ATLANTA - Retired Dallas Cowboys safety Dextor Clinkscale gets a chance each year to re-experience the camaraderie of playing in the NFL when the Super Bowl Gospel Choir convenes to perform in the city hosting the league’s marquee game.
The choir provides about 60 players — mostly retired and a couple of current ones — a different type of team atmosphere, one that combines a love of gospel music and pro football.
During rehearsal at the annual reunion, this time for Thursday night’s performance in the 20th Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Atlanta Symphony Hall, Clinkscale said he felt his spirit being rekindled in the same way it does each year.
“It is part of the electricity and … the power of it,” Clinkscale said Wednesday evening. “It moves through everything, and I think that’s a big reason why so many of the guys come. You see some guys that you didn’t even realize were on a roster, but the spirit of the Lord brings us together, and it just happens.”
Max Garcia, a Denver offensive lineman, and New Orleans receiver Austin Carr are two active players in the choir. Former stars such as Tim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Matt Forte and current stars Larry Fitzgerald and Russell Wilson are listed as presenters or honorees.
Carr grew up singing in the church and got the itch to perform after visiting Broadway in high school. He started acting, playing piano and taking vocal training. He performed with the Super Bowl choir last year, but is not this year.
He said he joined the choir because “I love to sing. I love God. It was just this opportunity to get involved.”
The NFL-sanctioned choir will perform two songs at the sold-out event that’s being televised on BET Saturday. The event also will feature performances by Kirk Franklin, Koryn Hawthorne, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and The Winans.
For Orlick Johnson, a former linebacker who played parts of two seasons and ended his career in 2000, the choir is a means for players to minister to each other.
“This career can be over in three years, sometimes less,” Johnson said. “Can you make a lot of money in three years? Of course you can. Can you be a millionaire in three years? Of course you can, but can you make that money and lose it all? Yes, you can.
“And can you make a lot of money and destroy your life? Yes, you can, but we want to that guiding light for each other and we always can learn something from each other.”
Longtime choir director Myron Butler, a gospel star who’s recorded five albums with Motown, said anyone with NFL experience is welcome.
“Just to have played in the NFL,” Butler said is all the qualification a player needs “and I do the rest.”
The group will perform “I’ll Make It,” with songwriter Hezekiah Walker, and “Jesus Can Work It Out,” written by Dr. Charles Hayes and the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer.
“You want something that’s high energy,” Butler said. “You want something that displays their ability and you want something they can have fun with. I try to find music to accomplish those goals.”
The Broncos’ Garcia, who is performing this year, found out about the choir from a teammate and was put in touch with Johnson.
It was an easy decision for the 193-cm, 140-kg guard, who writes poetry, sings his own songs and performs karaoke nearly every Monday night in Denver. He has deep Christian faith and a love for the arts.
“You get to express yourself,” Garcia said. “I like to dance, sing, I like to draw. Any way I express what I’m feeling inside I think it’s necessary. I think it’s healthy, especially what’s going on with our mental health issue in America. I think it’s important for someone to find an outlet they enjoy doing. Singing is definitely one of mine.”
Johnson will never forgot how veteran players helped him adjust to the NFL by keeping their faith first.
“Either the first or second year, I was part of an organization called CAUSE — Christian athletes used for spiritual empowerment,” the former linebacker said. “That was started with Reggie White and Cris Carter and Randall Cunningham. Those guys, my rookie year, they just took me in as a Christian. They showed me the ropes and let me know I wasn’t alone.”
He still isn’t.
As Johnson headed back to rehearsal, he had some new friends to meet.
“It’s about that revolving door,” he said. “There are always different cities, there are always different people. There’s always people that can’t make it. Life happens, but we want a revolving door of encouraging people.”