SAN DIEGO, JAN. 30 -- Twenty hours before the kickoff of Super Bowl XXII, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and Denver Broncos Coach Dan Reeves sat side-by-side and took turns speaking about God at a religious service attended by an estimated 1,200 at a local hotel tonight.
About a dozen Redskins players and at least four Broncos players were spotted in the crowd in the crystal-chandeliered Mission Bay ballroom at the Bahia Resort Hotel. The service, which resembled a pep rally more than a prayer meeting, was believed the first ever joining coaches and players from rival teams the night before a professional sporting event.
"I'm more excited about tonight than I am about tomorrow," Redskins cornerback Darrell Green exclaimed when he followed Gibbs to the stage to talk about his religious experiences. "I'm willing to lose friends, I'm willing to lose the game of football for the Lord. Jesus Christ is the man who laid down His life for a little 5-foot-8 midget like me."
When Green finished, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Charles Swindoll, a minister who was the service's featured speaker, said of Green, "You're not going to be in the ministry someday. You're there now."
Gibbs, who said he was born-again in 1972, told the audience that "the world's view of success . . . is such a falsehood."
"Making money, seeking pleasure, gaining fame. . . . Everybody is chasing those values," Gibbs said. "I'm here to tell you tonight that God has a different view of success. The world says, if you're a player, you've got to start and make the Pro Bowl, or if you're a coach, win and make money. God says that if you put Me first, everything else will be successful."
Reeves, who spoke first, said Gibbs came up with the idea for the joint service in a conversation six or seven weeks ago.
"It was an exciting idea Joe had," Reeves said. "I'm glad the Lord is using Joe and me in a very special way."
Denver guard Larry Lee, who also spoke, said he hopes the players "show the world through the rugged, tough world of football that the Lord is king and the Lord's Super Bowl is tomorrow."
While most of their teammates went out for dinner or stayed in their hotel rooms, Redskins Monte Coleman, Mel Kaufman, Keith Griffin, Charles Mann, Art Monk, Wally Kleine, Steve Gage, Ricky Sanders and Eric Yarber, among others, rode buses for the short drive from the team's hotel to the Bahia. Denver's contingent was smaller; only Stefan Humphries, Steve Sewell, Dennis Smith and Lee were seen. Both head coaches were flanked by their wives and some staff members.
The service, which was free and open to the public, included gospel music from The Winans and Candi Staton, well-known participants in religious services.
At least 10 television cameras recorded parts of the event. With the stage bathed in bright television lights, it was hard to tell the setting from one of the many news conferences held during Super Bowl week.
Bartender Larry Skillen served soft drinks at a cash bar on one side of the room. "No alcohol," he said. A Coca-Cola cost $1.25. Fans clad in orange or burgundy wandered in to sneak a look at Gibbs and Reeves. One man held a "Jesus Saves" placard and waved it when fans applauded the speakers.
Some seemed to be seriously interested in the religious messages they were hearing from the stage. Others had a different reason for coming.
"I don't have tickets to the game," said Larry Liptak, a 33-year-old electrician from San Diego. "This was the next best thing."
Paul Sanchez brought his two little children. All three were wearing Broncos sweatshirts.
"I'm here to see the players," said 8-year-old Michelle Sanchez.
No one forgot the Super Bowl was being played in less than a day.
"The Lord has a plan for me," Reeves said, smiling. "But I don't know what His plan is for me tomorrow."