Chris Reis: A Pastor Amongst Saints

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Chris Reis

63 seconds may not seem like a long time. You certainly couldn’t walk around the block that quickly. You can’t brush your teeth in that short amount of time, or at least you shouldn’t. That may even be more time than it takes you to bring in the trash cans from the curb after pickup. While 63 seconds can go by in a flash for most, as the recipient of the “Ambush” onside kick of Super Bowl XLIV, former New Orleans Saints safety and special teamer Chris Reis knows that duration of time can feel like an eternity. In just over a minute, a combination of his natural ability, work ethic, instincts, and faith were all tested in the gutsiest play in Super Bowl history. Reis passed.

An Exclusive Interview With Chris Reis, One of the Heroes of Super Bowl XLIV

Before we jump right into the most memorable moment of Chris Reis’ NFL career, we need to understand the road that got him there. For Reis, success in sports started early. The Georgia native began demonstrating his athleticism on the baseball diamond.

“When I was seven, I was terrible,” Reis recalled. “I think I hit one foul ball the whole year. I just could not hit the ball. I couldn’t throw. I was just awkward. Then, all of the sudden, one year later at eight, I go in there and I’m just crushing home runs left and right. I still hold the record for the rec league I played at for most home runs in a season by an eight-year-old.”

By the time he hit the eighth grade, Reis hit a growth spurt and reached his current height of 6’1″. Along with that added height came the speed that really set him apart from his peers.

Honing all that raw talent was a series of mentors and coaches that worried as much about Chris Reis, the kid as Chris Reis, the athlete.

“I’ve been blessed with coaches that have really looked out for my well being, physically, emotionally and spiritually and I really appreciated that,” Reis explained. “When I was younger, I had a coach that invested in my brother as well as me. His name was Dennis Blackstone. Just a local coach that’s one of my mom’s friends that really poured into me, he helped develop me and really took a liking to me and my family. I’ve had coaches all the way from high school that have really poured into me on a lot of different levels.”

Considering that Reis never really had any idols that he looked up to in the NFL, these coaches and mentor really helped shape the man he was becoming, both on and off the field.

Was It Always Defense?

Reis spent most of his earlier football days on the offensive side of the ball, primarily at wide receiver.

“Honestly, defense really didn’t become big until probably college,” he noted. “I did well in high school when it came to wide receiver. I played a little quarterback, a little running back but I was a wide receiver. I still hold all the records at my high school for receiving.”

But somewhere between Roswell High School and Georgia Tech, both he and his coaches had a modified plan for Reis.

“Now, one of the big things I loved to do was hit,” Reis emphasized. “I wanted to be the hammer and not the nail. For me, that kind of led me over to the defensive side of the ball, my aggressiveness. I wasn’t super-fast but I had good hands and could run pretty good routes. But when college coaches see that I’m not that tall and I’m a white guy with average speed, they’re thinking, ‘Okay, maybe defensive side because of your aggression.’”

Beginning His NFL Career

Despite collecting a host of accolades on the college level, Reis went undrafted in 2006.

“The Falcons called and that was great,” he said. “It was my hometown. I grew up in Atlanta, GA. I went to Georgia Tech. So, it was a natural fit for me to go over there and to be an Atlanta Falcon at that time period. It really made sense. It really worked out starting my career there and it was just a good opportunity. I didn’t know how long I would play.”

After signing with Atlanta and playing in three preseason games as a Falcon, Reis recalled the unsettling news he received.

“I got cut the first cut after the third preseason game by the Falcons,” Reis stated. “I mean, I was cut early and I thought, ‘My career is over.’”

It was tough news to hear, but Reis wouldn’t have to wait long for opportunity to come knocking again.

Reis explained the transition from Falcon to Saint.

“The Saints called me at the end of 2006 when they’re making their run in the NFC Championship against the Bears,” he noted. “I think they lost in Chicago that year. And they said, ‘Hey, we want to pick you up and send you over to NFL Europe for a year’. So, I was over there and thought it was a great opportunity. I had just got married and went over there with my wife and spent three months. A lot of people don’t know, but I played some amazing football, probably some of my best football I ever played. I made the All-World team, the last All-World team for NFL Europe. It was a lot of fun and gave me a lot of confidence. The Saints were really impressed.”

