Faith—not just football—is propelling Super Bowl quarterback to center stage

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—For all the San Francisco 49ers’ historical success, Joshua Pizarro is among those adult fans who have experienced more frustration than anything.

It’s a case of not-quite the right place in not-quite the right time. Joe Montana had led the 49ers to two Super Bowl wins in 1982 and ’85 before Pizarro was born. As a toddler, he wouldn’t remember The Drive that secured a third Super Bowl win in 1989.

As a six-year-old in January 1994, though, he was in front of the TV with his dad the night Steve Young and the Niners polished off the San Diego Chargers for San Francisco’s fifth championship.

“I remember it pretty vividly,” said Pizarro, now executive pastor at Calvary Baptist Church. “But we haven’t won one since (The 49ers made it but lost in 2013 and 2020.).

“Maybe this upcoming Super Bowl will be the chance for us to reset the timeline.”

Key to that chance is 24-year-old quarterback Brock Purdy, whose Christian testimony is getting as much attention as his tendency to win games.

Purdy was a four-year starter out of Iowa State in 2022 when San Francisco took him with the 262nd (and final) pick of the draft, a distinction that comes with the label Mr. Irrelevant because little is expected. Making the practice squad would be impressive. Making the team even more so.

A pre-draft scouting report from an NFL coach published by The Athletic called Purdy less-than-ideal in terms of size with unimpressive athleticism. He was very mature and experienced but was a “limited athlete” with “a maxed-out body.”

Pizarro remembers reading an article on Purdy prior to the 2022 season.

“He was going up to veteran players and saying that if he got his shot on the field, they were going to do something together. He’d make sure they got the ball,” said Pizarro.

It would be difficult to blame those players for thinking this was nothing more than an overconfident, but not cocky, rookie trying to earn his place at the table. Purdy’s shot would come, though.

A season-ending injury to starter Trey Lance in Week 2 placed backup Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Purdy came in for a few snaps in subsequent games but was thrust into full-time action in Week 13 against the Dolphins when Garoppolo injured his foot in the first quarter.

Purdy became the first Mr. Irrelevant to throw a touchdown pass in a regular season game in the 33-17 win. The next week he became the first quarterback in his first career start to beat a Tom Brady-led team as the 49ers throttled the Buccaneers 35-7.

“The way he closed out the Miami game after Jimmy G got hurt, his teammates started taking him seriously,” said Pizarro. “Everything you heard about him as a leader was true.

“People gravitate to him. He commands respect, but does it with a sense of humility.”

Purdy’s Christian faith received a lot of attention leading up to last year’s NFC Championship game against the Eagles.

“My identity is in Jesus,” he told Sports Spectrum’s Jason Romano in an August 2021 interview while at Iowa State. “It’s not, ‘I’m better than you.’ … I’m called to share the Word. I have this knowledge of the Spirit and I want to give it to as many people as I can.”

During last season, Purdy became the first 49ers rookie quarterback to start and win a playoff game. The following week’s win over Dallas made him the first rookie in the league to win his first two playoff games in 53 years.

Against the Eagles, though, Purdy tore his ulnar collateral ligament in the first quarter. He reentered in the third quarter when his backup left due to a concussion, but couldn’t throw any further than 10 yards and with no passing game, San Francisco lost 31-7.

During the offseason head coach Kyle Shanahan told Purdy he would be the 2023 starter … unless the team could talk Brady into playing his final season in San Francisco.

Brady grew up in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. The prospect was too good for 49ers brass to not pursue. And while Purdy is humble, he’s also a competitor.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the GOAT. I get it,” Purdy told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “But something deep down inside me was sort of like, ‘Dude, I just showed you that I can play well in this system. And we were one game away from the Super Bowl.’ … More than anything I was like, ‘OK, now let’s go.”

That confidence to trust God’s gifts and timing show in comments he made shortly into the current season.

“This is who God’s called me to be and I’ve believed that from Day 1,” he said. “I believe that Jesus Christ did come down and die for my sins and rose again. He’s living and sitting beside God on the throne, so I believe that. It’s not just some story, fairy-tale thing, it’s real.

“It allows me to stay level-headed and real with life and know what my purpose is, so that has allowed me to play my game, allowed me to play football at this level.”

Given the chance to reassess Purdy, the scout told The Athletic, “We undervalued his agility and probably the mental side,” adding that he felt Purdy would be worth a second- or third-round pick.

“I really believe that the gravitas he has shown as a leader reflects his character,” said Pizarro. He’s prepared for whatever God has in store for him, the way he kept believing during those low points like the injuries and being drafted last. He had to experience those for God to be magnified.

“It reflects his walk with Jesus, that he’s going to use this platform to magnify the One who has given him this opportunity.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Scott Barkley
National Correspondent
Scott Barkley
Baptist Press
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