By Bruce W. Biesenthal

It had all the makings of a fairy tale – except for the ending.

Trent Dilfer, after several under-appreciated seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had taken the reigns of the Baltimore Ravens offense and quarterbacked them through the second half of the 2000 season; through playoff victories over Denver, Tennessee and Oakland; and then capped it off with a win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

He was a hot commodity. He was young, and yet tested. He had been in four playoffs, a Pro Bowl, and had won a Super Bowl.
And he was a free agent.

The gravy train was sure to pull right up to his door.

It didn't.

It tooted its whistles a few times, blew its smoke in the air, and chugged right on past Trent Dilfer until it was a fading speck on the distant horizon.

Trent Dilfer, winning quarterback of Super Bowl XXXV, was without a job.

"The first month after the Super Bowl I had no doubt I would be back. I never really considered anything other than going back to Baltimore", Dilfer reflects. "Then reality began to set in. They (the Ravens) were going in another direction, and they never even made a phone call.

"There was shock, great disappointment, and, more than anything else, sadness."

The sadness wasn't because of the loss of job security, which is tenuous in the NFL at best. It was something else.

"Any time you achieve something great with a group of people – and we did – the flat out bottom line is in the football world we achieved the greatest feat you can achieve – there was great sadness on my wife's and my part that we wouldn't get to go back to be with those people again, that we wouldn't have the opportunity to share in the triumph for the year, and that we wouldn't have the opportunity to share in the challenge of trying to repeat."

Anger and bitterness were the opponents Trent faced in the off season. "When football's your career and so much of your life revolves around football, to suffer a setback like that really eats at the core of your life….I had very low times last off season."
And yet, Trent says he wouldn't trade that time and that experience for anything in the world. "It was such a spiritually rich time for my wife and me. It forced me to rely solely on God for everything in my life.

"I remember going through the playoffs. I remember praying, "Lord, I don't know if I can handle the success. I am not worried about failure. I am worried that if You allow this success in my life that I won't be able to handle it – that I'll not honor You with it – that I'll become proud and trust myself more than You.

"It's been hard all year talking about this. It's hard to communicate to the sports world in a way that makes sense. So many people can't comprehend what could possibly have been good about what I went through, but it really was a great time in my life.
"And I recognized that whenever I struggled, whenever I allowed anger and bitterness and fear to set in, it wasn't anything but a lack of intimacy in my relationship with God. Because any time I was on my knees, any time I was dependent upon God, I had great peace, I had great joy, I had great excitement about the next move. Whenever I had fear and resentment, it was a great barometer of my relationship with God. I know God more intimately now.

"People watched me go through what I went through, and they used words like ‘mentally tough, humble'…they thought they knew what it was. But it really was faith. I trust the sovereign God of the universe for every step my feet take."

Football has brought Dilfer more than fame, recognition and reward. It's also brought a sharpening to his life. It's honed him, not just physically, but spiritually.

"Football has taught me how to be a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better member of society – most importantly, it's taught me how to be more dependent upon God."

It's a control issue. Described by others as a control freak, incredibly intense, a die-hard competitor and a tough leader, Dilfer has learned to rely not upon himself and his will to make things happen, but to rely upon his faith in God.

"I've had to go directly against everything the world describes me as in order to grow closer to God, and football's been the only thing able to help me do that.

"I used to have to have my fingers in everything. Now I know that in order to experience the power of God in my life I've had to let go of all the things that mean the most. I had to say, ‘God, football is Yours – my children are Yours – this is all too big for me.
"It was then I experienced His power in my life."

Fast forward a year to Super Bowl XXXVI.

Trent Dilfer is at home, still young, even more tested and proven, and again a free agent.

There are those who say the gravy train will arrive for Dilfer this year. He had another good year. He won four more games. A closer look at his statistics shows him in a favorable light. Look at the last four years; take the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL, and despite the fact he has never had a huge season statistically, Dilfer fits quite comfortably in the middle of that group.

So what will next year bring? The big contract? A starting position? A shot at another Super Bowl? Recognition as a winner?

Trent has no idea – but he knows who does.

"God knows exactly where I'm going and exactly the best situation for me. And I'm content. I'm going to develop my talent and then let it go and let God do with it whatever He wills – whether I win another Super Bowl or sit as a backup.

"I really believe God has not even yet begun to do what He's going to do in my career – and when He does, He will get the honor."

Fairy tales have happy endings. But life is not a fairy tale.

It's a journey.

And Trent Dilfer trusts God for every step his feet take.