Ambush

Reis would end up playing four seasons with the Saints, his final season with the team shortened due to a shoulder injury. While in New Orleans, Reis’ role was primarily in special teams and the secondary. It goes without saying that his most memorable moment for Saints fans came in Super Bowl XLIV. Coming out of the locker room down 10-6 to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Sean Payton made the call, “We’re gonna start this half kicking off, alright? Ambush! Let’s go get this game.”

So what was the news like for Chris Reis?

“Coach Payton has earned the trust that he can make the calls and we were confident in his call as our commander in chief,” Reid emphasized. “I think it’s one of those things where when you’re in the heat of the moment where I don’t think anyone questions the judgment of your leader because if you do, it’s not going to turn out well. The call is already made. We might as well just run it. I don’t remember being nervous. I was just nervous I was going to give it away. I didn’t want to give away the surprise because I wasn’t supposed to be part of the play. I was just a backup guy in case the ball popped out or if one of the Colts guys picked it up, I would have tackled him from running in, maybe saving the play there. I just wasn’t supposed to be a part of that play. It was all on Roman and those guys over on that side.”

After all, why be nervous. When asked how many times the ball found its way to him during the practicing of this play, Reis replied, “Never. It’s practice though. It goes perfectly. Let’s be honest. You draw up the play and it goes that way. I love Gregg Williams would say, ‘It’s got nothing to do with X’s and O’s.’, and he said that to me after the recovery.”

And so, the most grueling 63 seconds in Saints fans lives did end up well as Reis made that recovery and the Saints would go on to win their first-ever Super Bowl. Reis’ recovery of that onside kick was undoubtedly the turning point of the game and a moment that will be relived in Saints and NFL history forever. That recovered football was immediately sent to the NFL Hall of Fame and has been there ever since.

Party With the Lombardi

As a Super Bowl champion, there are many experiences that come it. Whether it’s kissing the Lombardi Trophy, standing under the confetti or meeting the president, there are an incredible amount of once-in-a-lifetime moments that get rolled into that victory. For Reis, there was one thing that stood out from the rest though.

“What stood out to me the most was our parade, our championship parade or what we called our Lombardi-gras parade,” he said. “It was just way more than I expected.”

Reis would go on to recall his days as a child attending the Atlanta Braves championship parade and stated how different this was.

“For me, I thought we’d spend a couple hours, roll through on these floats and wave to everybody,” Reis recalled. “Well, what was supposed to take two hours took six hours to get through. And the reason it took so long is that people were climbing all over our floats. People were going nuts. A lot of times at Mardi Gras, they measure attendance by how deep the crowds are, typically two or three or four people deep. Well, they measured ours at six to eight to ten people deep. They said they had never seen something like this before. The whole town shut down. The floats were parked and shut down for a while so some guys hopped off and got some food. We were hungry. We weren’t expecting to be there for six hours. We were signing autographs, people were crying and saying thank you. It was an unbelievable time with my teammates and with the city that we absolutely loved and fans that were absolutely amazing. It was such a great time. I will never forget that parade. It’ll never be duplicated. Even if they win again, it won’t be the same as that first one, especially following Katrina.”

You could hear the joy in Reis’ voice as he recalled those memories.

The Ring and the Team

Like anything nostalgic, a Super Bowl ring is much more valuable than the gold and diamonds of which it’s composed.

“When people look at it, they see all the diamonds and how big it is,” he described. “The thing is huge and heavy. It’s actually real gold. But to me, what it represents is the camaraderie, the family that we build there, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it. What stands behind that is I remember praying for Tracy Porter when we were playing the Rams and we thought he blew out his knee. All of the defensive backs got together after the game and prayed for him. We loved each other as a family. Those are the things that you just don’t forget; that people don’t know about or care about, but those are the things that that ring represents. If it got lost or stolen, I have insurance. I can replace it. But the memories can’t be replaced.”

Reis would go on to speak about his teammates and the camaraderie they had with each other. Reis spoke of their current relationships.

“We all keep in touch,” he emphasized. “A lot of us went back to the playoff game in New Orleans this past season and they wanted to honor the Super Bowl team. When we got back together, it’s like we picked up where we left off. It’s like it never changed. You know you have friends and family there when you can pick up where you left off with them. Most of these guys aren’t playing anymore. Now they’re fathers and business owners and they have so much going on and it’s great to see.”

The Best He Ever Played Against

When asked if he was ever in awe of anyone who ever lined up against him, Reis’ answer was simple.

