In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

Even without a religion angle, this would be an incredible story.

I'm talking about ESPN's in-depth narrative on an NFL coach's long search for his birth parents.

"Absolutely amazing." "Unbelievable." "Just astounding." That's how various readers have described the piece.

Others have seen God at work in the outcome.

"Wow Just, wow," said one reader. "This story has all the feels. The God of Heaven watches over us all. No, that doesnt mean life is all roses & picnics. But His hand can be seen...for those who have 'eyes that they might see..'" 

"This ESPN story about @coachdmc finding his birth parents is absolutely worth the read," said another. "Someone recently said to me that God is doing more behind your back than in front of your face. This story says yes and amen to that."

Intrigued yet?

I'm doing my best not to give away any spoilers, in case you haven't read the story yet and would like to check it out before I offer a few hints.

Basic storyline: A young mother gives up her baby for adoption. The baby grows up to become a football player and later a coach. All the while, although he loves his adoptive mother, he searches for his birth parents. He eventually finds them — and it turns out he had known his birth father almost his entire life. 

But yes, faith makes various cameo appearances as the ESPN writer, Sarah Spain, allows the spiritual angle to unfold naturally.

Early in the story, the adoptive mother references God:

By March of that year, Jon Kenneth Briggs had been renamed Deland Scott McCullough, and he was living at home with his new parents, Adelle and A.C.
"We were still in love, a good couple," Comer says. "We went to church, partied, went to cookouts. We were working together and doing this together and wanting to make a home for our children. We knew that God's hand was in it. Deland came so fast to us. We knew that it was meant to be. Both of us."
But things changed quickly. Comer's father had a stroke, and though A.C. wanted to put him in a nursing home, Comer brought her dad to live with the family in Youngstown. Their marriage deteriorated, and when Deland was just 2 years old, A.C. moved out.
"They went through a lot of hurt and disappointment, but they took it," Comer says of her sons. "I said, 'God gives you an example of what to be and what not to be. You have to make the choice.' And that's all I had to say, and they got it."

And late in the story, the man who turns out to be the coach's birth father also mentions God:

Sometime in the weeks between that first phone call and the test results, Smith realized that he was hoping he was McCullough's father. That, in fact, he would be devastated if the results came back otherwise. When the test came in, it showed a 99.99 percent chance that Smith was, indeed, McCullough's father. Both were elated.
"I look at it, and I just say it's a God thing," Smith says. "It's grace. It's undeserved. And that's what's made it great for Deland and for all of us, how everyone has embraced this and is excited about our new family."

And God figures, too, close to the end:

"All I can say is, 'Are you serious?' Over and over again. 'Are you serious?'" Comer says of McCullough's journey leading to Smith. "It's just a miracle that his birth father's been in his life since he was 16, 17 years old. That's my son, and I want nothing but 100 percent best for him. He needed that, and God gave it to him, and it's in God's time."
Both Smith and Briggs are endlessly grateful to Comer for raising McCullough with the wisdom they didn't yet have.
"She did what I couldn't do," Briggs says of Comer. "She was an adult, she was married at the time, so you know she brought him into a family structure. That was what I wanted for him. I wanted him to have what I had, and she gave him that. She gave him all the tools that he needed in growing up to be the successful man that he is right now."

Kudos to ESPN for not shying away — as ESPN sometimes does — from the overt mentions of faith.

At the same time, I think ESPN left plenty of room for an enterprising religion writer to follow up and delve deeper into the spiritual sides of the various main characters.

Go for it, Godbeat friends!

In the meantime, enjoy the ESPN piece for what it is — a truly incredible, exceptionally well-told story.

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