Mormons in the NFL: Headed to the Super Bowl

Published: Monday, Jan. 31 2011 6:00 a.m. MST

Like a little troublemaker, Brady Poppinga has been grounded.

That’s how the injured linebacker describes watching his team, the Green Bay Packers, advance through the playoffs to Super Bowl XLV.

“It’s like you are looking out the window and watching your friends play pick-up football in the street,” said Poppinga, a former BYU star now in his sixth year with the Packers. “I love to see the team play well, but to not be part of it is tough.”

Poppinga is one of three Mormons taking part in the Super Bowl. Come Super Sunday, Feb. 6, Poppinga will be on the sidelines in Dallas, just not in uniform. Last October the Wyoming native pulled himself from an Oct. 17 game against Miami because something didn’t feel right in his knee. Further examination revealed a partially torn ACL and resulted in season-ending arthroscopic surgery. He says he could have played on but felt surgery was his best option.

He finished the season with 14 tackles and one sack.

Despite sitting out of the biggest game of the year, Poppinga is upbeat about his recovery and said the procedure was like putting on a new tire.

The 31-year-old is also looking forward to reconnecting with a couple of BYU alums on the opposing team – Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen Chris Hoke and Brett Keisel.

Poppinga was a freshman at BYU when Keisel, a.k.a. “The Beard,” was a senior. He has developed a friendship with Hoke over the years.

“They are typical Steeler guys, hard-working, tough, team players," Poppinga said. "They are the glue of that Pittsburgh defense and part of the reason the Steelers are in the Super Bowl."

Hoke lamented Poppinga’s injury.

“Brady is a great guy and a good football player,” Hoke said. “It’s too bad he is on injured reserve, but it will be really fun to see him.”

When asked what impressed them about Keisel’s Grizzly Adams beard, Poppinga and Hoke chuckled heartily.

“It’s big and burly," Poppinga said. "He looks like a lumberjack who has lived in the mountains for several years."

Hoke said Keisel started growing the beard during the summer.

“It’s crazy and out of control, but you’ve got to give it to him for sticking with it,” Hoke said. “We tape our jerseys down to our pads and his beard would get stuck and pull out of his chin during the game. You have to give it to him for his dedication.”

Keisel, a nine-year defensive end, has registered 33 tackles this year, along with three sacks, two forced fumbles and one 79-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Hoke, a nine-year veteran defensive lineman, suffered an MCL tear in September against Tampa Bay but returned weeks later. The 34-year-old has recorded 12 tackles this season.

The three players carry the distinction of being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hoke was raised in the church and served an LDS mission to Belgium. His wife is currently the ward Primary president, and he serves as a Cub Scout leader for a den of 11-year-old boys.

“I lean a lot on faith, my testimony and relationship with my Father in Heaven. It’s been a driving force for me,” Hoke said. “The NFL season is not an easy one. You have a lot of highs and lows over several grueling months. I like the perspective I have gained from being raised in the church and having many experiences I can draw back on to get me through tough times. I appreciate having the knowledge that Father in Heaven is only a prayer away.”

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