What do you do when you win the Super Bowl and then get no respect? If you're a maturing quarterback like Trent Dilfer, you handle it with grace and peace.
by Roxanne Robbins
Super Bowl Champion
Nobody could prepare Trent Dilfer for life after the Super Bowl.
Before leading the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV, Dilfer talked with several championship quarterbacks, asking them how to approach the game and achieve success. He listened and learned.
What they couldn't tell him was what life would be like after winning the big game. Those voices of experience would have done Dilfer little good anyway, because the course he has taken after Super Bowl victory has been unlike anything experienced by any quarterback before him.
In an unusual twist of normality, Dilfer has gone relatively unheralded after capturing Super Bowl glory. Although he is in demand on the speaking circuit, the 6-foot-4 athlete has otherwise appeared overlooked by the NFL and the media.
Part of his low profile, Dilfer says, was by personal choice.
"I didn't want to go do a lot of things that a lot of quarterbacks have done after the Super Bowl," Dilfer says. "I wasn't focused on making a lot of money. I wasn't focused on increasing my reputation, increasing my exposure, or positioning myself for next year.
"A lot of people would say I've done a poor job of taking advantage of things, and I probably have, but that's simply because my focus hasn't been there. My focus has been trying to maintain a good perspective through the whole thing and trying to be a good husband and a good father."
Sincerity surrounds every word. Dilfer savored the summer months with his wife Cassandra and their three children Madeleine (5), Victoria (2), and Trevin (3) at their home in California.
But painful days have accompanied the carefree. Dilfer loves being part of a team. It bothers him that he is not in Baltimore with his friends and teammates who journeyed so far together last season.
The quarterback who was rejected by fans in Tampa Bay, reduced to backup in Baltimore, forced to start in desperation, and then crowned Super Bowl champion would be the first to say this journey has been anything but easy.
Dilfer joins football experts around the country in questioning his future in the NFL. Will he return to the top or turn into a journeyman player? The fact that no team picked Dilfer up until the Seattle Seahawks signed him in the second week of training camp was not an easy situation to understand.
"Obviously it's been difficult." Dilfer says of his post-Super Bowl ambiguity. "It's been frustrating and disappointing. But as I look back I know that the next thing God allows me to achieve in life will be because of what I'm going through right now. What God's been saying so clear to me about is this, 'You trusted Me when things were tough before. You were able to trust Me through the ride last year with the Ravens. Why wouldn't you trust that I have your best interest in mind now?"
"A lot of people may have thought that returning to the Ravens this year would be the best thing for me," Dilfer says. "But I'm going to side with God and recognize that He's going to take me where He needs me, where He can use me. I'd rather be somewhere that He wants me. The waiting has been hard. It's not what I've wanted, but I've recognized that God's hand is all over it, and He's got something better for me on the other end."
Confidence in God's sovereignty is a mark of spiritual maturity that Dilfer says developed through his difficult days in the NFL. It was during those challenging times that Dilfer learned to rely on a strength far greater than that within himself.
"It was during the rough times I stopped trusting in myself and learned to lean on God the most." Dilfer says. "I recognized His power and His ability to carry me through circumstances that I'm not comfortable with."
Through the process of his last season, the playoffs and the Super Bow, Dilfer says, God taught him the importance of constant devotion to the Lord.
By acknowledging God's work in his life, the quarterback is able to rest in God's plan even when the process falls short of human understanding."
Along Dilfer's NFL journey he has ample memories of God's mysterious ways. He knows that the same God who gave strength to face his foes in Tampa Bay will enable him to emerge from this latest test of patience with stronger faith.
For example, when Dilfer came off the bench to replace Tony Banks 8 weeks into the 2000-2001 season, he inherited a Ravens offense that had not scored a touchdown in 16 quarters and 49 possessions. It was the longest NFL dry spell since 1993 when the Indianapolis Colts went 20 quarters without a touchdown.
Immediately, Dilfer stepped in and proved he was the needed impetus for change. The 7-year NFL veteran, who held a one-year contract with the Ravens, guided his team to 10 consecutive regular season victories and the prestigious Super Bowl XXXV title.
The pivotal point for Dilfer came when the Ravens won an emotional 24-3 victory over Tennessee in Game 11 of the season. The Titans had entered the contest with a perfect 12-0 record in their new stadium and an eight-game winning streak. Upsetting Tennessee launched Baltimore into playoff contention.
"A lot of momentum was built from that win," Dilfer says. "It was probably bigger for me than for anyone else—the way it happened. We played very well the whole game but almost lost at the end because of a careless decision and interception on my part. Personally, I think maybe one of the most gratifying moments of my career was after the interception when I walked back in the huddle. When those guys looked back at me I could see a sense of belief. I could see they believed in me.
