As memories go, being part of an NFL team that won the Super Bowl is hard to beat.
But for Marcus D. Johnson, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, what happened in Charlotte this season is also a contender for topping his list.
No, it wasn't the Eagles' defeat of the Panthers on a Thursday night last October, though Johnson did contribute to his team's 28-23 victory at Bank of America Stadium by catching a pass during the game.
The big moment for Johnson, a committed Christian, came the night before, Oct. 11, when he was baptized in a pool at a Charlotte hotel.
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Many of his teammates – including Eagles quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles – lined up to support him, their heads bowed, as the Rev. Kyle Horner prayed over Johnson in the pool.
“Charlotte will always have a special place in my heart,” Johnson, 23, told the Observer Wednesday. “Oct. 11 was a major step not only in my life on earth, but my life in eternity.”
In just his second year with the Eagles, Johnson didn’t get to play in any of the team’s post-season games. He watched from the sidelines last Sunday in Minneapolis as his underdog team whipped the storied New England Patriots and their legendary quarterback, Tom Brady.
But Johnson became a sort of spiritual MVP for many Christians around the country after his tweet celebrating his baptism went viral.
“First time being Baptized!” Johnson wrote. “Corporate Worship is a beautiful thing!! Cleansed & Reborn in JESUS name!!”
He also tweeted a photo of himself in the pool with Horner, his pastor at nondenominational Connect Church back in Cherry Hill, N.J., and the 13 or so other Eagles standing at the water’s edge.
Johnson also added #WholeHeartedly.
CBS Sports, Fox News, CNN, NBC and other media picked up Johnson’s tweet, and it spread to Facebook and other social media. Religion sites, including the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, also shared the news and the photo. All told, Johnson estimated that more than a million people have seen his jubilant tweet.
“I honestly had no idea it would go viral,” Johnson said. “That was nobody but the Good Lord’s doing that it did ... and that so many people were affected in a positive way.”
Johnson said he’s heard from more than a few of those people.
“I had so many people reach out to me and just be like, ‘Man, I loved that you took the steps that you have in your life and it inspired me.’ And other people talked about ... wanting to be accountable and take that next step in their lives.”
The baptism in Charlotte wasn’t planned, though Johnson had told Pastor Horner in January 2017 that he wanted to be baptized when they could find the time.
"It's crazy how God's timing works. Growing up, I always wanted to (be baptized). But my faith wasn't anywhere near as strong as it is now," Johnson said. "God just knew that my heart was in the right place (last year). And he allowed it to happen with a great group of men."
Last October, just after the Eagles arrived in Charlotte for the game with the Panthers, Pastor Horner “called me out of the blue,” Johnson said. “He told me, ‘Hey, I’m coming to the game. Would you want to be baptized at the hotel?’ I was like ‘Of course. Absolutely.’ ”
The next day, the Eagles won, though Johnson has this compliment for the Panthers. “They’re legit,” he said. “They’re a contender every year.”
The Eagles, whose hometown fans feted their NFL champs with a parade on Thursday, have been noted not only for their top play on the field, but also for the Christian faith of several players, including the two quarterbacks, and head coach Doug Pederson.
After Sunday’s Super Bowl win, Foles acknowledged God in his post-game TV interview. “Unbelievable,” he said. “All glory to God.”
Coach Pederson told the national TV audience that “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.”
Late last year, according to various reports, five of Johnson’s teammates – linebackers Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and wide receivers Paul Turner and David Watford – were baptized in the Eagles’ recovery pool.
Johnson, who grew up a Baptist near Houston and played football for the University of Texas Longhorns, said it’s been helpful for his faith to have such a “support system” in these and other Christian teammates. He said they keep each other accountable by, for example, checking in when one of them misses church.
“They want you to grow,” he said. “And the faith we share helps us be brothers.”
Jourdan Rodrigue contributed.