Melanie Few is a testimony to the fact that faith, perseverance and the right support system can bring even one’s wildest dreams to fruition.
The dynamic marketing professional had attended a few Super Bowl weekends with friends, when it occurred to her that there were no events that catered to a faith-based audience. Setting out to change that, Few came up with the idea to produce a Gospel event that would offer music and revelry, while providing a platform for NFL players of faith to fellowship and share their stories during Super Bowl Weekend. Few’s idea was rejected seven consecutive years before she finally received the green light. Now, 20 years later, The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration is one of Super Bowl weekend’s main attractions, and is televised nationally on BET.
The 20th Super Bowl Gospel Celebration taped in Atlanta – home of Super Bowl LIII and Few’s hometown – on January 31st. Hosted by national radio and TV personality Rickey Smiley and singer and TV personality Adrienne Bailon Houghton, the event features performances by Gospel superstar Kirk Franklin, who opened the show with his new song “Love Theory”, and an exquisite collaboration with The Winans and 6-time GRAMMY nominated vocalist Tamia, who performed “Tomorrow” and “It’s Time.” Other performers include Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Koryn Hawthorne and Lecrae.
The NFL Players Choir, first formed in 2008, also performed. This year’s choir was comprised of close to 45 retired and current NFL Players including Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Famer Tim Brown, two-time Super Bowl champion Tyrone Poole, former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Olrick Johnson, Jr., and Max Garcia of the Denver Broncos. Under the direction of the phenomenal Myron Butler, the choir performed foot-stomping renditions of “I’ll Make It” with GRAMMY Award winner Hezekiah Walker, and “Jesus Can Work It Out.”
Johnson, who also played for the NY Jets and the New England Patriots, has attended or participated in the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration for 18 of its 20 years. He says that seeing how far it has come is a beautiful thing. “I am so proud of Melanie and everyone it has taken to see this vision come to pass for 20 years,” he said, adding that the Atlanta has the largest chapter of the NFLPA so there was a strong showing from NFL athletes – “they were very active this year, from being a part of the choir to just being present throughout the entire show.”
Currently a singer/songwriter/actor residing in Atlanta, Johnson says that each year the event is like a big family reunion. “There is always a lot of love in the building,” says Johnson. “The artists are always awesome, and it is a chance for the athletes to bond together over our faith, and empower one another.”
“The blessing is to see a group of guys get together and say we are going to help keep each other accountable, we are going to pray for each other and help keep each other strong – and we are going to take this spiritual strength to the world and share it with them,” says Johnson. “It is also where we show that we are not just these big guys on the field trying to kill each other…but there is another side..We pray, we pray for our families, our families have prayed for us…we have a spiritual side as well.”
Another highpoint of The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration is the Faith in Action Award that honors a player for exceptional community impact and philanthropy. This year Denver Broncos linebacker, Super Bowl L MVP, and 2018 Pro Bowl Defensive MVP Von Miller received the award for the work he does with his organization Von’s Vision. The charitable foundation provides Denver children access to free eye exams, vision screenings and glasses. Miller also recently led a $200,000 donation effort by the Denver Broncos to the organization Shield616, an organization founded to “help protect first responders and citizens in active shooter situations.”
The #2 NFL draft pick in 2011, Miller is hailed as one of the best linebackers in the league. His service to others has resulted in him being named Community MVP by the NFL Players Association twice, including this past November. Before becoming Super Bowl MVP in 2016, Miller experienced some personal challenges that resulted in him being suspended for six games. After his Super Bowl win, he said “Two years ago I was in the dumps; God is good and here I am now.”
The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration airs February 2 at 8 p.m. EST/PST on BET.