
Meanwhile, Dungy was scooped up by Indianapolis. He easily reached the playoffs in each of his seven years there and basked in the glory of a league crown. Brooks, who has an ownership stake in the Storm, is determined to find just the right ingredients to do the same.
“Do we need to get more talented players? Of course we do,” he says. “Everybody will tell you that, but I believe it’s that stuff that you can’t put your finger on, that ‘it’ factor that helps you win, that you win two or three games you’re not supposed to. Before you know it, you’re the champion.”
By Bob Bellone
Bob Bellone is a Tampa-based freelance reporter.
Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin stood in Cathedral Square in Panama City, Panama. The flowing skirts of the traditional tamborito dancers swirled and spun a mystery before them. Somewhere was the clue that would guide them to the final Pit Stop of this race leg. Reach it first, and they were into the finals of The Amazing Race, playing with a one in three chance of winning $1 million. Reach it last—game over.
The two pro snowboarders had already won six of the race’s ten previous legs. They had a commanding lead now, but they were confused. They spotted a word on a necklace: Balboa. They took off in a cab toward Balboa.
Other teams reached the square and stared blindly in front of the colorful swirl. None of them either could see the words “Panama Viejo” embroidered on one spinning skirt.
After reaching two incorrect Balboas, Andy and Tommy felt their mistake sink in. Meanwhile, two teams in the square followed the same logic and began heading for a misguided Balboa.
But one team sketched a different piece of jewelry and showed it to a cab driver. Yes, Panama Viejo. He knew the place. As drivers had been doing throughout the episode, he called his buddies. Go to Panama Viejo, he told them—whether their passengers realize it or not.
“This is like David and Goliath,” competitor and former NFL tight end Marcus Pollard said when the three pairs reached the Pit Stop and secured their spots in the final round. “They’re [Andy and Tommy] like giants. We’re the Davids. We did enough today to make it to the finals. Unbelievable.”
By the time Andy and Tommy backtracked to the right location, their amazing race was over. They fell one step short of their goal: reaching the finals.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Andy said in his final interview. “We did our best to find the clue, and we missed it. You go hard, and what we were doing worked this far. The Amazing Race was an experience of a lifetime. I got to run the world with Tommy and experience God’s awesome creation.”
It was a fitting farewell: honest, upbeat, thankful, and it credited God clearly yet humbly. The two former Olympians had played to win, but even more, they had played to represent Christ with integrity. Under the gaze of the ever present cameras, Andy and Tommy portrayed their faith with authenticity and deepened it in the process.
“The whole way through the race I saw God’s hand in it,” Andy says. “Every time I had more faith that He was with us no matter what happened.”
The original plan was for Andy and his wife, Amber, to run The Amazing Race, Season 19 together in 2011. Their audition video highlighted them snowboarding, surfing and mountain biking in and around their home in Truckee, Calif. But producers decided they wanted another snowboarder.
“I knew with Tommy as a fellow believer, we could surrender anything that was thrown at us before God and have Him as our mediator,” Andy says.
Ironically, Tommy had applied for the show five years earlier but never received a callback. Now it was game on for the two hucksters who met at the top of a halfpipe about 13 years earlier.
Until he retired from competition in 2009, Tommy was the longest running member of the U.S. Snowboarding Team, representing his country at the 2002 Olympics and winning numerous medals at X Games and other competitions. His smooth, consistent style earned him the nickname “The Machine.”
“Tommy is pretty quiet, extremely talented and really funny when you get know him,” Andy says.
“Andy is 110 percent on everything he does,” Tommy says. “I once told him, ‘Easy does it,’ and he said back ‘Easy does not do it.’ ”
It’s that kind of tenacity that earned Andy nicknames such as “Pitbull.” The aggressive rider rode for the U.S. in the 2006 Olympic Games and was no stranger to X Games and other top level podiums. Andy put the A in halfpipe amplitude before Shaun White started boosting into the stratosphere.
