Yes, Peyton Manning, it's OK to pray for help on the playing field.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback said he sought some divine intervention before the New England Patriots' final drive in Sunday's AFC Championship game, which ended with an interception thrown by New England quarterback Tom Brady.
"I said a little prayer on that last drive," Manning said after the Colts' 38-34 victory earned them a trip to the Super Bowl in Miami. "I don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I said a little prayer."
Religious experts said Manning's prayer was appropriate as a gesture of faith, but they don't agree on whether the Colts' victory was the answer to his request.
The Rev. Edward Wheeler, president of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, had been ordained as a Baptist minister by the time he became a walk-on starting defensive back at Morehouse College in Atlanta. His teammates sometimes asked him to pray for victory, but Wheeler instead would pray that the team play to its fullest potential and avoid injury.
"I don't think Peyton's prayer was answered with a Colts victory, but the Colts worked so hard and they played together as a team that that allowed them to bring reality to their deepest wants," Wheeler said.
Cloistered nuns at the Carmel of the Resurrection Monastery in Indianapolis offer tips on spiritual guidance each day to tens of thousands of people a day through their Web site, www.praythenews.com. The biggest sports fan among the group, Sister Terese Boersig, said praying on the sidelines was "absolutely" within bounds.
"Now, what would not be appropriate is if you prayed that Tom Brady broke his leg," Boersig said.
She said people who offer prayers should be open to results they don't anticipate.
"He just said a prayer, that he felt there was a power that could help him. I'm sure that there were people on the Patriots' bench who were praying too, but that doesn't mean that Peyton's prayer was better. I think God is hearing all of those prayers," Boersig said.
Christian tradition teaches that Jesus Christ, on the eve of his crucifixion, prayed to God the Father that he be spared the cross – but only if it was the Father's will. If God had a hand in the Colts' victory, Boersig said, it's part of a larger plan.
"We don't know the whole picture. We can see only our part," she said.
Colts chaplain Ken Johnson said was "praying feverishly" himself during the game, and he believes divine intervention played a role in the outcome.
Others on the team share his belief. Center Jeff Saturday, who recovered Dominic Rhodes' fumble into the end zone for a touchdown, noted after the game: "This is 100 percent of a God moment, things that are unexplainable, things that happen for no reason."
Johnson, who organizes services the nights before games and leads Bible study for coaches and players, said prayer can bring a sense of calm to a player caught up in the drama of a close game. That might have been happening with Manning and other players, he said.
"I do believe God is up in heaven looking down on this game," Johnson said. "God is concerned about his people and the things his people are concerned about here."
But that concern goes only so far, he said. After all, coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, the Colts' opponent in the Feb. 4 Super Bowl, is as much a man of faith as Manning, Saturday or Colts coach Tony Dungy.
"God will do what he can do for you, but you've got to do what you can do for you," Johnson said. "You've still got to show up."
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