“I don’t go around preaching in the locker room. But I try to live a certain way, and maybe that will have some kind of effect. I think God has allowed me to have an impact on a few people’s lives”
During his time at the University of Tennessee, White earned the name “Minister of Defense,” as a nod to his religious affiliation and his dominating presence on the defensive line. After graduating from Tennessee in 1984, White started his football career in the United States Football League (USFL) signing a five-year, $4 million contract. His tenure in the USFL was short lived as the league was beaten out by the National Football League (NFL). After a few games into the 1985 USFL season, he defected to the Philadelphia Eagles. They signed him to a meager $1.85 million four-year deal which was a larger cut in salary since Philadelphia had to buy out the remaining 3 years on his Memphis contract. Earlier that year, White met his wife, Sara, in church and they married on January 5, 1985. They went on to have two children, Jeremy and Jecolia. They then moved to Philadelphia, where White began his NFL career.
“God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry its weight.”
By the end of his first season with the Eagles he accumulated 13 sacks in just 13 games, and was named NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. In White’s second season he did even better making 18 sacks in 16 games and was named Most Valuable Player in the Pro Bowl that year where he sacked the quarterback four times. Then in 1987, he led the league with 21 sacks which was a then NFC-record but has since been topped by the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan with 22. He was also named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That season was cut short by a players’ strike that ended it at just 12 games. If they were to have played out a full season, White could have very well broken the all-time sack record.
“Winning the Super Bowl was a great day in my life, but that day in Jerusalem (reading the ancient Hebrew version of Matthew) was, without a doubt, the greatest day of my life!”
In 1988, White led the NFL in sacks for the second straight year. In 1989, White signed a four-year contract extension for $6.1 million, making him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. Although he struck such a great deal, the hostility between White and owner Norman Braman began to grow. In 1992, White became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL ownership in favor of increasing the powers of free agency. Born of the lawsuit came the concept of unrestricted free agents in 1993, and that year, White became one of the most sought after unrestricted free agents since his contract with the Eagles had expired. He was not tendered another offer in Philadelphia, and after recording 124 sacks over eight seasons there, becoming the Eagles’ all-time sack leader, he signed with the Green Bay Packers for a generous $17 million over four years. White again became the highest paid defender in the NFL and showed what the new unrestricted free agency could offer.
White carried on his reign in Green Bay, continuing to be selected to the Pro Bowl year after year through 1998. His 13 year consecutive run to the Pro Bowl became an NFL record. He helped turn the Packers’ defense around by taking their defensive rank from 23rd in 1992 all the way to 2nd after the 1993 season. White was a cornerstone and the foundation of this Packers team, revitalizing the franchise and leading it to a 1996 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. There in Super Bowl XXXI, he recorded a record three sacks against the quarterback. White gained the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for the second time in 1998, and thereafter retired from Green Bay in 1999. During his time with Green Bay, he recorded another 68.5 sacks. Green Bay retired his jersey number (92) that year and Philadelphia did the same. After returning to his ministry duties for a year, in 2000, White signed with the Carolina Panthers for $1 million which would be his last NFL season. After a 15 season career, White became second all-time with 198 recorded sacks and was voted to the NFL All-time Team in 2000. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s, the 75th Anniversary Team, and was voted first-team All-Pro 10 times in his 15 years in the NFL.
“When you teach Jesus to others, they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
White went on to continue his other career as a Baptist minister with his wife, Sara. He was devoted to his life’s calling as a minister throughout his football career and carried those same values onto the playing field. He was never found swearing or getting angry with his teammates. White had spent many hours preaching on the street corners in Philadelphia and gave money to dozens of Christian outreach organizations. He spoke as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and impacted the lives of many young people. He and his wife built Hope Place, a shelter for unwed mothers, on property near their home in Tennessee. They were also the founders of the Alpha and Omega Ministry to sponsor a community development bank in Knoxville.
On December 26th, 2004, Reggie White suffered from a fatal cardiac arrhythmia at his home in Cornelius, North Carolina. In 2006, he was inducted on the first ballot to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.