For Denver Broncos kicker Jason Elam, the pen might be as mighty as the leg

January 12, 2008 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

Source: Fort Collins Now
Jason Elam is the kind of guy you can count on. He delivers. He’s clutch.

Ask any faithful football fan, any Broncos buff, and they’ll talk of game-winning kicks where Elam saved the day—how their heart raced and their sweaty hand gripped a can of Coors into a dented blob as they watched the football glide between the posts.

Just this season the kicker for the Denver Broncos made four last-minute, game-winning field goals. He’s generally considered one of the NFL’s all-time leading kickers.

But he’s no one-trick pony.

Truly, the oldest player on the Broncos is as much of a Renaissance man as you’ll find in the NFL. He’s a world traveler, a family man, a devote Christian working on his master’s degree in global apologetics, and a student of current events, Middle Eastern affairs and scripture. Oh, and he’s a three-time Pro Bowler with two Super Bowl wins under his belt.

Now, Elam is adding writer to his resume. He and his cohort in composition, Steve Yohn, recently came out with Monday Night Jihad, a Tom-Clancy-meets-Woody-Paige-at-seminary story that mixes football, terrorism and faith. Elam and Yohn’s Christian protagonist Riley Covington is a professional linebacker for the fictitious Colorado Mustangs and a former Air Force Special Ops officer who is soon faced with terrorism on the home field and must return to his military mindset.

“What we try to do through the protagonist is put him in tough situations, circumstances that are not necessarily right or wrong, just tough,” Elam said. “He’s trying to live the Christian life but with his job in professional football and his former job, it’s difficult to do that.”

For years, Elam’s brother had hoped the longtime Bronco would pen a book about his years in the NFL. But it wasn’t until the kicker was inspired to mix his anecdotes of life in professional football with a fast-paced thriller with serious religious overtones, that Jihad came to be.

“Two years ago, I thought, ‘If I could include those stories into a storyline about something I am more passionate about like faith and current events, radical Islam or the military, that would be something,’” Elam said. “I had the whole synopsis in 10 minutes”

He pitched the idea to a literary agent, who loved it. But when it came to writing the book, Elam wasn’t ready to make his literary debut alone. His schedule was jam-packed with a family of four kids and football—so they looked for some sort of ghostwriter.

“I was thinking I could never write a novel, but I just didn’t want to hand it over to someone and say, ‘Here’s your book.’ I knew where I wanted to go. I knew how I wanted the characters to develop. I knew I wanted to be involved and I wanted to do some writing,” he said.

So, Elam talked his pastor, Yohn, into helping him write the novel.

They submitted the first several chapters to the agent and then several more, and then the book was complete and ready for the masses.

Elam expected from the beginning to hear criticism, but so far Monday Night Jihad has been well received.

Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy called the book “not only interesting, but very thought provoking.” And best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg said Jihad was “a chilling ride through a nightmare scenario” and “a provocative first novel.”

“As far as writing, the hardest thing was that you are exposing yourself, your thoughts and ideas and putting them all on paper,” he said. “You think, ‘People are just gonna think I’m a terrible writer.’ You have to put your thick skin on. But I don’t think we’ve had one bad review. We are very pleased.”

From the beginning, Elam set out to create an exciting thriller with characters who make the reader think about faith and extremism.

“My whole goal was to write an entertaining story that especially contrasted the radical side of Islam with more moderate Islam with Christianity,” Elam said. “Through the different characters, I think we have done that.”

Elam says Jihad is not about demonizing other faiths or even the radical Muslim, who is the bad guy. He and Yohn set out to tell the “why”: how the character got to this place in his life, what events in his past made him go to the extremes of the Islamic faith. They worked hard, Elam said, to humanize the antagonist.

Elam hopes that a Christian and Muslim can look at the characters and say, “Yeah, that’s what my faith is about.” He hopes that if a radical Muslim were to read Jihad, he or she would also say, “That’s where I’m coming from.”

“We let people read the advance copy and most of them said that they really like (the radical Islamic character),” Elam said. “I thought that was really interesting. They would say, ‘I wanted to dislike him, but I really like him.’ My hope is that it will make people think, to provoke some dialogue.”

Elam, with 15 years in the NFL, infused his football anecdotes and day-to-day life into the book. He based his protagonist on Chad Hennings, Steve Russ and Chris Gizzi, all professional players who served in the military.

As for researching the military and terrorism pieces of the story, Elam contacted friends and family to fact check. Yohn joked that whenever they needed help with something, Elam always “had a buddy.” He had a Special Ops buddy give them declassified battle scenes from Afghanistan. He also had buddies in the Secret Service, Denver Bomb Squad and Denver Police’s homicide division.

“I went to the Denver Bomb Squad and laid out the scenario and said, ‘Could this happen?’ And they looked at it and said, ‘It could but I hope it never does—because we don’t know who would defend against it,’” he said.

The kicker has also spent years traveling overseas and into the Middle East doing ministry work; this too has inspired his passion for Middle Eastern affairs. On one trip to Gaza, Elam found himself in “a full-blown battle” with men running around in masks firing AK-47s.

It’s a perspective and a culture that has since fascinated him and that he hoped to honestly explore in the book. It will also likely become a part of the sequel; Elam and Yohn are already working on Monday Night Jihad’s follow-up.

While Jihad’s unique cocktail of football, terrorism and faith has thus far inspired complementary reviews from critics, for Elam it was the support of his teammates that meant the most.

“I brought five copies into the locker room and they were all gone by the end of the day,” Elam said. “In a lot of ways, they were the toughest critics—because a lot of the things that happen in the book, they go through that stuff. They’ve had a lot of those experiences. And a lot of them were like year, ‘I remember when that happened.’ I’ve gotten nothing but support from the guys.”

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