Before the playoff game against the 49ers, White told his defensive teammates that he would hand out cash bonuses for big plays, like interceptions, fumble recoveries and cobweb-inducing hits. Shaking his head now, White says with a groan, "I wound up paying out almost $9,000. You'd be amazed how guys who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars get up and go after that $100. They'll sit in the film room the next week saying, 'Ooh! I caused a fumble and recovered it. That's $200!' "
Already, he's pounding home the message that the way Green Bay played against San Francisco on that charmed afternoon last January is the standard that the Packers must meet consistently in the regular season. "To be a championship team," White says, "you have to do those things all the time."
A man with less conviction than White might alienate his teammates with his frequent insistence that "God spoke to me" and his statements that he's on "a mission from God" and that football is merely his platform. As Packers tight end Keith Jackson says, "The walk with God that Reggie has is almost, you know, scary."
White tends to see a divine hand at work in almost everything. He still insists that it really was the voice of God that told him to sign with Green Bay. He says he spent the entire night before his announcement on his knees, sobbing and praying, because "I thought, I know God told me go to San Francisco. What's the deal? And the Lord spoke to me. And when the Lord spoke to me, he said, 'Let me ask you a question: Where did the head coach, the defensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator all come from before they went to Green Bay?' I said, 'San Francisco?' And he said, "That's the San Francisco I'm talking about!' "
As incredible as that image is—the idea of God's knowing the curricula vitae of the Packers' coaching staff because, well, God is God—nothing left fans shaking their heads like White's seemingly miraculous recovery from a torn hamstring last season on the eve of Green Bay's playoff run. (During afternoon soap operas, local stations ran a crawl across the bottom of the television screen with the bulletin that White would miss the postseason.) "What most people don't realize is that was actually the third time God healed me," says White, who previously had almost been sidelined by an elbow injury in 1994 and a thigh bruise in 1995.
Two aspects made White's hamstring injury unique: It took God nine days to get around to healing it, instead of the usual two or three; and by then White had sat out the first game of his NFL career, he had scheduled season-ending surgery, and he had called a meeting—what else?—at which he tearfully told his teammates, "You have to believe you can win the rest of the way without me."
That same night, however, White noticed that his leg, though still sore, felt better. He was so excited that he called Green Bay strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston, and the two met at the Packers' training facility at about 10 p.m. Once there, White worked on weights and drove the blocking sled, neither of which he had been able to do the day before without excruciating pain. "Then," White says, "I looked at Kent, and I started smiling. And Kent—see, Kent's from Texas and he's got this Texas kind of twang—Kent said, 'Man! God done healed you again!' "
The hamstring has still not been surgically repaired. "I'm working out the same way I have in the past," White says, "so I just believe it's going to be all right."
Until the church fires started rolling across the South, White planned to spend this off-season the way he usually does—getting himself in condition for another run at an NFL championship, spending time with his family, tending to his busy ministry and filming Reggie's Prayer, a semiautobiographical movie that is scheduled for theatrical release later this month. Instead, it was one of the most hectic and difficult times of his life.
The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the civil rights division of the Justice Department and other local organizations continue to investigate the fires. White, however, is among the many black church leaders who have been critical of the federal government's efforts. "The response was too slow," he says. "The fires can't all just be a coincidence."