HOUSTON - Back home, back at the Parkview Baptist Middle School, they know a little something about miracles.
At least, they know one when they see one.
Back home, back in Baton Rouge, La., there are a lot of lessons about faith and perseverance and prayers that eventually come to pass. Brian Kinchen knows that. Until a few weeks ago, he was the guy doing the talking.
These days, he's the miracle the 445 students of Parkview Baptist are talking about.
Say hello to the luckiest man in the Super Bowl. A few weeks ago, Kinchen stood in front of a class full of seventh-graders, talking about journeys and rewards. The next thing you know, he's in Houston, getting ready to play in a Super Bowl.
Funny how life works. Kinchen spent most of his life chasing this game. In the end, it caught him.
It was over. Kinchen had given 13 seasons to the NFL as a tight end and long snapper, and in the end, he had been wadded up and thrown away. He was 38, and two years had passed since his release, and finally, Kinchen had gotten over most of the bitterness. He had accepted that his days beneath the helmet were complete, and it was time to let go.
Then the phone rang.
And a career was reborn.
It was Dec. 15, the last day of class for the fall semester at Parkview. Kinchen was teaching a bible class when his cell phone rang. He glanced at it. Caller unknown.
Scott Pioli, the Patriots' general manager, was on the telephone. He needed a long snapper for the team's final two regular-season games and the playoffs. Given the bad snap of Trey Junkin of the Giants last season, he wanted one with experience. He wanted Kinchen to try out.
Kinchen was floored. He paced in front of the 24 kids of his class, trying to get some sort of guarantee. Pioli wouldn't give one. He told Pioli he was 20 pounds lighter than his playing weight of 240. Pioli didn't care. The two agreed to talk in two hours.
To his kids, it seemed like an easy decision. Fly to Boston. Take your chances. Go for it.
For Kinchen, it wasn't that simple. He had tried out three times the year before, inDallas, in Pittsburgh, in Denver. Every time, it ended with a chuck on the shoulder and a thanks-but-no-thanks speech. He wasn't sure he wanted to open the wounds again.
"I just didn't know if I wanted to go through that roller coaster of expectations and then have to come home on a plane again," Kinchen said. "It's the most miserable feeling. Like you're worthless."
Kinchen then went to Cooper Pope, the principal of Parkview Baptist Middle School and a good friend.
"He closed the door and said, "I've got something to tell you,"' Pope said. "I said, "What's wrong?' He said, "The Patriots want me to try out, and I don't know what to do.' I told him, "Don't lie to me."'
Pope told him he should try. Lori, Kinchen's wife, told him he should try. Even the school kids voted, unanimously, that he should try.
What could he do? Kinchen decided to try. But he packed lightly this time, unconvinced it would be anything more than a day trip.
Next thing you know, Lori was packing clothes into a box to ship to him.
"It really is a miracle," Pope said. "There was nothing to make anyone believe this would happen."
What are the odds? What are the chances of a 38-year-old man being recalled after two years away? What are the chances of the team that picks him up making it to the Super Bowl?
"You couldn't write this," Kinchen said. "The odds are astronomical."
That was four games ago, two regular season and two playoffs. Kinchen was such a latecomer to the party that when the Patriots celebrated their final regular-season game, Kinchen didn't know his teammates well enough to hug anyone. He was the last guy on the bus, a snapper for hire.
Before the Patriots called, Kinchen's last season had been in 2000, when he played for Carolina. It did not end sweetly.
Kinchen's knee swelled in preseason that year, and he wanted to have surgery. No, coach George Seifert told him. Just keep snapping. Don't worry about playing tight end.
After that season, Kinchen remembers talking about his offseason rehab work with the trainer. Two days later, he received a call saying he was going to be released. The betrayal still stings.
"Wouldn't you be bitter?" he said. "I could have gone in the tank. I could have shut it down with that knee. I felt like I had taken one on the chin for the team. In turn, I thought (Seifert) would take care of me."
Said Pope: "Don't think the fact he's playing against Carolina is of no consequence to him."
Kinchen spent the 2001 season coaching the fifth- and sixth-grade Eagles football team. This fall, out of boredom, he asked LSU coach Nick Saban (whom he knew from their days together in Cleveland) if he could help at all. Saban put him to work breaking down films, a job with no glamour and no pay.
Still, consider this. If LSU rewards Kinchen with a ring, and if the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Kinchen could be the only player in history to win a college championship ring and a Super Bowl ring in less than a month.
As miracles go, that's not as good as Jonah and the whale, but it's close.
Win or lose, Kinchen says this is the last game for him. The past seven weeks have provided him with closure. He no longer will be bitter about a bad parting.
"The beauty of this whole ordeal is that I can walk away under my own terms," he said. "I can always be a New England Patriot. I can retire and be happy with that."
For Kinchen, it's a big deal. For the rest of us, it's a small story of a player few people might notice. Except for the kids at Parkview Baptist. They'll notice.
Kinchen is one of them, after all. He's a young teacher, a popular one. Pope calls him one of those teachers who mixes his life in with history. The kids look at Kinchen, he said, with something resembling awe.
And so, on Friday, the kids of Parkview will not wear their school uniforms. Instead, they will wear red, white and blue outfits. They'll raise a little money for their ministry. And they'll all pull for Mr. Kinchen, the teacher who got a phone call.
Back home, back at Parkview Baptist, they know a little something about blessings.
More than anything, they know enough to smile when they see someone who has received one.