Rob Maaddi has covered Philadelphia sports for the Associated Press since 2000, including the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory in Super Bowl LII last February. But Maaddi’s new book, “Birds of Pray: The Story of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Faith, Brotherhood, and Super Bowl Victory,” was the toughest writing assignment he’s ever had, he said in an interview.
“I’m passionate about Philadelphia fans and the Eagles and want to make sure I tell their story and I tell it right and I do it justice,” Maaddi said, “and at the same time give people the right message of what these guys are all about.”
“Birds of Pray,” available now online and in stores on Tuesday, depicts the ebbs and flows of the Eagles’ triumphant 2017 season with a focus on the Christian faith of many of their key players, such as quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, tight end Zach Ertz and safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Maaddi hosts a weekly radio show in Philadelphia, “Faith on the Field,” where he and his co-hosts interview current and former pro athletes about their faith journeys. He’s also authored and co-authored several books, including devotionals called “Baseball Faith” and “Football Faith.”
Wentz wrote the foreword for “Birds of Pray.” Maaddi said he invited Wentz to speak at an event for “Faith on the Field” last year, hosted at a university a bit of a drive from Philadelphia. It was a non-paid event just four days before the Eagles’ 2017 season opener, but not only did Wentz come, he brought teammates Trey Burton and Stefen Wisniewski.
“I knew right there that these weren’t guys who just talk about their faith. They really walk their talk,” Maaddi said. “It’s who they are.”
So when the Eagles went on their improbable run to win the Super Bowl and friends told Maaddi he should write a book about their season, Maaddi knew he did not want to take the standard angle. He instead wrote about how the players’ faith inspired them — “what made these guys tick.”
Maaddi grew up a practicing Catholic, but as an adult he said his worship became more about keeping up with a ritual. Meanwhile, he described himself as a womanizer. A friend entered his life who recommended he try out a new church. After starting to attend the non-denominational Times Square Church in New York, on Aug. 29, 2010, Maaddi dedicated his life to Christ.
He later became involved in prison ministry, in which he and other volunteers visit inmates to played softball with them and preach the Gospel. It became so important to Maaddi that he felt a calling to become a full-time missionary, but didn’t know how he could support his family while giving up his sports journalism job. He consulted his pastor.
“‘Why don’t you take Jesus to your marketplace?’” Maaddi recalled the pastor saying. “He said, ‘They need you in that environment.’”
It inspired Maaddi to write more about players’ faith journeys and launch “Faith on the Field.”
What does Maaddi see as the most important takeaway from “Birds of Pray”?
“(The Eagles) didn’t win the Super Bowl because of their faith,” the author said, “but their faith allowed them to overcome adversity. Their faith allowed them to play to the best of their ability.”
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Birds of Pray”:
“Eight and a half hours before kickoff for Super Bowl LII, members of the Philadelphia Eagles got ready for the biggest game of their lives with an intimate celebration of their love for Jesus Christ. About twenty players gathered in the offensive meeting room at the team hotel for a worship service organized by Carson Wentz and Trey Burton. The underdog Eagles were set to play against the defending champion New England Patriots, one victory from finally capturing that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history and bringing it home to a city starving for a National Football League title. But for the guys in that conference room and a few others on the team, their relationship with Jesus was more important than winning football games.
Wentz, the franchise quarterback who was on his way to likely winning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in only his second season before wrecking his left knee in Week 14, and Burton, the backup tight end who later that night would become a central figure in one of the greatest plays in sports history, had planned similar worship services over the past two seasons. Whenever the Eagles had free time on a Sunday morning because they were playing a game in late afternoon or at night, players held “church” at their hotel. It didn’t matter if they were playing against the woeful Cleveland Browns in September or trying to prevent the Patriots from winning their sixth ring. Getting together to praise God was the top priority for these brothers in Christ. The stakes just happened to be much higher on this frigid Sunday morning in Minnesota.”
The audiobook version of “Birds of Pray” is available now on Audible and Google Play. More information is at birdsofpraybook.com.