As the 49ers and Ravens take the field in New Orleans' Super Dome for Super Bowl XLVII, a man very familiar with that field, Chris Reis, will be watching the game with his family.
It was only three years ago that Reis was playing in the big game for the New Orleans Saints. He burst into the national spotlight with one unusual, but game-changing play, an onside kick recovery that surprised the opposition and many say paved the path for the Saints' 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
It was an unlikely position for a kid who grew up in a broken family, with a father who was in and out of his life and addicted to sex and alcohol. Reis broke through the obstacles to succeed, he says, in part by finding God in high school. He went on to play for Georgia Tech where he served as president of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was briefly signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Falcons, but the team cut him loose before he even saw field time. The Saints then signed him as a free agent, but sent him to play in the NFL Europe league. Later that year the team called him back to New Orleans where he played the next four years with the Saints.
His father, Mike Reis, finally broke the cycle of addiction after watching his son make that critical Super Bowl play - and realizing how much he'd overcome to get there. The pair is now closer than ever and recently co-wrote a book about their journey, "Recovery of a Lifetime." They also share their stories, touring around the country as inspirational speakers.
Chris Reis sat down with CNN to talk about the book and his life experiences. Here are excerpts from that interview:
CNN: What was it like walking onto the field at the Super Bowl?
Reis: You never think you're going to play in the Super Bowl, so walking onto the field, it just felt so surreal to me. I actually didn't know if I was going to play the night before. I was the special teams guy, back up safety. So some games I would be up, some days I would be down - active, inactive. When they told me, "You're up, you're dressing," little did I know ... the onside kick would play a huge role in it.
CNN: How did it feel when people called you a hero of the game?
Reis: I don't think I consider myself a hero. ... I just felt more thankful that I could be a part of something so great. To me I was just doing my job. For people to call me a hero, of course that makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I've helped them and that's what I wanted to do. But hero is such a strong word. 9/11 firefighters and policemen are heroes; I just covered up a ball. I helped win a game.
CNN: You write in the book you were expecting a big change after the Super Bowl, but what happened?
Reis: I think in today's culture, everything is wrapped up in what we do, and I call it, "the next thing dilemma." If I can just get that promotion, if I can just get on TV, if I can just win a Super Bowl, if I can just make more money. We're always battling and hoping that next thing is going to satisfy us.
I think I had bought into society's lie and built it up in my mind. I guess I expected a little more out of it, and now it's like: What do I do? What is God calling me to do in my life? I really struggled for that off-season just finding purpose.
My purpose wasn't really to win a Super Bowl. My purpose was my relationships within that season and what it really meant to us, but it took me a while to really understand that. And when people are harping at you that you're a hero and that you won the Super Bowl and you have this ring, you kind of get this pride built up. And I'm like, well if that's all this life is about, then it's kind of sad.
I realize now that God has given me this gift of this onside kick and this semi-fame to be able to leverage it for his kingdom. To me, I can't think of a better way to help people, to help people to understand our identity is not wrapped up in what we do, but (in) who we are and whose we are.
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