Football is a staple of Thanksgiving, almost as highly ranked on the list of things that are an absolute must see or do on the big holiday as eating apple pie, or watching the Macy’s parade.

Pro football and college football games will both air on Thanksgiving this year.

With controversy involving players in the NFL kneeling during the National Anthem dominating sports headlines throughout the past two seasons, it’s important to note that kneeling and football can sometimes have a very different meaning.

Often, athletes can kneel to show their respect and prayer for God. Perhaps nobody is better known for this practice than Christian former football star and current baseball player, Tim Tebow. His very act of kneeling in prayer on the field became a verb – ‘Tebowing.’

‘Stand for the flag, kneel for the cross,’ as they sometimes say.

Here is a list of times football players engaged in giving thanks on the field …

Penn State/Nebraska

In one of the more surreal moments in all of sports, the scandal that engulfed Penn State football in 2011 was an absolute travesty for children and the administrators on many levels that should have protected them.

University administrators were dismissed after the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with molesting at least eight boys between 1994 and 2009. Coach Joe Paterno was also fired.

And while the focus throughout the week had wrongfully been placed on Paterno, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Penn State Nittany Lions teams came together for a football game and started it off with something everyone could have used – prayer.

It wasn’t just the Penn State players either. It wasn’t just the Nebraska players. Everyone came to midfield – players, coaches, team officials and even the referees – kneeled or bowed their heads in prayer.

 

Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown led the solemn gathering.

“I think the thing that probably struck me the most was how silent the stadium got,” he would later say.

Perhaps the only thing more powerful than tens of thousands of people raising the roof at a college football stadium, was that same massive sea of people falling into complete silence to pray.

 

Yale/Princeton 1893

We had to dig a bit into the archives for this one, and we’re almost certain there’s no video of the moment of prayer itself, but the description of it by a journalist in 1893 marks the importance in and of itself.

An annual battle between Princeton and Yale began in 1876, eventually leading to a Thanksgiving showdown long before the NFL had come into existence.

A matchup in 1893 featured both teams with a 6-0 record, with Princeton prevailing before a crowd of roughly 40,000 people.

Richard Harding Davis published an account of the celebratory locker room in Harper’s Weekly.

“Standing as they were, naked and covered with mud and blood and perspiration,” Davis wrote, “the eleven men who had won the championship sang the doxology from the beginning to the end.”

It was, he described, a symbol of “how great and how serious is the joy of victory to the men who conquer.”

Herbert “Herb” Lusk

Herb Lusk was a little-used running back with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1977.

On a pitchout from Ron Jaworski, Lusk scampered 70 yards to the end zone of a 28-10 victory over the New York Giants, he second score of the day.

What made this particular one praiseworthy? Four steps over the goal line, Lusk became the first player in the NFL to kneel down and pray during a game.

While little was made of the gesture in reports of the game, Lusk became the face of prayer in football.

“I’m very proud of when I look and see guys praying in the end zone or praying after (a game),” he said. “I see that as my purpose for playing in the NFL.”

Marquis Goodwin

In November of 2017, Marquis Goodwin of the San Francisco 49ers, the same team which has produced famed anthem kneelers in Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, fell to his knees after an 83-yard touchdown reception.

It was an integral play in his team’s 31-21 victory over the New York Giants.

Goodwin was overcome with emotion before being embraced by his teammates. It turns out, he was saying a prayer for the baby boy he and his wife lost after a premature delivery.

 

President Trump/Alabama

In April of 2018, Alabama’s football team visited the White House to honor the Crimson Tide’s national championship.

Players, led by former punter JK Scott, took part in an impromptu prayer circle around the President.

 

“It had everything to do with him being a man, just being a son,” Scott would later tell reporters. “It went from praying for the president to a place of truly praying over this man because God wants to touch him and God wants to show him he loves him.”

 

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