They’re big. They grunt. They’re down in the dirt. From a distance, they’re virtually indistinguishable from one another, save for the numbers on their jerseys – like a team of horses, all pulling in the same direction, whose differences are obvious only to their driver. And, when they’re at their most effective – they’re anonymous.
    They are the offensive line – _ ton of football players wrapped in helmets, pads, cleats, braces and occasional casts – speaking a language known only to their own kind – gifted with bulk and brains.
    Adam Timmerman of the St. Louis Rams describes the kind of person it takes to play on the line. “Most guys that play on the offensive line are a particular breed. We’re not looking for glory. We’re not recognized, and most of us don’t care.”
    Taking the acceptance of anonymity even further is Kevin Mawae, All-Pro center with the New York Jets. “I relish the fact nobody knows who you are.”
    In fact, the more anonymous they are, they happier they are. Offensive lineman don’t like having their name or number called while on the field. That usually means something negative – like a penalty for holding or a false start.
    Yet, for all their anonymity, the offensive line is the foundation of the team. Ask coaches which position is most critical for the success of a football team, and, while all recognize the importance of the quarterback, many nonetheless point to the offensive line as the starting point for creating a winning team. And for all their humility, offensive linemen know their importance. “The line sets the tempo for the whole team”, says Mawae.
    That’s how they think – in terms of their impact on the team. They don’t think of themselves as individual players. They think of themselves as a group – as a group within a group. They play as a unit, as a line, and measure their success in terms of the success of the team itself. They know that the team is more important their individual games.
    “If the running back gets 100 yards, or has a 1000 yard season, and the quarterback doesn’t get sacked, that’s when the offensive line knows it’s done its job,” says Scott Gragg of the San Francisco 49’ers.
    Timmerman says, “The satisfaction comes when we score a touchdown, and I did my part to keep the quarterback from being sacked, or helped create the hole for the running back. It’s all about how the team does.”
    “I love being part of the team,” says Detroit Lion Eric Beverly. “I love the camaraderie that comes from working together toward a goal.” Toward a goal-line, actually.
    Unlike the so-called “skill” positions, like running back and wide receiver, the offense line is as dependent on technique as skill. In fact, according to Mawae, success is “more technique than anything else.”
    Actually, it’s technique combined with experience and the ability to communicate with linemates in an effective manner. Rare are the linemen who explode into the league and have immediate success as rookies. There have been a few – Willie Roaf and Orlando Pace come to mind.
    Most have to grow into the position – not in terms of bulk, but in terms of technique and maturity.
    Grant Williams, who played superbly in Super Bowl XXXVI as a member of the New England Patriots, and is now on the Rams, credits his playing longevity to experience. “What’s kept me in the league 8 years is the mental aspect. After a while, you learn to make good decisions in a split second.”
    It takes a few years just to learn to communicate. Not only are there complex blocking schemes that are determined at the line of scrimmage, but those assignments must be communicated in ways that don’t alert the opponents across the line. “You play a team in your same division so many times they learn your language”, says Gragg. “The longer you can play together as a unit, the more you can communicate with just a word or two, and sometimes without even saying anything.”
    “Communication is the biggest issue,” says Williams. “It’s huge. There has to be a cohesiveness across the line.”
    Five lineman – Eric Beverly, Scott Gragg, Kevin Mawae, Adam Timmerman and Grant Williams. They have so much in common. They’re big. They’re experienced. They’ve learned the game. They love the game. They measure their success in terms of the team.
    There’s another way in which they are similar. For all of them, there is something bigger than football. All of them point to their relationship with God as the most important aspect of their life. All of them attest to the fact that the one thing they needed most was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
    They’ve all had success. Playing in the NFL is a dream that most never realize. They’ve reached the pinnacle. Between them they’ve received honors, awards, accolades and played on the biggest stage of all.
    And yet all of them would say that life is larger than football, and all the awards and recognition they’ve received take a back seat to their faith.
    Football teams are judged by their record. Win a lot of games, and you’re deemed a success. Lost a lot of games, and the tag of failure follows you around. Fans can be fickle. They can dish out adulation and accusation in equal amounts.
    Beverly, Gragg, Mawae, Timmerman and Williams have learned not to measure their lives by their success on the football field. They have learned to trust in God, who they believe loves them and cares for them through all the ups and downs, and through all the victories and losses. All of them believe wholeheartedly in the words of the book of Romans, which Scott Gragg claims as his favorite passage: “If God is for us, who can be against us…We are already more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31,39)
    They have so much in common. Their size. Their position. Their approach.
    And…their faith.