"That was maybe the first time in my career, after making a mistake like that, that I returned to the huddle and saw 10 guys looking back at me who probably had more confidence than I did at that time. That singular moment has meant as much to me in my career as anything."
Recovering from the interception with confidence exemplified Dilfer's philosophy on football: It's not about making mistakes; it's about overcoming them.
Dilfer knows how to bounce back from difficult times.
He persevered through 6 stormy years with Tampa Bay. Although Dilfer led the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, his popularity in Tampa remained questionable. Week after week, this husband and father of three played his heart out in front of throngs of Buccaneer fans who were demanding a new man for the quarterback job.
Dilfer's years in Tampa were not in vain, though. Despite differing with head coach Tony Dungy on offensive strategy, he developed a strong respect for the Bucs' head man. In Dungy, Dilfer found a professional who modeled the faith and character he wanted to be true of his own life. Dilfer still cherishes his 6 years in Tampa, saying the circumstances and adversity he experienced helped him become the player and man he is today.
Take the week he was benched for a Bucs' game. At that time, Dilfer had compiled a 70-game streak of consecutive starts. It was the second longest streak in the NFL behind Brett Favre.
"I think more than anything else, that week showed me that there are no guarantees," Dilfer says. "It showed me that you can't hold on too tightly to certain things and that you don't own them. God is ultimately in control of those things, and He used that situation to teach me a lesson."
The uphill climb continued well into the 2000-2001 season when Dilfer signed a one-year contract with the Ravens and then spent the first seven games backing up Banks.
"When I went to Baltimore, I learned that the process is as important as the game." Dilfer says. "I really learned to enjoy Monday through Saturday. I found a new love for the game. It's easy to say you love football when you're getting to play it on Sundays. But when you're not and your whole week is about work and preparation, do you really love it? I found out that I did. When I got the opportunity to play, I think that it once again showed me that this game is a game. It's about doing it as well as you can, but there are certain things you can't control."
Such views mark a maturity Dilfer didn't demonstrate as consistently when first drafted by the Bucs 8 years ago. At the time, reporters wrote about Dilfer's arrogance and temper. Today they describe him as composed, humble, and capable. In response Dilfer says, "I'm not afraid to say that early in my career I wasn't real mature. I think many times you have to go through adversity and hard times for God to change your life. It took a lot of heartache for God to get through to me and to build those [new] characteristics in my life."
God first got through to Dilfer when he was a sophomore at Fresno State University. At the time, everything seemed to be going his way—football success, women, and popularity.
"I was pretty selfish growing up," Dilfer says. "I was always looking out for myself and seeking ways to become more popular. Things got really bad my first 2 years in college. I drank excessively and did a lot of things I'm not proud of. I was a very selfish person and did anything that would fulfill my selfish desires—drinking, the girl scene—all that. My wife thinks I blow it out of proportion when I say how bad I was because not all people thought I was a bad guy. But I thought I was a bad guy. I thought I was mean, cold, and selfish. I didn't care about anything but myself."
With the motto, "anything for popularity," Dilfer even went to church occasionally because he thought it would make him look better. He also attended regular Christian meetings for athletes. It became a vicious cycle...Christian meeting...hit the bars all night...church...drunkenness and carousing. The pattern continued until one weekend when Dilfer attended a camp of athletes and was struck by the message that his actions and heart attitude were separating him from God and the only way to enter into a right relationship with God was to receive forgiveness.
Dilfer realized he needed a Savior to rescue him from his own destruction. He needed a way to God, not available by just walking into the doors of a church. He needed something, someone, to change his hart, mind and soul. The college football star found the answer in Jesus Christ. That weekend, Dilfer responded to God's love and forgiveness and invited Jesus Christ into his life to be his Lord and Savior.
He savors the changes that have since taken place in his life. The 29-year-old now finds fulfillment in striving to live for God and others instead of himself. He is a stronger man, a more composed and accurate football player, a better friend, and a more devoted husband and father. The Super Bowl champion knows where he's come from and has an eternal perspective about where he's going.
"I'm a big-time work in progress," Dilfer says. "I spend a lot of time on my knees asking God to change me. Anytime you ask God to change you, He will answer you and it's often painful. It has been very difficult at times. The reward has been well worth the struggle, because as I see God change me, I see Him start to mold me into somebody He can use."
Even as Dilfer waited to see what his next football season would hold, he said his top goal was to walk by conviction—a guiding belief that prompts him to use his celebrity status to share an encouraging message of hope and faith in Christ.
Conviction, Dilfer says, helps him live the same life in Christ when things are down as when they are up. And judging by Dilfer's life so far, many highs and lows are yet to come. Through strength in Jesus Christ he will face them with unfailing hope.
Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.