Speaking at the annual Super Bowl Breakfast, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson opened up about his role in Super Bowl XXXIX and how the game opened his eyes to the power of God's love and mercy.
"In 2004, I [was] drafted by the New England Patriot, and I was excited to go up there and play, and I end up tearing my ACL," the 35-year-old athlete recalled. "We went on to win the Super Bowl against the Eagles that year in Jacksonville, Florida."
Speaking to the audience at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel, Watson revealed that it was "really, really tough" to not be able to play in the game, because he placed so many expectations on himself.
"As a rookie, you want to come in and prove your worth in being on that team," he explained. "So, going through that ordeal, going through rehab, being up in Boston in 80 inches of snow when you're from South Carolina...it was horrible. And not being able to play in the game was tough."
Nevertheless, the athlete attended the game along with his family, but admitted he was a "jerk to everyone" throughout the event.
"I wasn't happy, I was upset, we did the media day, and we did the team picture, all the stuff that you do around the Super Bowl. I wasn't happy to be there because I couldn't join the game. I was being quite selfish," he said.
The athlete even refused to wear his Super Bowl ring for many years -- "I didn't feel I deserved it," he said.
However, over time, he realized something that shifted his entire perspective: "I'm a champion," he said. "This is a team game, I couldn't perform in the game, but it's a team game. God really taught me a lot through that ordeal."
Today, Watson proudly bears the title of a Super Bowl Champion is able to reflect on the situation in a positive manner and understand how God used it to shape and mold him.
"Even though I didn't perform on my own merit, I can still stand before you and say, 'I am a Super Bowl champion.' I wear my ring with pride.' That's the same thing He does for us," Watson said, drawing parallels between the game and his relationship with Jesus Christ. "We're sitting here at the Super Bowl prayer breakfast and we're talking about football, and we're hearing these great football stories from these legends...but the bottom line that we really want you to hear is the fact that you, too, can be champions in Christ, not because of anything that you do, but because of His grace through His son, Jesus Christ."
The Under Our Skin author acknowledged that it's hard to believe such a truth, as people always want to earn their salvation and standing before God -- just like he wanted to earn the right to stand before his fellow athletes and boast about his earthly accomplishments.
"It was really humbling to have guy like Tom Brady go up there and say, 'Don't worry about it, we're gonna get you that ring,'" he said.
The husband and father-of-four further elaborated on what he learned throughout the ordeal in a lengthy post shared on his Facebook page later that night: "Jesus has already won the victory and offers us a 'ring' of salvation, inviting us to repent of our sin and by faith slip it on and live forever as champions!" he wrote. "Unlike the NFL there are no prerequisites to qualify for this gift. The invitation is open to ALL who would receive it. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, or what you call yourself. Christ died for all."
Watson, who often speaks openly about his faith, was one of three finalists considered for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which recognizes one man for his charity work and excellence off the football field.
This year, Anquan Boldin, wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, was awarded the prestigious honor.
The finalist was chosen by a panel of judges consisting of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Walter Payton's widow, Connie Payton, and former players Anthony Munoz and LaDainian Tomlinson, along with last year's winner, Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers and sportswriter Peter King.
A $55,000 donation will be made to the charity of the winner's choice, while the two runners-up will each receive $11,000 donations, according to ESPN.
"So humbled to be named a finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year," Watson tweeted last month. "Congrats to all the nominees. There are so many great men in our league."