As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady prepare this week for their record seventh Super Bowl appearance, they’ve each taken a few moments to express their heartfelt appreciation and affection for a player who has touched their lives through his witness for Christ.
Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, a key protector for Brady in the passing game, is known for his work ethic, humility and resolute reliance on God, especially over the past 15 months as his 18-month-old son Hudson has battled cancer.
Belichick and Brady, both considered locks to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, have watched Solder from up close, drawing inspiration from how Solder and his wife, Lexi, have relied on God through the toughest days of their lives.
“I love the guy,” Brady said of Solder. “As great as he is as a player, he’s a better person, a better human being. He’s a loving father and a loving husband. He’s a very quiet, humble person who wants to do a great job every day. He means a lot to me and this team.”
Belichick, known for his sometimes gruff disposition, also spoke warmly about Solder.
“He has tremendous character, absolutely the highest,” Belichick said. “Nate’s a tremendous person, a great teammate. He works hard, [is] very unselfish, has a great family and is very dedicated in terms of the appearances and charity work that he does with different groups [and] with kids.
“I think we all respect Nate for what he’s done with Hudson and how that’s gone. He’s always there for [his son]. We understand there are some things he has to miss [with the team] in order to be there—but that is the most important thing. That speaks to Nate’s personal characteristics.”
Solder appreciates how his coaches and teammates feel about him, but knows that the praise doesn’t belong to him.
“It’s a clear sign that it’s not me that they’re seeing,” Solder said. “It’s Christ working through me because I know that I’m a flawed person. I’m sure they would have seen that if God had not been using me. … But I’m very honored that they would say that and that they would get to see God in that way.”
The Patriots face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Houston in Super Bowl LI. Brady and Belichick already have more Super Bowl appearances together than any coach/quarterback duo in NFL history and now are trying to set the record for the most titles (five if they win).
Solder and his fellow offensive linemen will attempt to keep Falcons’ defenders away from Brady, who threw 28 touchdown passes during the regular season despite missing the first four games due to a suspension.
Solder is glad to be back with the team after missing the last 12 games of last season with a torn bicep injury.
However, he considers the injury a Godsend because it happened eight days before Hudson was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor, a very rare condition that Solder said affects only about 25 infants per year in the United States.
“I think the injury was totally the providence of God,” Solder said. “It was instruction to me regarding His character. I say that I was fortunate enough to tear my bicep because I had the opportunity to spend time with my family.
“It was emotionally difficult, and still is, but we fight every day through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has carried us through it.”
Solder says one of the most difficult times for him and Lexis was driving to a children’s hospital for a follow-up appointment after Hudson was first diagnosed.
“He was laughing and playing in the car seat as we were driving, but my wife and I cried the entire way,” Solder said. “We didn’t feel like we belonged where we were. I think we were probably in denial of the whole situation.
“But through the grace of God, He’s provided a new lens on life. We’re thankful for everything. We’re just so much more grateful.”
Hudson is much better now, and his illness has given the Solders a platform to help other parents and ailing young children through the Hudson’s Heroes program they’ve founded.
“He still has cancer, still has tumors, but they’ve just removed his port because [the tumors are] not growing,” Solder said of his son’s condition. “They’re staying the same, so we can do surveillance from here on out.”
The experience has greatly deepened Solder’s faith and given him a dramatically different perspective he had two years ago when the Patriots last played in the Super Bowl.
“I just know how frail everything is, how easily it can be taken away and how fortunate we are to be out here every single day,” he said.
“But I have my priorities set, and my top priority is God and then my family. When those things are squared away, everything else falls into line. My faith in the Lord is so much bigger than anything we’re doing here, so much bigger than the Super Bowl.”
Nate and Lexi want the Lord to be glorified through the trial they’ve faced, but have discussed the awkwardness of receiving compliments from others, including from Lexi’s Bible study group.
“We know how much we’re struggling, but people see the way God is carrying us through, the joy that it brings knowing we have an eternal destiny that’s far beyond what’s here on earth,” Nate said. “We know we’re not alone in our suffering, and that our suffering is for a reason.
“These are the kinds of things that bring us joy, and I think those are the things that people are seeing through us. I don’t know where all the [people’s] beliefs are on our team, but I know that people can recognize that when they see it.”