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Nearly two decades after Super Bowl start, Aeneas Williams has found second passion as a pastor

Nearly two decades after Super Bowl start, Aeneas Williams has found second passion as a pastor

02/03/2019
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Story courtesy of USA Today

Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams was driving back to St. Louis in August 2014 when his phone started ringing. It was James Knowles III, the mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, and he was asking for Williams' help.

"I said, ‘Well, Mayor Knowles, why do you need my help?' " Williams recalled to USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. "And he said, 'I think (this) is going to be bad.'"

Earlier that day, police officer Darren Wilson had fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old man, in the suburb of St. Louis — an event that would spark riots in the city and protests around the country in the coming days and months.

Knowles didn't want Williams' help simply because he played in the NFL. He sought Williams because he was the pastor of The Spirit Church, which had recently started holding services in the community. 

"When everything happened, that’s when our congregation knew we were in the place we’re supposed to be," Williams said. "At the right time, for the right reason."

Seventeen years after he played in his only Super Bowl — recording eight tackles in the then-St. Louis Rams' 20-17 loss to the New England Patriots in February 2002 — Williams is thriving in his next career as a pastor outside St. Louis. In fact, as the two teams prepare to meet again in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, the 14-year NFL veteran and Pro Football Hall of Fame selection is now midway through his 12th year in ministry.

"I never think of (myself as) ‘Oh, I’m a former player," Williams said. "(My NFL career) is just a part of who I am, and it’s helped me become who I am, in terms of the journey I’m on."

Williams was a devout Christian throughout his playing career, regularly holding bible studies for teammates and their wives during the week before a game. A few years after retiring, he and his wife, Tracy, founded The Spirit Church in their basement in 2007, with a grand total of four people — their children — in attendance.

Today, he said, the church boasts a congregation of roughly 800 members, two services on Sunday and a permanent facility that sprawls across more than 44,000 square feet.

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