“I don’t know if I get star-struck like that,” he noted. “I’m not saying that in a prideful or boastful way. I don’t get star struck, especially in competition settings. I want to beat that guy. I’m going to outwork you, out-hustle you and do the little things to beat you.”

The conversation then shifted to speak about who the best he ever played against. Reis didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“I can easily answer that because I played with him in college and that’s Calvin Johnson, Megatron,” Reis emphasized. “The guy is a freak of nature. I don’t know how you can be 6’4” and have a vertical of 46” or 47”. It’s crazy to me. You can’t defend that. I was a junior at Georgia Tech when he came in as a freshman. They said he made some crazy catches in the NFL. Man, he did that every day in practice. We already knew it. He really was a freak of nature. He’s the nicest guy with crazy work ethic.”

Reis went on to mention the rarity of a player with that skill level, size and work ethic and what a privilege and nightmare it was to play against him.

A Cornerstone of Faith

Chris Reis, despite all of the accomplishments on the field and scholastically (Reis was on the ACC All-Academic Team in 2003, 2004 and 2005), never struggled to stay grounded. While an insatiable hunger to be better than his peers plays into it, Reis’ faith has kept him humble.

“My faith keeps me grounded,” Reis said. “God reminds me every day that He sent His son to die for me and if I stay close to God, He is going to humble me. The Bible says, ‘Those who are humble will be exalted.'”

Faith has always been a cornerstone of Reis’ development as a man, as a player and now, as a pastor. And Reis believes God had a hand in that famous ‘Ambush’ play as well.

“I fell on a football and I would have been a footnote in the NFL had this not happened,” Reis stated. “I’m so blessed and so fortunate to have this happen. At the end of the day. I know I did my best and a lot of things had to go right for that to happen and God’s hand was all over that.”

While it was obvious in the Saints locker room that Reis was a man of faith, he didn’t view himself having any sort of designated leadership in that department.

“I never wanted to be a guy that was a Bible thumper saying, ‘Do you know Jesus’ or anything,” Reis mentioned.

Without trying, his demeanor stood out, especially in a locker room setting. Especially when you consider how he worked with new arrivals.

“And there were times that I would help guys where people wouldn’t necessarily help guys,” Reis recalled. “This guy is trying to steal my position, but I didn’t care. I wanted to help him. I’m not worried about my position. I’m not worried about that stuff because I know at the end of the day, if I’m supposed to be here, I’ll be here. If I’m not, I’m not. But I’m going to help this guy because there’s something more at stake than my job.”

He then added, “For rookies coming in and veterans coming in that didn’t know anyone, I wanted to be the first guy they would meet. I wanted to be like, ‘Hey, can I serve you? Can I help you with anything?’ That alone would just shock them, that I would want to do that.”

After the NFL

So, considering the current climate of football and the growing concerns of sports-related injuries, would Reis support any of his four children playing football.

“I would,” he emphasized. “People ask me that more often than you think. I’m okay with it. I think it’s because I know the benefits of football. But I also know the risks. I know I’m going to teach them the right way to hit.”

Reis then added, “Now, let me just say this. What age would I start them at? I’m not 100 percent sure. I don’t see a ton of value starting them out when they’re super young playing contact football. I just don’t see the benefits of it.”

Reis also mentioned how great the efforts of a former teammate have been to creating a less risky option for kids by stating, “I love what Drew Brees is doing with flag football in America. I think it’s awesome what they’re doing with flag football. They’re learning skills that they would never learn anywhere else. They’re learning the fundamentals and they’re learning plays without the contact necessarily.”

As previously mentioned, Chris Reis is now a pastor at Our Savior’s Church of Lafayette. He is married and has four children now. He and his wife were expecting their fifth when the unthinkable happened and they lost the baby. As a devastated father, trying to help a grieving wife and explain the loss to his four children would prove to be an incredibly tough task. Reis, consistent with so many other times in his life, turned to his faith.

“I don’t know how people make it without God in their life, without having purpose and drive,” Reis gently offered. “The great part about things like that is that it drives us closer to God.”

To hear this moving story directly from Reis, watch the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAlHAb_OeUM

Chris Reis, years removed from an NFL field, continues to be a source of inspiration. Despite being cut by the Falcons prior to seeing a regular season game, despite walking away from the game after a shoulder injury in his fourth season and despite the unthinkable loss of his unborn fifth child, Reis continues to move forward in faith, 63-seconds at a time.

Embed from Getty Images

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