Decades before Tim Tebow knelt in prayer on a football field there was Herbert Lusk, a former Philadelphia Eagles player who famously stunned onlookers when he stopped to pray in the end zone during a 1977 game.
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Lusk, who died Monday after a battle with cancer, wasn’t just a believer on the field; he went on to become a reverend and returned to the Eagles as a team chaplain, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The pastor was the long-time leader of Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia and was a pillar in his community. He was pro-life and a Republican and didn’t shy away from speaking about these issues.
Even those with differing political views, like U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D. Pa.), called Lusk a “good, spiritual person” and “an asset to Philadelphia” and to America more broadly.
The 69-year-old Lusk, who was given the nickname “The Praying Tailback,” was made famous by his decision during a 1977 game to pray in the end zone, with the impromptu moment before 50,000 people going down in NFL history.
He was reportedly the first player to ever pray after scoring a touchdown, paving the way for many others to do the same.
“As soon as I got there, I dropped down on my knee and prayed. I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus,'” he recalled in a past interview, going on to quip: “And then I said to myself, ‘It’s about time.”
Lusk decided to “publicly declare [his] relationship with God” — a notable moment considering others before him hadn’t done it in such a shared way.
“The end zone became my pulpit,” he added.
It turns out there’s a deeper story behind Lusk’s public invocation, and it revolves around an injury before his NFL days from which he healed.
“I was the first one [to do it]. It was my way of saying thanks,” Lusk told Ray Didinger in a 2018 interview. “I hurt my knee in junior college, and the doctors said I’d never play football again, but I put my fate in God’s hands. I prayed every day and I knew if my knee healed, it was His will for me to continue playing.”
Lusk was clearly overjoyed to see his prayers answered, and that faith carried him well beyond his on-field prayer. He became a pastor in 1982, just a few years after he left the NFL — and never looked back.
He was a man who friends say loved others — and lived it out. When a reporter with WHYY asked in a 2018 interview if religion can “sometimes alienate players or spectators,” Lusk offered the perfect response.
“Not really. Not our relationship with Jesus Christ because basically what we do is, we love everybody,” he said. “The great commandment is that you should love your Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s impossible to alienate people when you love them.”
Pray for the pastor’s wife, Vickey, and his children and grandchildren, who are mourning this loss.
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