Faith and Character Motivate CCA’s Reichenbach
For five of his six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, linebacker Mike Reichenbach played alongside the “Minister of Defense,” Reggie White.
White’s name surfaces quickly in the debate of “greatest defensive lineman to have ever played the game.” And few players matched White’s zeal for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the time, Reichenbach the player was not terribly interested in hearing White’s evangelical message. Reichenbach was interested in helping White stop other offenses, which he did quite successfully.
An undrafted rookie out of East Stroudsburg via Liberty High School, Reichenbach latched on with the Eagles in 1984. As a local kid from Bethlehem, Reichenbach “played with abandon, which endeared him to fans,” wrote Don Beideman in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It was easy to see why and how the inside backer played with such abandon. “I would work out three times a day. I’d go to the track and run 220s, and 440s and 880s until I was ready to throw up and then run five more,” Reichenbach told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Big Game Breakfast in Yardley on January 30th. “I’d push through that barrier then go to the gym later in the day- three hours in the gym- and at night and I’d go back to the track and do stadium steps, ball drills, all kinds of things.”
Reichenbach was not a five-star recruit. In fact, he didn’t even start until his senior year at Liberty.
“When I was in 10th grade, I weighed about 135 pounds. I was a defensive back who had no speed, so that was not a good combination!” he chuckled. “In 11th grade, I went to 165 and they moved me to defensive end. In my senior year, I finally stepped into a starting role. I made some local All-Star teams but nothing monumental. East Stroudsburg was the only school that really showed interest in me.
“I was basically the first person to go to college not in just my immediate family but in my extended family. I didn’t know what college was,” Reichenbach confessed. “I didn’t have a lot of direction when I got there but Coach (Denny) Douds said ‘I’m going to make you a middle linebacker.’ I came off the field after the first practice and said, ‘You have to move me back to defensive end. I can’t play this position!’ And he said to hang with it.”
Though Reichenbach hung with it enough to be an All-American with the Warriors- his 147 tackles during his senior year ranks as the second most in East Stroudsburg history- his name went uncalled on Draft Day. Reichenbach latched on with the Eagles as a free agent.
The Eagles struggled to mediocre seasons in Reichenbach’s first four years, but in 1988 Philadelphia clinched the NFC East, returning to the postseason for the first time in seven seasons. In 1989, the wild card-winning Eagles had the fifth best scoring defense in the NFL.
“Early in my career I was about 250 pounds so the 3-4 was good because you were taking on guards all the time and head butting. When you’re younger,” assessed Reichenbach, who played in both schemes, “that’s great but the 4-3 is much better because you have a little more protection. It’s designed to keep the guys off of the linebackers so you can make plays.”
Reichenbach was a big part of the Eagles’ success, starting in 56 games from 1985 through 1989. He signed with Miami as a free agent and started at linebacker for the Dolphins in 1991. That gave him the opportunity to play with two legends- coach Don Shula and quarterback Dan Marino.
“Don was an old school type of football coach. The best thing about Don Shula was that he surrounded himself with good people. He taught me that you never get too close to your players- you’re friendly with them- but some day you may need to cut them,” Reichenbach shared.
“(Dan) was a technician of the game- a student of the game,” Reichenbach continued. “His film work and the way he worked with his receivers, his timing- all of that was worked out. He prepared. It was a pleasure playing with him and watching him play.
“We played them when I was in Philly and we blitzed a lot. And (Marino) was the best at three step drops. We played man to man all the time and he’d just throw those fade routes,” Reichenbach remembered. “I said to (then coach) Buddy Ryan, ‘This ain’t working. We’re not getting to him.’ And Buddy would growl, ‘You’re not running it right!’
But something big- much bigger than football- happened to Mike Reichenbach in the second half of his pro career. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1989 and his myopic lifestyle of football and partying changed abruptly.
“I was looking. I was searching. At one time, I thought the greatest destiny in my life was to play in the NFL,” Reichenbach pointed out. “As I rose through the ranks of playing football, the game became more to me than just a game. It became my identity. It became who I was. But what I found, when I came to know Christ, is that the greatest destiny for me was to know God.”
Reichenbach was a practicing Christian when he did something shocking in the 1992 preseason. He was in San Francisco’s camp, not only assured of a job but also a strong chance to play in a Super Bowl.
And he walked away. Reichenbach felt he needed to obey a higher calling.
“We were playing the Denver Broncos in Candlestick Park,” Reichenbach described. “There was a TV timeout. As I stood there, I looked across, looked at John Elway, looked at the stadium and God spoke to me. He said, ‘It’s time to go.’ I was like, ‘It can’t be. I’m on the 49ers. We have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. This is a good football team.’ This was the greatest opportunity I had ever had.
“But God said ‘It’s time to go.’ I took it all in,” Reichenbach continued, “and that moment, for the first time in my life, God was saying ‘I need a greater commitment. I’ve prepared you for something greater than this.’ You can’t be defined by this game.”
It’s important to note that at the time, Reichenbach was also substantially in debt due to his lifestyle before becoming a Christian. An NFL contract would do wonders to help whittle the red ink down.
“I talked to everyone I knew: my agent, coaches,” Reichenbach relayed. “They all said to not leave the game in debt. I was in my room reading my Bible and God spoke to me in my heart and said ‘Let me ask you a question. Am I bigger than the giants in your life?’
“For the first time, I was going to commit and be willing to step over the line. And I never declared bankruptcy,” Reichenbach mentioned. “This God is bigger than our giants and from that moment forward, I knew to honor Him with my life.”
Reichenbach got out of debt through some events that can only be attributed to God’s grace. He became a devoted family man. One of his sons incidentally would play wide receiver for East Stroudsburg’s conference rival Millersville.
Mike Reichenbach left the NFL in 1992 but he was not out of the game long. He has been coaching at Philadelphia’s Calvary Christian Academy ever since the school started a team.
“When I left the game, I was offered to coach at the professional level and large college level. Basically, I didn’t want to coach. What God really needed to do was get me away from the game and grip my heart. I thought football was the problem because it was what I worshipped. As He gripped my heart, he gave me the revelation that we can use football to raise up godly men,” Reichenbach said.
“In 1995, Calvary Chapel decided to start a school. I said to the pastor that I thought we could field a football team as a ministry. I had a vision statement that basically said to use the game to glorify God in all things,” Reichenbach shared. “It was a great time of growth in my own life: to be a better husband and better father. God worked in my heart coaching these young men.”
The Calvary Christian Cougars won the District 1 Class A Title in 2009, 2010 and 2011. But Reichenbach’s ultimate coaching goals go beyond wins and losses. “The greatest thing is to let the players know that you love them,” he feels. “If they know that you care, then that will soften their hearts and they are willing to be stretched then. Too often as coaches, we try and stretch them for the chocolate medals and then we try and tell them that we care about them and that’s backwards.
“Most coaches are still trying to validate themselves,” he observed. “We’re all looking for that notoriety or significance. It’s interesting, because I was an All-American in college and I have game balls from the NFL. It’s all packed up in my basement under my steps, because I never wanted my past to define where I was going. Someday, we’ll break it out and give them to whomever but I have never wanted that to be the thing that defined me.”
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