By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The Team knows how to tantalize a twelve-year-old.
"Don't be trying any of this at home, kids. What you are about to see is very, very dangerous. We don't even do what Trey Tally does--breaking concrete and ice with his head! So don't you try it!"
Trey Tally's nickname is "No Fear." He struts out from the wings, resplendent in his black, red and blue warm-up suit, huge arms and shoulders flexed, emanating understanding for people who don't, or can't, break ice with their heads. Then he introduces Keenan Smith, onetime Texas power-lifting champion, who immediately says something even more alluring: "I know most of you would rather be in English class or studying math right now."
Screams of protest! No, no, no!
In that case, says Smith, "what I have here is a baseball bat. Trey is gonna snap it in half with his knee! It's dangerous--you could rip a muscle! I also have a can of Diet Sprite! Smiley Elmore here is gonna crush it with his bare hand!"
There's also a Denver phone book, which Smith will rip into shreds, and stacks of concrete blocks piled nine high, which will be destroyed by karate kicks and armpit whacks. But first, the three Power Team members who have come to Lake Middle School need volunteers. Two young ladies, specifically.
Once on stage, the girls are told to cling to either end of a steel bar, which former American Gladiator Elmore then military-presses into the air, girls dangling. See? It's no flimsy steel bar! But it does not intimidate Elmore. Dismissing the girls, he bends the bar into an intricate pretzel, using only his arms and teeth.
Let's move on! Middle-school assemblies last only forty minutes or so, and the three huge guys on stage still have to demolish the concrete, the bricks, the bats, the Sprite and the phone book, with time left over for testifying.
Which is where things really get tricky.
The Power Team, a Texas troupe of power-lifting evangelists, has been staging athletically inspired revival/spectacles for eighteen years now. This particular week, they've organized a crusade at the Heritage Christian Center in southeast Denver, where they'll pack the place five nights running. During the day the team breaks into smaller groups that appear at school assemblies. But since you can't promote Jesus at public schools, the message must be "motivational and inspiring"--as opposed to blatantly religious.
I've seen the Power Team in action before. I don't think they can do it.
The idea of former football players, bodybuilders and all-around tough guys devoting their lives to Christ--and maintaining their extreme buffness as part of the deal--has fascinated me for some time. A certain person--the kind of person who surfs cable channels late into the night, and not necessarily a religious person, either--kept telling me about the Power Connection, a show that appears in all its muscle-bound glory on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I wanted to know more. The problem was, whoever answered the phone at Power Team headquarters in Irving, Texas, clammed up when she discovered that I wasn't a pastor seeking to put on an extravaganza.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but we have to be careful. There have been stalkers."
"Yeah, but it's...my nephew!" I improvised. "He's fourteen! He's in a gang! The Power Team could save his life!"
"Grand Junction," the receptionist said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "July 2. That's all I can say."
Once in Grand Junction with the aforementioned nephew, who is not in a gang but was wearing his baggiest clothes, we easily found the Power Team at the Two Rivers Convention Center. After all, they were the biggest guys in town.
The audience, perhaps one thousand strong, was heavily weighted with families and young children, as well as a sizable contingent of head-injured adults who were already screaming and pumping their fists, even though nothing had happened yet. Unless you count the souvenir concession, which was hopping. We bought and read a Power Team comic book, in which the eight musclemen defeat a South American drug lord. Finally, the lights dimmed so that we could watch an informational video, from which we gleaned these facts:
* The Team consists of "world-class athletes who inspire people to follow Christ and to move away from drugs, alcohol and suicide."
* The Team does seventy crusades each year. Last year it led 100,000 people to Christ, including a lot of Russians.
* In some complex way, you can benefit the Team and its work by switching your phone service from AT&T--"the proud sponsor of the Gay Games," Jacobs says--to Lifeline, "where your long-distance dollars do not go to support nudity, profanity, prostitution or any of those other things."
Suddenly, the song "Jesus Is Just Alright" began pouring from giant speakers, and the Power Team members ran to the stage. The ground shook--but then, most of these guys weigh at least 250 pounds each. I took an immediate interest in Siolo Tauaefa, "the Big Samoan, son of a tribal chief and known to eat ten chickens at one sitting," and Brad Tuttle, a former Navy SEAL captain who fights South American drug cartels in his spare time.