Former Oakland Raider recounts LDS conversion

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Owens was named MVP of the Senior Bowl and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft (13th overall) by the New York Jets.

The football losing trend continued in New York over the next seven seasons. It wasn’t until he was traded to the Raiders in 1980, his 13th season dating back to his junior year of high school, that he was finally part of a winning team.

“Those were lean years,” Owens said. “I call them my character-building years … a continuation of my education as an eternal optimist. You learn after losing quite a bit, year after year, that you have to continue to work hard, stay tough and endure to the end before it’s going to work out.”

New friends

All the hard work paid off for Owens during the 1980 season when the Raiders not only had a winning season (11-5), they won Super Bowl XV. Oakland defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10, becoming the first wild card team to triumph in the Super Bowl. Owens started the game at free safety and finished with six tackles. Winning the big game was the highlight of his career, Owens said.

“We didn’t want it to come to an end. We won it convincingly and we had a good time being the underdogs. There is nothing more rewarding than winning when you’re looked at as not being capable of doing so,” Owens said. “Our biggest regret was there was nobody else to play.”

In the midst of that exciting season, another significant thing happened. Owens developed a close friendship with teammate Todd Christensen. In fact, Owens now feels one of the main reasons he played pro football was so he and his wife could meet the Christensens.

It’s interesting to note how Christensen came to be with the Raiders. He was drafted by Dallas in the second round of the 1978 draft, but spent the season on the bench with a broken foot. The Cowboys cut him after the last exhibition game prior to the 1979 season. The New York Giants picked him up in time for its season opener against the Eagles, and he got into the game for exactly one play. The Giants cut him the next day. Christensen then had conversations with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia and Green Bay Packers before he was finally offered a tryout with the Raiders. Despite a less-than-stellar workout, he made the roster.

Owens knew Christensen and quarterback Marc Wilson both played at BYU and were Latter-day Saints, but he avoided the topic of religion because he still had a negative impression of the Mormons.

“We got to be very close friends. They didn’t hide the fact they were LDS … but I decided to not to ask him about his religion because I didn’t want to not like him. So we talked about everything else,” Owens said. “It was a good thing that we didn’t talk about religion for a few years because we had a chance to get close to them without any pressure. Win or lose, they (the Christensens) were consistent. We had good, wholesome fun when we got together.”

Finding the Lord

In the summer of 1982, Owens and his wife decided it was time “to find the Lord.” Burgess had grown up Baptist and Josie was a Catholic, but they hadn’t attended either church in years. They wanted to investigate and learn about other faiths.

“We had won a Super Bowl, I was starting (on the defense) and having success, and we were doing pretty well financially,” Owens said. “But there was still a void that needed to be filled. … We knew something else was out there that had some answers for us. We did a lot of searching but we didn’t come up with anything we felt good about.”

In November 1982, the Owenses were invited to Thanksgiving with the Christensens. The Mormon missionaries also happened to be there and although they didn’t discuss the church, Owens came away impressed by these two young men.

“I couldn’t believe these guys, 19-20 years old, and they have all this insight on life,” Owens said. “I’m 10 years older and wouldn’t have thought about some of those things at that age.”

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