The formidable pair knew this was reality TV, where editors have the power to shape individuals into characters. They knew many people have claimed Jesus and come off looking like—well, unchristlike. So the huck brothers clarified their strategies. Go hard; Go fast for the game. Go real; Go respectful all the time.
Andy and Tommy made a point of not talking to the producers about their faith. They wanted to live consistently, not make big claims.
“We weren’t going to try to preach to the TV or the crowd,” Andy says. “Every day we’d pray, ‘Lord, watch the things that come out of our mouths, because the producers use anything you give them.’ What we had control over was sharing our faith with other racers when opportunities arose.”
But they didn’t hide what they believe. Each wrote the text of a Bible verse on his backpack, selected from Scripture they began highlighting three months before the race. “Do not have zeal without knowledge or be hasty and miss the way,” read Andy’s. “Be joyful always. Pray continually,” said Tommy’s. In Thailand they got the chance to share them on camera.
“We tried to be real in how we live life,” Tommy says.
Sometimes real is harder than scripted, especially in the heat of competition. Andy likens the teamwork necessary to travel the world under pressure to a marriage. Andy’s desire to always keep moving was often at odds with Tommy’s desire to be methodical and sure of their direction. They made sure to work through their differences off camera.
“What we had to keep reminding ourselves was that nothing on that show was more valuable than our friendship and our love for God,” Andy says.
That became most evident in Belgium at the Ford Proving Ground. At a Roadblock, one teammate took a Ford Mustang onto the test track for braking at 100mph, slaloming and doing donuts. Tommy had struggled through an earlier poetry recital, so the team prearranged that Andy would take the remaining brain games and Tommy would take the rest. But standing on the sidelines, Andy didn’t take the decision well.
“I’m very jealous right now because I have a passion for driving,” he said on camera.
He’s track licensed and has driven the Baja 1000. The tension was obvious afterward when Andy didn’t want to hear Tommy’s excited details. Andy prayed to himself, but in his interview at the end of the episode, he said unprompted, “I almost started bickering with Tommy because of sin that I had in my heart. I had to ask for forgiveness through Christ. Christ just took that from me, and the burden was lifted after that.”
Later he told me happily, “I never thought that would make it on TV.”
The last night in Europe didn’t make it on camera. Competitors are allowed to talk during live racing and traveling, but not during “Pit Stops.” At dinner, Ernie Halvorsen was clearly sick. Andy exchanged glances with Tommy and Marcus, another fellow Christian. The three stood, placed their hands on Ernie and began to pray. “You could see the discomfort of production,” Andy says. But the three sat back down quietly. The following day Ernie was able to keep racing and went on to win the entire race. Andy and Tommy were eliminated.
“God’s will was done,” Andy says. “I think after praying for Ernie like that I was even more pleased that he was able to win. There’s no doubt in my mind that God had us right where He wanted us, and that was in fourth place.”
Yet the number one comment Andy has heard from viewers is that it was unfair to lose because of chatty cabbies. “Life is unfair,” he says. “How are you going to deal with it when it happens in your life? This is a fallen world, and that’s going to happen.”
Both competitors admit that the loss stung. But they handled it as they had the rest of the race: trusting God’s bigger picture and taking home positive lessons.
“When you really surrender to God, you get to witness His hand in everyday life,” Andy says. “I had faith that God had a plan going into the race, but coming out of it was like, ‘Wow, He really is guiding every step of the way.’”
The reminder has been an encouragement as Andy and Tommy transition careers. Both are now retired from competition. Andy does snowboarding commentary, and he’s moving toward massage therapy specializing in sports injuries. He knows injury well. Tommy is a coach for the U.S. Snowboarding National Team and runs a firewood business as well to support his family of three kids.
“There were difficult times on the Race being tired, frustrated or in the back of the pack. And it was tough being eliminated the leg before the finale,” Tommy says. “But we trusted God through it all and had a blast doing it.”
Even though they didn’t win, Andy and Tommy ran an amazing race.
By Jeremy V. Jones
Jeremy V. Jones’ latest books include Triple Dog Dare and The One Year Sports Devotions for Kids.